Ethics Quiz: Celebrity Post-Retirement Photos

If the photo above was not already going viral, I wouldn’t print it here. Before the post continues, see if you can guess who that is above. No cheating now; this is an ethics blog…

That’s Bridget Fonda, whose last acting role was in “The Snow Queen,” where which she appeared like this:

That was in 2001; her last photo for public consumption was in 2009, where she posed with film composer and husband Danny Elfman, and looked like looked like Bridget Fonda. Some enterprising papparazi managed to photograph her—she’s now 58— while she was on a shopping run.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Is it ethical to take unflattering photos of former performers and celebrities and publicize them expressly to invite cruel comments and ridicule?

Some related questions and my answers:

Are such photos newsworthy?

I guess so. They interest the public, which is why tabloids have made them a staple forever. “Where are they now?” books and features are popular.

Does it matter if the ex-celebrity cares?

Sure it does. I’d be tempted to say that their permission should be required, except that’s not going to happen. Asking their permission would still be the ethical thing to do, however. Marlene Dietrich famously refused to go out in public after her career ended with a crippling fall of a stage during her final concert tour. She said she wanted to be remembered as the glamorous legend she had always been. Maybe Bridget Fonda doesn’t care; she and her husband are filthy rich, and she wouldn’t have retired in her forties if she was addicted to being adulated for her appearance. In this, she is a healthy contrast to freakish plastic surgery fan Aunt Jane, 84, who appears in public looking like this…

If Bridget cared, I assume she wouldn’t go out looking like that first photo. Or maybe she thought she was sufficiently unrecognizable.

Is being subjected to public criticism when one ages, gains weight or is no longer sexually alluring part of the price of celebrity, causing the victim to be estopped from objecting?

Maybe. It doesn’t prevent ethical people from being kind. And the Golden Rule isn’t suspended for once beautiful actresses.

20 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Celebrity Post-Retirement Photos

  1. Who judges if it’s unflattering?

    My dad would look at that and see a miraculous, beautiful human being with trillions of cells working in perfect intelligence allowing us to see her standing. He’s also would be keenly aware he too is a miracle, a person with 10 to the 30th power of different viruses inside him, trillions of bacteria and fungi, and cells with 200-8000 mitochondria in each one, working non stop.

    He’s know she is embodying the unseen, (cells) making millions of choices each millionth of a second, and that to see anything less than something miraculous and beautiful would reflect what is in him, not what she looked like.

    Just for some perspective.

    We have been taught differently what acceptable and beautiful is….

    Because she’s overweight, hasn’t artificially kept her hair a certain color, is not posed for the camera, and doesn’t have other chemicals on her face to color things a wag someone said was beautiful (probably an ad agency funding a cosmetic commercial about what real beauty is) we as a society are MISSING the miracle captured in that photo.

    We are so far removed from nature and cultures who live more like nature intended, that we’d criticize each other’s appearance when it does live up to some multimillion dollar marketing campaign.

    Be it a bald man feeling shamed because he lost his younger full head of hair, or a woman who’s lips have thinned, hair has greyed, and face has wrinkled, to so much more.

    There’s a much bigger thing below the question you ask.

    And yes, it’s not healthy to keep in extra pounds, and if she were a skinny model in sweats with a “messy bun” and glasses, we’d all be thinking grow natural and beautiful she is.

    Only now in this time in culture in western places… if she was in Mauritania, they’d possibly argue she’s not beautiful because she’s not fat enough! (The country that force feeds young girls so they are fat and beautiful)

    So my point is, while I see your point, it’s only one because of the distorted beliefs we have that says what pretty or acceptable is.

    I can’t even tell you how beautiful the “unbeautiful” are when you question these sick lies we’ve been sold telling us what beauty is.

    And I’m thankful my very good looking (by western standards) father who happened to be in the beauty business (cosmetology) taught me to see beauty in such a way that recognizes the miracle of every living creature.

    And no, this doesn’t mean I think being an unhealthy weight is something to aspire to, or that wearing makeup is wrong, etc. or enjoying fashion and all that…

    It’s just becoming aware of how we arrived at our definition of beauty is a very freeing thing and opens up ones eyes to actually see the beauty around us.

    And… we see very little!!! To even get started on what “she” is on a microscopic level!!!!! Wow!!! Talk about beauty!!!!!

    We contain so much beauty visually on a cellular level as well As the functions of quadrillions of different species of organisms working in concert 24/7 so that our heart beats on its own, and the other things happening allowing us to even look at the screen we’re reading this blog on, and comprehend the words, etc…

    Beauty is everywhere!

    • But my goodness, mm, isn’t there some middle ground between these two Fondas? Carrying that much weight is really, really hard on a body. As members of a society that provides extremely expensive cradle to grave health care, don’t we owe it to ourselves and our families, our fellow citizens (and, you know, all us taxpayers) to take better care of ourselves?

      • I clearly said in my comment that because she is beautiful doesn’t mean extra weight is good or healthy.


        Maybe you missed that as it was quite long.

  2. The golden rule applies when using photographic equipment in public and what the paparazzi do is unethical. Just because it’s legal to do something doesn’t mean you should do it.

    When consumers stop consuming the kind of crap that the paparazzi are selling it will silently go away; supply and demand. I choose not to consume any of it because I just don’t give a damn what a prominent public figure or celebrities does in their private life or after they’ve left limelight. I apply that same concept across the board to everyone else I know or come in contact with; if others choose to include me in their life that’s great and that’s their choice, otherwise I give them the space and the privacy to enjoy their private lives without outside interference from me – the golden rule.

