I'M not usually one to feel sorry for celebrities. Of all the hardships in today's world, having to endure the interest and adulation of the public doesn't rate that highly in my book.
Yes, it must be a pain to be followed by cameras every time you step outside your house -- but I reckon the lifestyle might make up for it.
But then, last week while browsing online, I came across a link to pictures of Natalie Portman's wedding.
You may well have seen them, as they have been distributed on all the main entertainment news platforms. Grainy, long-lens photographs possibly taken by someone in a helicopter, or from very far away in the bushes. For those paps who got the pics of the ceremony it was a coup.
But as soon as I saw them -- Natalie beaming in her Rodarte gown, seemingly completely unaware of the gimlet eye of the lens bearing down on her at that moment, I felt guilty. It was that same guilt you get when reading someone's diary, when you hear their voice jumping off the page and suddenly they sound so innocent, and you feel so grubby.
It's easy to blame the predatory photographers, but it's not their fault, any more than it's the journal-keepers fault for leaving their diary out. I didn't have to look.
Now, I'm sure the disappointment of having her wedding spied on won't make much of a dent on Portman's gilded life. But that's not the point. Those pictures are an example of a type of voyeurism that's probably more harmful for the viewer than for the viewed. Mainly because it makes us feel bad about ourselves.
Because it seems I wasn't alone. Scanning the comments underneath the pics the common response was, "I wish I hadn't seen these."
Interest in celebrities isn't, despite what we might believe, some grubby modern phenomenon. Even as far back as the 1920s there was thriving gossip press.
And for the most part it's fair game. Celebrities depend for their success on our interest in them, and the most appealing of them graciously acknowledge as much. When they become famous, stars must accept that fame confers a fiscal value on information about their personal life. There is nothing more annoying than stars bleating on about the hardship of public life, when it's our interest in them that keeps them in designer dresses and five-star hotels.
Snapping anyone, including a celebrity, in a public place or a bar is absolutely fair game as far as I'm concerned. No one has a right to privacy in a public place. If Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders are going to canoodle in a car park, they can't really expect the world to politely turn a blind eye.
But there's an instinctive limit of acceptability on all of this. We feel it immediately when it's crossed. And photos taken from the bushes of a small private wedding feel like they cross it. As does the hacking of mobile phones. When there's no consent, and the incentive is purely commercial, it seems a bit like bounty hunting.
I'm not in favour of further regulation to protect Natalie Portman and her ilk from this kind of thing. She's fine. But crossing the limit does have a rather deflating effect on those of us who do it.
It's the same experience as looking at those up-skirt pictures of women getting out of cars. Or the HD photographs of famous women who have spots or wrinkles or cellulite. Seeing this stuff gives us a momentary illicit thrill. We revel for a moment in their humiliation, in the glimpse of something we are not supposed to see. But ultimately it just makes us feel bad about ourselves.
The problem with this kind of guilt is that it threatens to lead us down the wrong path. Guilt muddies moral clarity. And because of Natalie Portman's wedding and all those times we've perved over some A-lister's cellulite, we start to feel conflicted about what the media should and shouldn't know.
And before you know it, people are bellowing over the right to privacy of the criminal developer Tom McFeely, who is not a celebrity whose worst transgression was a cheesy romcom called No Strings Attached, but a businessman accountable to both the public and those who trusted him with their homes. When people start to defend someone like him against the press, you know it's not reason talking, it's deferred guilt.
The issue of public interest gets lost, because the sight of our own curiosity disgusts us and it's easier to blame paparazzi and journalists than to examine the voyeuristic impulse in ourselves.