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Angelina Jolie’s Perfect Game
June 3, 2014 1:17 AM   Subscribe

Her image was built on the infrastructure of the status quo — a straight, white, doting mother engaged in a long-term monogamous relationship — but made just extraordinary enough to truly entice but never offend. [SLBF]
posted by chavenet (84 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I miss weird Angelina. She made me feel like it was okay to be crazy.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:24 AM on June 3 [8 favorites]


"when Loretta Young found herself pregnant with the very married Clark Gable’s baby, she traveled to Europe, went into hiding, gave the baby up for adoption… and then adopted her."

Setting aside the horribleness that made this necessary, that tactic is awesome.
posted by Bugbread at 1:27 AM on June 3 [62 favorites]


1) To make it more believable or something, the original story was that Young was going to adopt two babies, but so sad, the second adoption fell through.

2) Young gave an interview while nine months pregnant, from her bed, saying she was confined (cough) due to a childhood medical condition.

3) That poor child wore Easter bonnets year round until she was seven and could have ear-pinning surgery because she supposedly so clearly had Clark Gable's ears that anyone who looked at her would immediately realize she was, in her mother's own words, "a walking mortal sin."

Fun times in Old Hollywood.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:41 AM on June 3 [17 favorites]


Setting aside the horribleness that made this necessary, that tactic is awesome.

"Honey, sit down, I have to tell you something... you weren't really adopted."
posted by XMLicious at 1:55 AM on June 3 [85 favorites]


One thing I really admire about Angelina Jolie is that her 'trajectory' doesn't seem manufactured at all - she was strong enough to just be who she wanted to be. And sometimes, going from an image of being 'the weird/crazy one' to 'the happily domestic one' can be a lot harder than people think. Sure, she's a celebrity and can work it for all it's worth, but she seems to genuinely use that celebrity for causes she believes in. And I think that is pretty fantastic.

Of course, I could just be a sucker.
posted by Megami at 2:38 AM on June 3 [5 favorites]


It's amazing how hard someone so beautiful, talented, intelligent, compassionate, and wealthy has to work to not come off like a monster in the press.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:46 AM on June 3 [18 favorites]


So boring, the whole idea of creating and managing identities. Good for both of them for any good works they've done.

I do admire her for getting a private pilots license and buying a Cirrus for herself. That shows some application.

And, Brad Pitt for buying one of the 37 remaining flyable Spitfire fighter planes left in the world. Now that is how to be a film star.
posted by C.A.S. at 2:50 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


So Jolie’s image mixed dangerous sexuality…and benevolent humanitarianism? It sounds ridiculous.

Because if you're a woman you can't be a sexual being and also be a good person. Literally ridiculous.
posted by billiebee at 3:55 AM on June 3 [70 favorites]


Weird way to straightwash a woman who identifies publically as bi.
posted by Iteki at 4:06 AM on June 3 [15 favorites]


It's amazing how hard someone so beautiful, talented, intelligent, compassionate, and wealthy has to work to not come off like a monster in the press.

I agree with this completely, yet still LOL'd given her current role as Malificent.
posted by eriko at 4:33 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


billiebee: "Because if you're a woman you can't be a sexual being and also be a good person."

I find "dangerous" and "benevolent humanitarianism" to sound ridiculous for all genders. The article isn't using the word "dangerous" in the sense of "she was sexual, which made her dangerous", but in the "she played with knives in bed" sense.
posted by Bugbread at 4:52 AM on June 3


Ohhh yeah, I remember when Angelina Jolie was presented as a foil to Jennifer Aniston. Ten years ago, when I paid attention to celebrity gossip, I had a stupid disproportionate hatred for Jennifer Aniston: she wasn't interesting in the least, but the tabloids wouldn't shut up about her. She was presented as a sort of chick-lit-protagonist everywoman, the star you were supposed to identify with or at least root for, and for ages it seemed like every issue of every magazine had snapshots of her looking disappointed or wistful while the (at the time) so-obviously-unlike-us Jolie stole her man. As with pretty much every celebrity in the universe, I knew butt-all about Aniston as a real person, but reacted to how she was presented. I eventually got over my Jennifer Aniston hate, which is a relief, because what a lame thing to waste brain cells on.

She's tangential to Jolie at this point, but this article really made me want to see something similar about Aniston's path in the public eye. I'm fascinated by how someone with a relatively unexciting, controversy-free career and public life held our attention for so long. I think she might still be grimacing on tabloid covers to this day.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:06 AM on June 3 [3 favorites]


Weird way to straightwash a woman who identifies publically as bi.

Does she still? She's had a variety of public personas, and I don't pay enough attention to know if that is something that has shifted as well or not.

