Perez Hilton, an American blogger, says that the time period between the years 2006 and 2009 could probably be termed the golden era of gossip. Netflix’s latest documentary series, “The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist,” tries to chronicle that era and tells the story of an incident that shook the very foundations of American society. The country was witnessing a change in sensibilities. The age of social media was about to commence, and society was standing on the threshold of this change. Earlier, an individual needed to showcase some talent in order to be famous, but with the advent of social media, a new breed of celebrities was born. These people didn’t possess any talent or extraordinary skill. They just knew how to grab people’s attention. They knew how to exploit a particular moment. It could be said that they were the very first influencers who cracked the code of being famous by giving the people what they desired the most: a sneak peek into someone else’s life.
The dawn of digitalization had, in a way, democratized fame. One didn’t have to attend excruciating acting classes or work tediously on a film day in and day out. One didn’t have to work on their craft and then wait for their film to do well at the box office to be famous. They just had to sell an “aspirational lifestyle” and sometimes even the dysfunctionality of their own lives. A decade back, if a private video of a star had been leaked, it would have become the reason behind their downfall. But circumstances had changed. When Paris Hilton’s video got leaked, the trade experts predicted that her career would end. But the opposite happened. It also provided a road map for celebrities like Kim Kardashian, who followed the lead and exploited the market to its full potential. Apart from fame, greed also played an important role in the scheme of things. The youth aspired to have a lifestyle like their favorite celebrities, and when they weren’t able to do so because of a lack of financial resources, they finally resorted to illegitimate means and methods. They wanted to attain everything that the materialistic world had to offer. They wanted to drive swanky cars, wear clothes from high-end fashion brands, and carry expensive designer bags, but they didn’t want to work for it. There is a disparity that exists in our society, but that was not the cause behind the scandal. This case was a clear example of the youth falling prey to their own avarice and getting blinded by it.
Nick Prugo stayed in the San Fernando Valley in Granada Hills and later moved to Calabasas, California. If you observe his journey in the series, “The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist,” you won’t find any plausible trigger point that made him do things that he repented later in his life. He did it because he wanted to own everything that the material world had to offer, and a lot of times, he did it just for the adrenaline rush. He came into contact with a girl named Rachel and became good friends with her. One could say that Rachel had all those qualities that Nick always yearned for. Every time they used to party together, Rachel would come out and check each and every car in the parking lot for unlocked doors or windows. Fortunately, if she found one, she would steal everything that was kept inside. It had become a habit for both of them. Firstly, it was limited to just petty amounts of cash, but then one time, Rachel really liked the car and told Nick that she was going to take it for herself. After the motor vehicle theft, they slowly progressed toward credit card scams. They used the stolen credit cards to buy expensive designer clothes and accessories. But that, too, couldn’t satiate their hunger for more.
One of Nick’s friends, Eden Shizzle, had posted on his account on MySpace that he was going to Jamaica and that he wouldn’t be in town for 11 days. Nick saw it as an opportunity. For a moment, he was in two minds, but then he let greed take over him. Nick and Rachel broke into the house and stole a huge amount of cash. Nothing happened to them after that. There were no consequences. The authorities didn’t know who had committed the offense. It gave them a lot of confidence. They wanted to go even bigger now. They wanted to rob a big fish, but at the same time, they also knew that there were a lot of risks involved. Nick started checking out a lot of celebrity gossip websites and bumped into a piece of information that changed the course of things. He realized that Paris Hilton was going to Miami to attend some event. He found out where she lived and presumed that she would be careless enough to leave something unlocked in her house. Rachel and Nick had the audacity to break into the celebrity’s house, situated in the posh neighborhood of Beverly Hills. They were cautious enough to steal small sums of money so that they did not fall under the radar. They kept going back to her house time and again and robbed her almost four to five times.
The duo never stole jewelry and other expensive items because they didn’t want the news to get out in the media. Their friend, Courtney, had a colleague named Roy Lopez who was ready to get involved with these teenagers and help them plan a big heist. They didn’t want to leave anything at the Hilton house this time. Nick was always scared of sweeping the house clean because he felt that the authorities would catch hold of him. But this time he was not entering the house. It was Roy Lopez who was doing the needful. Nick had assumed that even if the authorities found out about it, they wouldn’t be able to prove his involvement, and he would always have an option of making up an alibi. They went ahead with their plan, and the next day the news was all over the media.
