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[Pop Culture]

Stealing without tweeting

How the Hollywood Burglar Bunch muffed its shot at big-time exposure

In 1960s Los Angeles, Charlie Manson’s bloodthirsty hippies tried to start a revolution by slaughtering rich people. In 1980s Los Angeles, the cash-hungry yuppies of the Billionaire Boys Club turned to murder to bolster their bank accounts. In contemporary Los Angeles, a new youthful crime crew has emerged in recent weeks, the Hollywood Burglar Bunch. According to news reports, four 18- or 19-year-old girls, one 18-year-old boy and one 27-year-old man have been arrested in connection with a string of break-ins at homes owned by Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and various other celebrities. A seventh suspect, a 27-year-old club promoter who goes by the name Jonnie Dangerous, remains on the lam.

While it may be less lethal than its predecessors, the Hollywood Burglar Bunch is no less tapped into the zeitgeist of its era. Indeed, the whole thing sounds like a template for TruTV’s edgiest reality series yet: A sexy posse of sticky-fingered clotheshorses uses Google and Internet gossip sites to plan heists on the homes of the entertainment-industry elite. Think of the product-placement opportunities (“This week, the Burglar Bunch sets its sights on Megan Fox’s Christian Louboutin Ponyhair Tote, and also snags a one-of-a-kind prototype of Lady Gaga’s upcoming signature perfume!”). Think of the cross-promotional potential (“While Adam Sandler’s in Boston filming The Zookeeper—stay tuned for exclusive on-set footage—the Burglar Bunch invades his Pacific Palisades mansion and swipes his priceless collection of mint-condition Superman comics!”).

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Beyond the Weekly
Warrant: Paris Hilton photos found in Vegas raid (Las Vegas Sun, Nov. 6, 2009)

Mostly, though, think of the way the Hollywood Burglar Bunch illuminates celebrity’s diminishing grip on us all. In an earlier, less mediated time, stars were rare, potent, dazzling beings. Now that surplus Kardashian sisters and random YouTube cats occupy the VIP lounge of pop culture, fame has lost its bling. The quintessential celebrity stalker of the past was a creepy loner who longed for a life made spectacular and meaningful through perpetual communion with the brilliant, beautiful vessel of his dreams.

In contrast, celebrity stalking as practiced by the Burglar Bunch was a group activity, a way to bond with one’s peers. The stars, in fact, seemed pretty superfluous. Alleged ringleader Rachel Lee may have been obsessed with celebrity fashion, and she and her cohorts may have monitored their quarry even more tirelessly than Perez Hilton does, tracking their comings and going via Twitter and Facebook updates as they plotted the best time to strike. But they weren’t particularly interested in the stars they stalked as performers, or as aspirational figures, or even as pop-culture punching bags. Instead, they just liked their taste in luxury handbags.

One commodity they apparently had little use for, however, was their victims’ renown. Oh, sure, at least one of the suspects, Alexis Neiers (who is also known as Alexis Arlington) is pursuing some form of stardom. She recently shot a pilot for an E! reality series with her two model sisters, and on her own ModelMayhem.com page, she reports that she has been “trained by the most artistic and best pole dancers in the world.”

But where are their own DIY Internet attempts to glorify their exploits? Police have retrieved a few snapshots from suspect Nick Prugo’s computer, including one that shows fellow suspect Courtney Ames posing proudly with an impressive amount of cash. But didn’t these photogenic, fashion-conscious thieves have Flickr accounts, CrackBerry addictions, a potentially incriminating but nonetheless undeniable urge to post ironic YouTube footage of themselves ransacking Lindsay Lohan’s medicine cabinet? Even an ugly Amish burglar would be hard-pressed to exercise such restraint.

And what about the paparazzi? While picture-snapping parasites are now apparently such a permanent presence in celebrity juniper bushes that most A-list stars no longer feel the need to invest in elaborate security systems—why splurge on motion detection devices when a bunch of peeping toms are aiming high-resolution cameras at your house 24/7?—they were inexplicably MIA during the commission of these crimes.

Except for some grainy surveillance-camera footage, virtually no real-time documentation of these robberies appears to exist. In the age of Twitter, Facebook and pathological self-promotion, how could that possibly happen? And how can that not fill you with hope? Perhaps there really are some people in America who still value something over fame, even if that something’s just a stolen Rolex. Perhaps on at least one night a year, every paparazzo in Los Angeles has somewhere better to be than Lindsay Lohan’s driveway. Weirdly enough, this sordid tale just may be the feel-good story of the year.

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