Tuesday, May 30, 2006 at 10:38 AM
Celebrities are fascinating because they live in a parallel universe…one that makes our lives seem woefully dull by comparison. The teary chat with Diane [Sawyer of ABC] quickly turns to the subject of a recent $10 million film fee and honorary United Nations ambassadorship. The magazines…feature Cameron Diaz wrapped in a $15,000 couture gown and glowing with youth, money and star power. We’re left hanging—and we want more. [Carlin Flora, Psychology Today Magazine]
On the other hand, I have no sympathy for celebrities who covet attention and then whine when it becomes too inconvenient (like when they’re caught snorting cocaine, having an affair or not looking their retouched best). And no one personifies this Janus-faced feature of celebrity more than model Kate Moss – who makes her most notable predecessor in this role, Gia, seem like an unruly schoolgirl.
Even more irritating in this respect, however, are the celebrities who frequent the most public of places and events, and then act as though the paparazzi are invading their privacy (or space) by taking “money shots” of them. And no one demonstrates this contrived feature of celebrity more than actor Russell Crowe – who makes his most notorious predecessor in this role, Sean Penn, seem like a temperamental choirboy.
Yet, the recent move Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt orchestrated pursuant to this oxymoronic tension between celebrities and the paparazzi is unprecedented. Because the Associated Press (AP) reports that – in order to prevent (unapproved) paparazzi from capturing any of their activities in the exotic but impoverished African nation of Namibia:
Jolie and Pitt pressured Namibian authorities…to hand over control of their international land borders and airspace and grant them the right to decide which members of the paparazzi would be allowed to enter the country during their [high-profile] stay.
And anyone who buys the PR spin that Jolie and Pitt’s affinity for Africa inspired them to extract these extraordinary concessions from the Namibian government probably also believes that their new-born child “Shiloh” is a baby messiah who will turn Namibia into a tourism Mecca – much as Elvis did for Memphis. After all, Jolie and Pitt’s motives seem far more selfish (and self-righteous). Because the AP also reports that:
…the pair have already sold the rights for the photo for $5.4 million [and] told ministers they would quit the country unless allegedly intrusive journalists and paparazzi were brought to heel.
But, with all of the privileges and prerogatives accorded celebrities, does anyone think that the government of any developed country would genuflect to Jolie and Pitt as the Namibian government appears to have done? Or, to put it more precisely, does anyone think that Jolie and Pitt would even attempt to exploit their celebrity this way in any developed country? (It’s instructive to note that Tom Cruise and Kate Holmes – who are in the same celebrity firmament as Jolie and Pitt – recently had their baby without undue intrusion in a city with the highest density of paparazzi on planet earth, Los Angeles.)
Meanwhile, anyone who thinks my allusion to the messiah is farfetched should consider that there’s serious talk in Namibia about creating a national holiday in honor baby Shiloh; which appears egregiously unwarranted considering that scarcely a thought seems to have been given to creating a holiday in honor of the native son who put Namibia on the map many years ago – Olympian and World Champion Frank Fredericks.
Nonetheless, where I couldn’t care any less about the way people worship celebrities or the way celebrities orchestrate their symbiotic relationship with the paparazzi, I am profoundly dismayed by the way Namibian authorities have allowed themselves to be played by Jolie and Pitt. Because selling-out their national sovereignty for charitable gifts totaling $315,000 from this Hollywood couple – to say nothing of compromising their national heritage by acting as if the birth of the Jolie-Pitt child is the best thing that has ever happened in Namibia – seems naïve, misguided and celebrity-obsessed to an almost unconscionable degree.
NOTE: I feel constrained to add that no one is more acutely aware that a few celebrities put the public’s obsession with their lives to good use. (Eg. click here and here) And where rock star Bono looms larger than life in this respect, Jolie is worthy of commendation in her own right (as goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees). But none of her acts of charity – including, some might suggest, not only adopting an African child but now giving birth to one as well – entitles her to prey on the ingenuousness of Namibians who seem starved of everything from national revenues to international celebrities.
(Incidentally, apropos Namibian expectations that the birth of Shiloh will boost national revenues, perhaps they ought to consult the Cambodians and Ethiopians who are still waiting for such benefits after Jolie adopted a boy, Maddox, and a girl, Zahara, from their countries, respectively….)