Alexis Neiers belonged to a generation that believed that no publicity was bad publicity. Her mother, Andrea, was trying to make ends meet after she divorced her husband. She wanted her daughters, Alexis and Gabbie, to have successful careers in the entertainment industry. They did a lot of small modeling jobs before they were contacted by Dan Levy, an actor turned producer, who wanted to make a reality show pilot around their lives. It was a hippier and funkier version of “Keeping up with Kardashians.” After the huge success of the Kardashians’ show, the makers understood what the audience wanted. They wanted to replicate a tried and tested formula and make another show revolving around three girls who were trying to make it big in Hollywood. At that time, Tess, Alexis’ close friend, was also a part of the show, as at that time she was living with them. Alexis had met Nick in one of the elite clubs of Los Angeles. Nick always used to give a lot of expensive gifts to Alexis and Gabbie. They met quite a few times and shared a close bond. According to Tess, both the sisters were aware of the fact that Nick wasn’t a stylist and that those dresses and accessories were, in fact, stolen. As long as luxury brands like Chanel and Louis Vuitton were gracing their wardrobes, they didn’t think it was important to ask Nick about other things. According to Nick, Alexis had expressed her desire to be a part of the heist, and she was quite persistent about it. They had planned to rob Orlando Bloom’s house, and it was probably the first time that they were going after a proper A-lister from the industry. They stole his expensive collection of Rolex watches and whatever else they could get their hands on.
From Audrina Patridge to “The O.C.” star Rachel Bilson, there was a list of celebrities who were robbed by Rachel and Nick. But it was the burglary committed at the house of Lindsay Lohan that blew their cover. The authorities realized that the perpetrators in the “Audrina Patridge case” were the same people who had broken into Lindsay Lohan’s house. Alexis says that she always wanted to tell the truth, and that is why she decided to call the Hollywood Police Department and inform them that the culprit in the CCTV footage (uploaded on the TMZ website) was none other than Nick Prugo. Alexis had a conflicting narrative with respect to her association with Nick and Rachel. She says that she was open to the idea just because she had a very bad addiction and wanted to procure enough funds to buy drugs. Nick, on the other hand, says that she begged him to take her because she wanted all the expensive accessories firsthand and not the leftovers that were passed onto her after Rachel had chosen the best ones. Alexis also says that she was under the influence of opiates and benzos when they broke into Orlando Bloom’s house, and moreover, she had no clue whose house it was. But Nick contradicts her testimony and says that she was not only sober but also had complete knowledge that the house belonged to the Hollywood star. After the police department got a call from Alexis, they just went to Nick’s Facebook profile page and saw that there was an uncanny resemblance between him, and the guy caught in the CCTV footage.
Nick was taken into custody by the police authorities. The authorities didn’t have any strong evidence against the prime accused as he had hidden all the stolen goods in his grandmother’s house. The CCTV footage was also not enough to prove his culpability. Sean Erenstoft, who was representing Nick as his legal attorney, told him that if he confessed to his crimes and told the police everything he knew, then he would get immunity from the state. Nick thought about it long and hard and decided to confess everything. He implicated each and every one who was involved with him. The prosecutors were shocked that his legal attorney advised him to do so. Truth be told, the prosecutors didn’t have anything on him. If he hadn’t confessed, then surely, they wouldn’t have been able to connect the dots. When Nick asked for a written copy of the immunity deal, Sean told him that he didn’t have one as he had trusted the word of the detective. Nick was distraught. He knew that he would be implicated in all the crimes together with the others. He couldn’t believe that his lawyer could be so incompetent and clumsy. He had unnecessarily given the authorities all the details and dug his own grave. The authorities also checked the social media pages of the accused individuals. They could see many stolen items and accessories being worn or used by the teenagers in the pictures that they had uploaded.
Nick’s sentence was reduced as he completely cooperated with the authorities. Rachel had already pleaded No-Contest and was sentenced to four years in state prison. The prosecutors thought that the case was nicely set up and they could go after the perpetrators and set an example, but they got to know that one of their own, Brett Goodwin, the investigating detective on the case, had decided to be a part of Sofia Coppola’s film, “The Bling Ring.” The prosecutors knew very well that the financial consideration that the detective got from working on a movie, based on the case, that he himself investigated had compromised their stand. It was a direct conflict of interest. As a result, Courtney Ames, Roy Lopez, and Diana Tamayo pleaded no contest and were sentenced to three years of probation each.
“The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist” shows us the absurdity of man-made systems. When you witness how the reality show named “Pretty Wild” recreated the arrest of Alexis Neiers and how it was ready to go to any extent to create a sensation, you know that something is grossly wrong with our sensibilities. The gossip columns, the reality shows, the flashy lives, and the leaked videos, all corroborated the notion that you could be meritless but still have people who idolize you and look up to you as role models. These so-called celebrities had unknowingly set a very dangerous precedent. Nobody was ready to accept themselves the way they were. The teenagers had created this image of a perfect life in their minds and were not ready to compromise for anything less. They didn’t mind getting involved in criminal activities as long as they were able to reside in their imaginary worlds and maintain their aspirational lifestyle. It said a lot about their upbringing and also a lot about the kind of society they lived in. Directed by Miles Blaydon-Ryall, “The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist” series not only makes us privy to a true crime story but also forces us to think about where we are heading as a society and the kind of world we are leaving for the upcoming generations.
“The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist” is a 2022 Documentary series streaming on Netflix.
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