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'The Bling Ring' Book: Stealing From Celebrities Really Does Make You Famous

On June 14, Sofia Coppola’s new movie, The Bling Ring, will hit the big screen and give us another look at the infamous teenage criminals who raided several Hollywood mansions back in 2009.

If the trailer is any indicator, Coppola happily lifts entire chunks of the story from reality, at least, the Bling Ring’s version of reality — and that’s okay. She couldn’t have written a better story.

In fact, Nancy Jo Sales’ recent book, also titled The Bling Ring, suffers from her attempts to make sense of it all or add in her own thoughts, since the real story is so fantastic that it has to speak for itself.

It has all the pieces of a true 21st century, millennial crime novel. Most of the teen burglars were raised in the shadow of fame and fortune in Calabasas, Calif. They met at alternative high schools and bonded over drinks bought with fake IDs, dreaming of becoming models, fashion designers or, at least, famous like the stars they sometimes spotted. They allegedly picked out their targets and planned their raids using pictures from TMZ, Google Maps, and Twitter. Even the people they robbed were quintessential pieces of millennial culture: Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson, and Lindsay Lohan. And they might have gotten away with it, if those very same sites hadn’t begun covering their story, leading to a tip that broke the case.

Since the arrests of most of the alleged members of the Bling Ring nearly four years ago, it’s been an irresistible piece of tabloid fodder, worming its way into everything from local newspapers to E!. It might be that the story combines some of our most popular current themes (hating the rich, judging the young, and envying the famous) in a way that makes us feel smug and proud to be, well, not rich, young, or famous. When Emma Watson, as Nicki (a version of Alexis Neiers, who was arrested for the burglary of Orlando Bloom’s home), describes the experience as “a huge learning lesson for me,” we’re meant to roll our eyes.

It’s tempting to say that the Bling Ring has become a folk tale about the dangers of being young. It would be more accurate to say it’s the story about being young in a new culture, where workers fight to keep their pensions and lose their jobs, where it’s okay to be a villain if it gets you a championship ring, where you are invited to gawk at every part of a young actress, even without her consent. Because that’s all that motivated them, in the end — not a political statement or the thrill of the challenge but a chance to be like their targets. If they could just get the right pieces of designer clothes, they would at least have the comfort of fame in a big scary world.

And because “America has this sick fascination with the Bonnie and Clyde kind of thing,” they got it.

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