In 2009, four teenagers from Calabasas, California, made headlines for successfully robbing the homes of celebrities like Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge and Orlando Bloom. The group, known today as the Bling Ring, is the subject of a new Netflix mini-documentary series detailing their crimes and the toxicity of the endless pursuit of fame.
Featuring two of the original members of the Bling Ring, Alexis Neiers and Nick Prugo, the docuseries reveals a new angle on a story originally made famous by tabloids and the 2013 film starring Emma Watson ’14. In the three 50-minute episodes, Neiers and Prugo take viewers through their experience of becoming infamous criminals.
Prugo describes him and his best friend Rachel Lee’s obsession with status, celebrity and material things, which drove them to casually check if cars were unlocked and break into Paris Hilton’s house to swipe her clothes.
Neiers, whose involvement in the crimes of the Bling Ring is more ambiguous, also cites a hunger for fame as driving her entanglement with the thefts. Before participating in robbing Orlando Bloom, Prugo gave her his “leftovers” from a previous heist, which Neiers and her family claim she assumed were from Prugo’s work as a stylist. Prugo disagrees, saying Neiers knew that the clothes he was giving her were stolen.
Much of Neiers’s and Prugo’s accounts contradict each other. Often, the stories change from one member of Neier’s family to the next. What stays consistent as the interviewees tell their stories is everyone’s desperation for fame and becoming “somebody.”
Prugo, who felt insecure about his socioeconomic background and sexuality growing up, explains that he became more confident with every new luxury he stole. He says he felt proud while riding into school in a stolen Porsche and even more satisfied sauntering around Hollywood — and posing for photos — wearing Orlando Bloom’s sunglasses.
Neiers, who wanted to be successful in the entertainment industry before meeting Prugo, manifests her imminent fame through a daily morning chant with her family. Eventually, E! Entertainment offers her a reality TV show, which eventually follows her into her trial. Neiers’s obsession with celebrity, however, becomes her downfall when she becomes addicted to drugs and teams up with Prugo to fund her addiction.
A prevalent theme throughout the series is the dangers of celebrity. On several occasions, interviewees distinguish between celebrities and stars. Celebrities, they explain, are famous for being famous, citing the Kardashians and Hiltons as popular examples. Stars, however, are famous because they are talented. From Marilyn Monroe to Lady Gaga, stars have a quality that eventually leads to their fame.
The documentary’s main warning is that celebrity for the sake of celebrity leads to dark consequences: seventeen-year-olds stealing rings and Rolexes. It leads to a young woman allowing a film crew to broadcast her as she awaits her trial. It leads to audiences unconsciously applauding such actions because they too are obsessed with celebrity and will watch anything related to it.
At one point while watching “The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist,” you realize that you are the problem. You are unable to look away as Prugo and Neiers describe the inside of Bloom’s house or the opulence of Hilton’s accessories. You realize that they got the fame they so desperately wanted and that you are partially to thank for that. And that becomes terrifying.