It's hardly a noble profession. True, the high-powered sight is attached to a camera rather than a rifle, but the stalking methods of the paparazzi are not unlike those of hunters with hapless prey in the crosshairs. Which may be why Kalani English, our state senator from Hana, has introduced legislation to protect celebrities on beaches and elsewhere in Hawaii from the prying lenses of professional peepers.
Called "the Steven Tyler bill" in acknowledgment of Maui's newest superstar part-time resident, the legislation has already gotten majority support from Hawaii's state senate along with national media attention from the AP and CNN among others.
It would enable celebrities to sue photographers for "offensive" invasions of their privacy in public places. The intention is to provide a paparazzi-free zone for them. Making them happy is good for the local economy, the bill's supporters say.
I know where they're coming from. For celebrities, paparazzi are a life form more like reptiles than mammals. On The Maui News' entertainment desk, we'd get occasional calls checking up on reports that this or that celebrity was on the Valley Isle. Our usual reply was, "Oh, really? - hadn't heard that," which was generally true. But it was more fun to lie to them.
Once a photo editor called trying to enlist me to take embarrassing, long-lens shots of Kevin Costner during "Waterworld" filming on the Big Island. I played along long enough to get his do's-and-don'ts of being a paparazzo. I ran it as my column that week.
When a paparazzo who had been stalking Jennifer Aniston during filming of "Just Go With It" in Wailea accidentally sent his expense report to The Maui News (he thought he was sending it to his publisher), his invoice made it into my column, too.
It was my way of shining light on the bloodsport of unauthorized celebrity chasing that had claimed Princess Diana as its first martyr, and scarred countless other performers in its vicious, never-ending chase.
But it's hard to ignore the flip side. Pursuing beautiful people, trying to coax a glimpse of the "real" them, to be printed thousands of times under my byline, isn't totally unrelated to what paparazzi do. It's a matter of degree, I keep reminding myself.
If more people were the stars of their own little movies, maybe we wouldn't ask so much of our celebrities. Those stars had their eyes full of fame and fortune when they signed the dotted lines of their first contracts, an entertainment business manager once explained to me. They didn't realize what they were signing away. Their privacy, for openers.
A line from Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Almost Famous" is instructive here. He was playing a world-weary Rolling Stone music reporter - which meant he was in his early 20s - giving advice to the film's even younger protagonist, who had just gotten his first Rolling Stone writing assignment.
"They are not your friends," said the older journalist about his interview subjects. They may have a drink with you, they may let you come to their parties but you're not one of them."
Maui journalists tend to be paparazzi antidotes. If we run into a movie star, say at a local health-food store or restaurant, we look the other way. We save the celebrity name drops in our columns until after the stars have left the island.
The Golden Rule's a good guide, especially when you're dealing with folks whose slightest misstep might wind up on next week's tabloid covers.
Will the Steven Tyler bill help? Morality's a good thing to practice, but harder to legislate. Overzealously protecting stars' privacy makes anyone with a smart phone a potential lawbreaker. Legislators should remember Philip Seymour Hoffman's words and learn from the entertainment reporters. The line's awfully thin between being a supporter and being a groupie.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org