    I met one of those disrespectful unethical paparazzi assholes many years ago when a scene photo of the theatrical show my daughter and I were in ended up on the front page of the Arts section of the New York Times. Dealing directly or indirectly with paparazzi is not pleasant.

    There’s already plenty of interference from all directions into our personal lives these days, the paparazzi need to go the way of the Dodo.

  3. Seems to me if you left the public sphere you have a right to privacy (Golden rule). When my son was six we went to a charity walk where they took a picture of him and put it on their front page without our permission. I called them to complain about it and the journalist told me that since we were in public they had a right to do it.

    I told her by that logic so did pedophiles.

    I don’t know what the legal ramifications are, but I believe the ethical one is don’t do it unless you have their consent.

    On the otherhand… This might be an interesting case study of what Hollywood et al. does to people while there in: conform to our standard or we will easily replace you.

  4. Yes, it’s ethical.

    She spent decades capitalising on her looks and famous name. Fame is not something that can be voluntarily turned off.

    Also relevant, she was out in public walking the family dog and driving around to shop. It’s not as if the photographer trespassed in order to obtain the photos (which would have been unethical).

    • I have to agree. She courted fame for many years and profited handsomely off it. She doesn’t just get to say, “stop and leave me alone,” when she decides to walk away from it all. If she walked away from it all and bought a house way out in the middle of nowhere where no one would have occasion to come that might be a different story. However, this is a not-ordinary someone who’s continuing to live among ordinary people and do ordinary things. There is no statute of limitations on fame.

      Out in public, anyone and anything is fair game for being photographed, walking in the street, doing whatever in the park, etc. If you want to go walking where no one (or at least very few) will see you, then go someplace private like a resort or estate. If you want to sun yourself where no one will see you, that’s what your backyard is for. Spanish settlers in the New World specifically built their houses around open-air courtyards where they could sit or do whatever without being seen by others. However, it is not ethical to trespass to gain photos or to shoot through a window. The ethics of shooting areas where the public is not allowed to go from areas where they are is something of a gray area. If an aviation enthusiast knows that some vintage planes are coming through a nearby airport, he is probably OK with going up to the perimeter beyond which the public can’t go and shooting through the fence. On the other hand, if he knows some hottie is going to be staying in one of the historic houses that’s heavily fenced, but knows of a vantage point on a nearby hill from which he can shoot into the yard, not so sure.

    • “ She spent decades capitalising on her looks and famous name. Fame is not something that can be voluntarily turned off.”

      Why? What is a celebrity? The state of being famous, according to one internet definition. Really, though, it’s a job. I can quit my job when I get bored with it, or tired of the hassles it brings. Why can’t a celebrity? Because they make more money than I do? That’s not a very fair reason. Other high paying jobs can be quit.

      Celebrity is a profession, and it is high paid because there is a demand for it. Everyday people crave glitz and glamour, drama, interesting stories and gossip that they don’t have in their own lives. Celebrities provide those things, and it’s a lot of work.

      Yes, it is a frivolous, ridiculous seeming job, and says some interesting things about our culture that celebrities are so highly valued and thus highly compensated. That isn’t the celebrities fault, though, it’s ours.

      If a celebrity chooses to stop being a celebrity, I think it’s perfectly fair that they expect be left alone. They are no longer being compensated for being a celebrity. Just because people like taking joy in the supposed downfall of others, doesn’t make it ethical. That’s a pretty rotten thing to take pleasure in.

  5. I’d say the photo is borderline ethical, but the general reactions to it are definitely not.
    Has she fallen from grace? Yes. Is she less healthy than she should be? Yes. Has she aged as well as most of us? Probably, maybe even better. Is she trying to live a semi normal post-fame life? Looks like it.
    I think my condemnation is for a society that can’t just look at this and say, “Oh, so that’s how she’s been doing” and be done with it. At least that’s what I did.

  6. I’m an Engineer, a retired USAF Officer, with advanced degrees and experience in several areas—including radio broadcasting—but not, sadly, in law. I’ll admit to not having followed case law on privacy and one’s ownership of one’s own likeness. But as a hobby photographer of many years, my recollection is that if you take a photograph that you intend to publish, you’re obligated to get a signed “release” from any recognizable person in said photograph. Is that no longer the case, is there an exception to this rule for public figures, or am I simply a dinosaur? (I will acknowledge that the answer to all three questions could be affirmative, so I promise I won’t be offended.)

    • In this age of everyone publishing photos on the web? That would probably be impossible to enforce. I think you only have to get a signed release if you’re going to publish for profit.

    • Public figures in public don’t get the benefit of that consideration, and neither do ordinary citizens in newsworthy situations (freedom of the press!).There are quite a few articles about the grays in this issue: just search for the “photography” in the EA search window. When the first story comes up, go to the bottom and click on “photography” to get all the posts so tagged.

      • No discussion of photographic hijinx would complete without mention of (groan!) my alma mater U.W. Madison (GO BADGERS!!), which never seems to pass up an opportunity to leap, with both feet, into immense steaming piles of $#!t from altitude.

        In 2000, a UW-Madison admissions counselor approached then senior Diallo Shabazz to tell him he was on the cover of the 2001-2002 UW Undergraduate Application/Admissions booklet, basking in the crowd at a Camp Randall Football game.

        One problem.

        Shabazz had never attended a game.

        College Admissions DIVERSITY DECEPTION, Student Ethics Corruptions

        Eight + years old, the link features interesting commentary from former contributors.

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