Celebrities are not zoo animals: Let Geoffrey Owens work where he wants!

Celebrities are not zoo animals: Let Geoffrey Owens work where he wants!
A Trader Joe's location (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

When I first became an entertainment reporter and blogger, I was used to meeting artists backstage and taking photographs of and with them. So the first time I went to Comic-Con and one particular actor (who has been in the entertainment game since the '70s) refused to take a photograph without a fee, it annoyed me. He not only refused, but he let out a laugh and mumbled "free picture" like I'd asked him for his Social Security number.

Millennials may struggle to recognize this actor. Generation X would pause and go "I know him from somewhere." But baby boomers would flood the block to quote his movie lines in one film in particular. However, during that year of Comic-Con, he'd popped up on a couple of TV series once or twice but wasn't in any major projects. I thought I was helping him by taking his photograph to show he is still a mover and a shaker. Regardless of his background and the laundry list of his films on IMDB, if you want exposure at an event intended to get exposure, photographs are often necessary.

What made it worse to me was another actor (who 20 years later is still known as the 20-something heartthrob for a '90s drama TV series) smiled at me immediately. I'm mildly ashamed to admit that I was a wee bit starstruck by the second guy, who somehow managed to pull a Marvin Gaye and look even more handsome with age. I got it together long enough to introduce myself, exchange a few friendly words and ask him if he'd take a photograph. Although he also had a paid photography sign up, he didn't even hesitate to let me snap a photograph of him.

So that left me feeling confused. Why did one actor feel entitled to be paid for a photograph while the other one understood I was doing this for work? Was it my delivery that made the difference? Or, was one actor just being a snob?

Even when I decided to take a photograph of the entire crowd at Comic-Con, the first actor grabbed a nearby folder and covered his face the way Wilson from the TV show "Home Improvement" did. By that point, I just found his behavior to be corny. I ended up getting a couple of off-guard shots while taking those crowd shots. And I observed countless millennials walk by him without realizing he was a celebrity at all. Meanwhile this same crew was falling all over the "heartthrob" actor, especially after a controversial politician stopped to talk to him at his booth.

But when I got home with those photographs and published them, I purposely cropped out the actor that didn't want to be seen. Regardless of my opinion about his behavior, the fact was that he didn't want to be photographed. And if he didn't want to be in a photograph, then I didn't want him in my photographs. 

That was one of the first thoughts I had while reading the uproar over "The Cosby Show" actor Geoffrey Owens (who many of you may know as "Elvin Tibideaux, Sandra's husband") working at Trader Joe's.

I don't read Daily Mail, but after seeing yesterday's uproar on Twitter regarding a 50-year-old Trader Joe's shopper Karma Lawrence taking photographs of Owens, I finally clicked on the post. (Hell, if Don Cheadle is retweeting about a topic, I care.) And I read the entire thing and thought, "So what? He works at Trader Joe's. Where's the news in this?" There is this bizarre belief that every single actor must want all the fame and the glory instead of the art. (This is one of many reasons that I enjoy work from actors such as Don Cheadle, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael B. Jordan, who will do blockbuster films and then do something artsy.) Every actor is not going to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame anymore than every author isn't going to be on the New York Times best-seller's list.

It wasn't just the comment about Owens being heavier (and the person who took his photograph is not in model shape either), but this comment: "It made me feel really bad. I was like, 'Wow, all those years of doing the show and you ended up as a cashier.'" 

First of all, if your wife is a security manager in the same store, who are you to judge?

Second of all, why in the world did your wife allow you to take the photographs? What exactly does she do as the security manager? She's clearly not managing the privacy of the workers in Trader Joe's.

Third of all, how does one judge the people working in a store that you're shopping in? If Trader Joe's is so horrendous to be affiliated with, then you shouldn't buy products from there either.

Fourth of all, as someone who has been a cashier for two retail stores before moving into the publishing industry, there is nothing at all wrong with being a cashier.

Fifth and final, why not just ask Geoffrey Owens if he wouldn't mind taking a photograph with you, preferably after work when he's not focused on a register or other tasks on the job? He may say "no." He may happily say "yes." Hell, he may even hide behind a folder. But the fact that these photos were sneakily taken gives me the impression that Karma Lawrence ignored the meaning of her first name and took the photos solely to make fun of him.

And what did she resolve? It made the floodgates open for Trader Joe's shoppers to compliment the store. It made even more people encourage him for having a job with benefits. And it got people talking about how much they've enjoyed the films and television shows on his IMDB page, two of which are in post-production now so the man is still acting. What didn't it do? I'm having a more difficult time finding social media statuses or blog comments shaming him for what Karma Lawrence is shaming him for: working.

But her behavior made me reevaluate my own behavior with the actor who did not want to be photographed. While I did ask him for a photograph with the intention of posting it for my job, there's still the indignant manner we both seemed to have about feeling entitled to a photograph of someone who absolutely has the right to not be photographed. I honored a request. She didn't even bother to ask. My photograph was intended for promotion. Hers was with the intention to clown him. But there's still the disturbing thinking that celebrities should just be used to being photographed involuntarily.

While they may do the work to entertain us on television, in plays, on the radio and even on social media, being in the entertainment industry should not make you feel required to be everybody's zoo animal. Regardless of the response, we should always ask to take a photograph of anyone. We should always get permission to use the photograph. And unless you plan on paying this entertainer's bills for him (or her), none of us should be passing judgment on what someone else does to get their finances paid on time.


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