I'm fascinated by how someone with a relatively unexciting, controversy-free career and public life held our attention for so long.

Aniston defined bland. I never understood her popularity at all.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:24 AM on June 3


Dip Flash: "Aniston defined bland. I never understood her popularity at all."

Friends was a very, very popular show, and she was the female lead. And she was married to Brad Pitt. I didn't find her interesting, but her popularity wasn't really puzzling, either.
posted by Bugbread at 5:33 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


I always thought her (Jolie's) using her ascendant popularity to shed light on things that should have light shed on them was a really clever, decent thing to do. Whatever else I have or haven't thought about her, I always respected her using the celebrity glare to shine light on things that needed it more than she did.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:36 AM on June 3 [14 favorites]


I hate celebrity as an idea but I like Angelina Jolie. She seems to be her own person and quite forthcoming in the few interviews I've seen. She was brutally honest when she was on Inside the Actor's Studio. Maybe I'm not paying close attention or perhaps my guile detector is broken.
posted by vapidave at 5:38 AM on June 3 [4 favorites]


I mostly liked the article for presenting the idea of 'semiotic speech,' and it's interesting that no one here calls that out. My gut reaction is that no one here thinks it's an odd idea -- it just doesn't seem unusual -- but out in the world I have to defend that concept whenever I present it.
posted by lodurr at 5:47 AM on June 3


Aniston defined bland. I never understood her popularity at all.

One man's bland is another man's girl-next-door. And she was great in Office Space.
posted by jonmc at 5:58 AM on June 3 [14 favorites]


I'm fascinated by how someone with a relatively unexciting, controversy-free career and public life held our attention for so long.

Y'all understand that she bought the publicity, no? Stars purchase tabloid/magazine frontpage space. (Yes, there are also paparazzi, but it is not exclusively "gotcha" media.) Aniston spent a fortune purchasing "popularity". All the better to demand the beaucoup bux when a contract comes around.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:11 AM on June 3 [3 favorites]


Aniston defined bland. I never understood her popularity at all.

She's does an excellent job playing the 'straight man' in a comedy movie. Watch 'We are the Millers' or 'Wanderlust'. Its not the type of roles she is most famous for, but she is excellent in them.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:11 AM on June 3 [6 favorites]


I have very strong reservations about Angelina Jolie because of the ethics behind her adoptions. While I know plenty of people with more unethical adoptions (most of whom are simultaneously loving parents - it's complicated), they don't usually simultaneously present themselves as international humanitarians with reputations tied to ethics. Her children are loved and in a great family, but there is a dissonance there about their adoptions that jars badly, and one that is very clearly absent from her publicity. Madonna's adoptions got far more press coverage with better overall conditions. It bugs me because I want to like and admire her, but this one glaring omission that I am more hyper-aware of than most because of my own experiences adoption in Cambodia makes me feel very cautious about any of her public image.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:29 AM on June 3 [12 favorites]


Aniston is a far better actress than she typically has had the chance to show, and she's pretty great at goosing whatever comedy she's in. It's hard to believe the same actress made The Good Girl and Horrible Bosses.

Also, her shame about her flair in Office Space is a master class in the psychological gesture.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:45 AM on June 3 [17 favorites]


She's tangential to Jolie at this point, but this article really made me want to see something similar about Aniston's path in the public eye.

Judging from the tabloid covers at my grocery store, the two of them are still very much intertwined in the American gossip-psyche.
posted by Etrigan at 7:01 AM on June 3


I googled about the adoptions and they seem fine afaict.

Zahara's mother abandoned her with her grandmother when she could not provide for her and the grandmother put her up for adoption when she was unable to find Zahara's mother and also unable to provide for Zahara. Zahara's mother reportedly has said she is glad her daughter is alive and was adopted by those who can care for her.

Maddox was orphaned and no one has claimed to be his parents, unless the Cambodian government prevented the parents from saying anything, which I'm sure is entirely possible.

I know there's issues some people have with cross cultural adoptions, but I imagine it's hard to go to these places and not want to provide for every starving child and family you see, knowing you can do so. Not saying you have these issues, just saying in general.
posted by sio42 at 7:02 AM on June 3 [3 favorites]


In the year since her announcement about being BRCA-positive and having mastectomies, I kind of expected her to do some more work or be more visible on this topic.

