I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
If every generation gets the juvenile delinquents it deserves, it feels fitting, though kind of embarrassing, that millennials had the Bling Ring. From late 2008 to mid-2009, this outfit of Calabasas teens who robbed celebrity mansions delighted the press with their take-from-the-rich, give-to-themselves antics.
They started with a jaunt to Paris Hilton’s house, chosen because they figured she’d be dumb enough to leave her door unlocked; she kept the key under the mat, so, not a wildly off-base assumption. By the time the eight culprits got caught, they’d stolen about $3 million in goods and cash from about a half-dozen tabloid favorites, including Rachel Bilson, Audrina Patridge, and Lindsay Lohan.
Bling Ring member and home-schooled hustler Alexis Neiers wanted to use a low-budget reality show, Pretty Wild (it’s unwatchable, I highly recommend it) as the trampoline from which she would fling herself to the tier of fame she desired. But whoops, on literally the first morning of filming, Alexis was arrested on felony burglary charges.
All nine episodes of Pretty Wild were shot while Alexis was out on bail, focusing on the unexpected, juicy saga that was Alexis’s efforts to prove her innocence. The E! series was not renewed for a second season. But before its untimely cancellation, it gave us this gift: Alexis’s reaction to a Vanity Fair article about her and her criminal activities.
When approached by the magazine, could Alexis have possibly have believed the story would ever be about anything other than her then-alleged involvement in the Bling Ring? Apparently! Because when she discovered, to her unqualified horror, that she was depicted as she actually was under the headline “The Suspect Wore Louboutins,” she had an — honestly, meltdown doesn’t quite describe it. She had a religious experience, followed by a panic attack, followed by a deeply misguided attempt to express her discontent via a retro, but camera-friendly, type of comments section: Vanity Fair reporter Nancy Jo Sales’s voice-mail.
As Alexis tallies the article’s “fucking lies,” she starts to whimper, then openly sob. Her mom frantically calls her lawyer. Tess, a Playboy Cybergirl who is referred to as Alexis’s sister (they are not related) observes Alexis with the vacant zombie-stare of someone on her fifth hour of a Netflix bender.
Alexis shrieks. She prays. God only wants what is best for her. She wails some more. Her mom assures her, “You rock, girl.”
But who is to blame for this miscarriage of journalism? Alexis puffs herself up with a few theatrical sniffles, and then she takes out her phone.
She ends up introducing herself three more times, first because she messes up the recording and then because her mom keeps shouting “YOU LIED” while Alexis is talking. Finally Alexis explodes at her, with bratty teen exasperation, “EVERY TIME YOU FUCKING YELL I HAVE TO RERECORD IT.”
On her fourth try, Alexis finally gets out this incredible self-defense: “I opened up to you so that way the world could potentially know what a great, amazing, talented, strong, healthy girl that I am, not even a girl, young woman. I am PETRIFIED, petrified with this story! I am so disappointed. And I’m letting you know that I will clear this up. Have a nice life, bye.”
Alexis was guilty, obviously. She served one month of her six-month sentence and paid a $600,000 fine to Orlando Bloom. In a Hollywood-perfect twist, she wound up in a cell next to Lindsay Lohan.
I first saw this clip almost seven years ago and I still think about it all the time. It perfectly encapsulates the time: The recession-era anxiety, the fame-whoring, the belief that we are all just one reality show away from the life we want.
It was dated upon arrival, the last lick of a cultural moment all but devoid of culture, when the preferred aesthetic was pelvic-bone-bearing jeans and highlights the color of Carlo Rossi Moscato. Paris Hilton would soon be dethroned by Kim Kardashian, the woman who organized the very closet the Bling Ring ransacked. The Hills, starring Audrina Patridge, had only two seasons left in its run. Lindsay Lohan did not go on to make a cinematic comeback. Nothing gold can stay, etc.
Yet even as a relic of an already-distant past — when was the last time you left a voice-mail? — this clip was also, in its way, uncannily prescient about the world we’re stuck in now.
The distinction between highbrow and lowbrow celebrities was once totally uncrossable, but the Bling Ring was obsessed with these second-tier stars. One form of fame was as good as any other.
The rest of us have caught up to this egalitarian mindset. Now, Jennifer Lawrence giddily accepts dinner invitations from Kris Jenner and Cardi B can launch a legitimate rap career from VH1’s Love and Hip-Hop. Oscar winners gush about their favorite Real Housewives and Bachelor crushes. Surely if the Bling Ring were to exist today, they’d go pawing through the dressers of Kayla Itsines or some other like-you-but-better Instagram stars, Ingrid Goes West-style.
And in Alexis’s increasingly absurd insistence that Nancy Jo’s story is all a lie, she basically showed us a trailer to the movie of Trump Takes America. Her declaration that she did not wear the shoes as the headline described but wore “little brown four-inch Bebe heels” (her mom, from the kitchen: “TWENTY-NINE DOLLARS!”) is her version of “my inauguration drew the biggest crowds in history.” In her claims that all the mean things the media said about her were so not true — despite astonishing evidence to the contrary — she gave us a preview of the cries of “fake news” to come.
Hers is the saddest why me? wail caught on camera since Nancy Kerrigan took a crowbar to the kneecap. If ringtones were still a thing, I’d make this aria mine. Or at least have it play before my voice-mail.