“Celebrities are always whining about people following them around,” he says.

“We’re like, Are you kidding? That’s our dream!” So says Phillip Barker, in an interview with TIME magazine, about hiring personal paparazzi to follow him and his friends around during a bar-hopping birthday party.

For upwards of $1,500 a pop, anyone with an inclination for snapshot blindness, a desire for intimate contact with strangers and a penchant for crass, intimate questions shouted in your face can experience all of the glory that comes with being a Page Six celebrity. They’ll even throw in the personalized buttons that say “Huge Jackass” for free.

As a general rule, I don’t think people are bad. I believe that most people do the very best they can under the circumstances, that they are indeed good at heart and will govern their lives with decency, restraint and compassion if given half a chance. However, when I read about the success of companies like Celeb 4 A Day, based in Austin but shortly to expand to Los Angles and San Fran, I begin to doubt my optimistic naiveté.

What of the general social literacy of our populace who see, each and every day, the terrifically tragic trappings of stardom and celebrity? Whether it’s the shocking passing of Heath Ledger, the seemingly inevitable decline of Brad Renfro or the continuing saga of misfortune that is Britney Spears’ freak show (did you know that the Associated Press has started her obituary, to have on file just in case?), any fairly competent human being has to realize the very real horrors of living life under the camera lens, each foible and fallibility irradiated bare by the lightning strike of flashbulbs.

I suppose it’s a blessing, then, that these companies charge such an astronomical rate to have faux photogs chase you and your friends around. Any cheaper and people might indulge more often and actually come to understand the difference between one night out with the paparazzi and an entire life held hostage by that seething pack of degenerate shutter-jerk fluffer burnouts.

Celeb 4 A Day’s Austin Citysearch Web site describes their services as the “…personal paparazzi experience for birthdays, gag gifts, parties, weddings or any other special event that requires the star treatment.” For the real star treatment, add these events to that photo list: waking up in the morning without any makeup, taking your children to school and having their pictures splashed across magazines that are worth less than the cancer-causing ink they are printed with, hospital visits, grocery shopping, funerals, vacations, at work, at home, at your local restaurant, the airport, any parking lot, any day of the year.

There is a reason that actors, politicians, athletes and newsmakers often put up with the paparazzi – they need to get noticed and they often get paid, directly or indirectly, by how noticed they are. More to the point, there are very few stars in that world who truly have the courage and principles to walk away from the spotlight if they are so inclined.

It’s true that the paparazzi are the worst kind of insects, feeding off our own leavings as media-mad, celeb-gossip starved consumers, but when the food runs out, the camera cockroaches scurry away. A newsmaker that doesn’t make news doesn’t sell papers or online subscriptions. An actor who packs up and moves to Italy to be a shoe cobbler barely gets a mention (until he comes back to work and gets the next Oscar nod, that is).

So if you really want to pay for flashbulb fame, don’t think for a minute that when your $1,500 runs out you’re anything different than what you were when your private paparazzi night began. You’re just $1,500 more broke, clueless and vacuous than you already were.