Not that she can be blamed for not doing so: it's a private health matter, and she should effectively be done with it after lowering her risk. But she has spoken out on so many issues that I figured one so personal would get more attention over time.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:06 AM on June 3


The complicating thing is that the child's mother obviously loved her child and Jolie could easily have funded housing, food, and medical care for the mother to stay with her child. The whole idea that giving children who already have mothers a better life means helping yourself to their children in the process is disturbing enough it should be questioned.
posted by xarnop at 7:10 AM on June 3 [15 favorites]


A rush I've never understood - i.e. living vicariously through those who are perceived to have more...of whatever. We are truly strange, easily manipulated beings (we're a cool species, too!). Now I understand why people voted for Ronald Reagan. Any one of these celebrities, if they wanted, could run for and win very high office in America. Heck, the more famous ones could move to another country, nationalize, and still win high position in public office.
posted by Vibrissae at 7:22 AM on June 3


xarnop, i totally get what you are saying but that is not what happened. the birth mother abandoned her child. she didn't ask for her back.

that's a lot different than if the birth mother was saying "oh i want my baby back, my mother gave her up for adoption even tho i had let her know where i was and that i'd be back."

seems like the birth mother would rather her child be cared for by someone else. given that, i can't call into question what Jolie did or find it disturbing. i find it more disturbing that the birth mother was raped walking home from work, probably had no access to safe abortions, and had a child she didn't want and couldn't provide for, to the point of having to abandon the child with her own mother, who also couldn't provide for the child. that's an incredibly sad situation all around.
posted by sio42 at 7:28 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


One of the things that appeals to me about Jolie is that in a culture where so many actresses are sold as being "The girl next door" or "One of the guys" she has maintained an air of mystery about her despite being a constant paparazzi subject. Something that gets forgotten in much of her press coverage is that she is a pretty great actress, who makes interesting film choices (even though it would be incredibly easy, being one of the most beautiful women on the planet, to take the easy route of just doing romantic comedy after romantic comedy).

The complicating thing is that the child's mother obviously loved her child and Jolie could easily have funded housing, food, and medical care for the mother to stay with her child. The whole idea that giving children who already have mothers a better life means helping yourself to their children in the process is disturbing enough it should be questioned.

I don't know that it's fair to put this kind of expectation on Jolie. Where does it stop? Even her wealth, I assume, has its limits. I don't think it's reasonable to expect her to just randomly pick which impoverished families she is going to bless with the good life by single-handedly funding every financial need in perpetuity.
posted by The Gooch at 7:36 AM on June 3 [7 favorites]


Judging from the tabloid covers at my grocery store, the two of them are still very much intertwined in the American gossip-psyche.

Yeah, the gossip industry seem to have completely invented a narrative where Aniston is this jealous, possibly barren spinster who seethes at every Jolie success and yearns for a husband and children of her own. I have no personal knowledge of what Aniston wants, but she's filthy rich and presumably could've gotten a baby of her own through numerous means if she really wanted one (and couldn't have one for fertility reasons). Compare the coverage of her as a sad-sack, lonely-middle-age-childless-woman to Clooney's footloose-bachelor-who-trades-in-for-a-new-starlet-annually (until The Engagement to End All Engagements) for a really clear illustration of the gross sexism involved.
posted by Mavri at 7:37 AM on June 3 [30 favorites]


That article was really interesting and its neat to look back at the full narrative well after the fact, and how well it suits her. So... success for team Jolie in bending that story.

In most cases celebrities are 'meh' to me and if I were to meet them in person I would have no need to impress them or conversely to try to take them down but I'm fairly certain I would probably cower before Angelina, out of admiration, and Oprah, out of fear. (And I'm pretty sure Russell Brand scares me too - you'd have to be very on your game to joust with him.)

Also, from what I gather Hollywood is just high-school fueled by drugs and sex and everyone f**ing everyone else, and nothing is as it seems. But that look Pitt gave Jolie when she presented at the Oscars, well..... there's lots of gossip about both of them having regular sidepieces, but their mainpieces are clearly each other.

So in general I admire her except:

- when she fired her stylist for that peek-a-boo leg dress fiasco. That showed she had NO sense of humor about herself.

- her addition to culture of this "awesome tough women" line a la Tomb Raider which is such a trope by now it's beyond lame, and narrows the script for what feminine strength can look like (and surprise! its masculine). (But at least she is pretty much the only woman Action Heroine in a landscape of Action Heroes. They rewrote Salt to make the main character a woman instead of a man.)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:54 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


I don't have to read the stylist story to know for a fact that it proves literally nothing about her sense of humor.
posted by aydeejones at 8:03 AM on June 3 [3 favorites]


(just as much as Jennifer Aniston and Angelina having publicists paying for cover shots proves nothing other than that they promote and protect themselves as a brand, like everyone else who has abundant capital to inject into their business)
posted by aydeejones at 8:06 AM on June 3


one evening about ten years ago on the slopes of mt. everest, a young sherpa couple was sitting down to a dinner of grilled yak. the man noticed that his wife had a sad, wistful expression and was uncharacteristically silent, so he asked "what troubles you, my darling?"

"brad and jen are breaking up. the world's most perfect couple. if they can't make it work, what hope is there for us?"

"mmphlslph."

"DON'T TALK WITH YOUR MOUTH FULL, YOU PIG!"
posted by bruce at 8:08 AM on June 3


I adore both actresses and feel bad for even bringing up Aniston here... But I was a clique walker in high school, square and stoner and computer nerd alike, and Rachel on friends was quite squee and precious but almost painfully likeable to teenage boys and girls alike. I grew up in a mostly black neighborhood and was fascinated how much my "many black friends" identified with Rachel on friends or say, Brenda on 90210,only because they poked so much fun at me and white culture. I realized how good natured it was to be ribbed kindly in retrospect.

Angelina did Hackers and Aniston did office space and I liked those movies quite a bit for different reasons, bringing order to the universe.
posted by aydeejones at 8:14 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


I keep expecting Jenny Shimizu to re-emerge in the public Jolie narrative triumphant like an avenging demon on a firey chopper yelling "I told you she'd always be mine!" The doctor says those moments are when I should take my white pills.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:21 AM on June 3 [7 favorites]


The actual story, as I’ve heard it, is that the child was starving and the biological mother ran away leaving her child in the care of the grandmother who didn’t have enough food. Judging how much this child’s family wanted or loved her by their behavior while starving doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, as starvation causes brain changes and erratic desperate decision making. And that’s just the point, it doesn’t sound like it was ever proposed “How about we pay for your family to eat and have medical care and you all can stay together?” The biological mother, nor the grandmother, did not say anywhere I could read that they wanted to lose connections with their daughter—just that they were happy their daughter could eat and if this is the only way they would celebrate it. And it did seem to be the only option they had that included their daughter eating and having needed resources.

Compare how Angelina's behavior, discussing her own self harm and issues of being in a dark place from which she "couldn't get out of bed in the morning" and how because of her fame and sex appeal and resources she still is able to celebrate her motherhood when many poor mothers, mothers of color, and mothers with history of mental illness or disability are fighting to keep their children from removal.

I still think Renee at womanist musings had some pretty salient points in her piece about Angelina Jolie and motherhood.

I actually like the subversive nature Jolie often represents, I just feel like when you're at the top of a culture and using your own subversive nature to sell yourself MORE you're now part of THEM, the very them you started off your image as being in opposition do. I hope she continues to grow as a person and personally I think our cultural obsession with celebrities, following their lead, dissecting their lives, and placing them in positions of power they may not be equipped to maneuver (such as ambassader, were there really no candidates better educated who would have done the job better?) is toxic and not entirely the fault of the celebrities themselves.
posted by xarnop at 8:42 AM on June 3


I've always wondered if Aniston benefits or not from the ridiculous sad-sack gossip narrative. The woman does have a 9-figure net worth.
posted by leopard at 8:58 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


I have more mixed feelings about Angelina Jolie. I feel ridiculous for having an opinion on any of this but I could identify more with Jennifer Aniston than Angelina Jolie and when Brad Pitt left Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie, it seemed kind of nightmare-ish. If I were a woman in Hollywood and I was married to The Sexiest Man Alive and he went to work on a movie with a gorgeous, talented woman, I would worry that he would fall in love with her and leave me for her and that is what appears to have happened. I realize that I am not a woman in Hollywood and these are supposedly real people and there is a lot more to whatever happened than I am privy to but that's how I perceived it.

I also get the impression that Angelina Jolie is very image-conscious, on par with Beyonce. Maybe Jennifer Aniston is too but it seems like a lot of people believe that Jolie is like Gandhi with an Oscar and huge lips and a collection of children. To me, that means that either she actually is not too far from Gandhi with an Oscar or she's great at manipulating the press and frankly, the latter seems a lot more likely. That said, I do think it's wonderful that she has used her stature to draw attention to issues related to refugees. I like to think that if I was a celebrity, I would use my stature to advance causes as well.

Also - and I recognize that this is super shallow - I never get the impression that Angelina Jolie is having any fun. I'm sure walking on red carpets gets boring and especially as a parent, she may prefer to be with her family, but she never looks like she's having fun. I am more fond of celebrities who appear to be having a good time, like Jennifer Lawrence, though she may be having too much fun.
posted by kat518 at 9:04 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


MESS WITH THE BEST. DIE LIKE THE REST.
posted by Fizz at 9:26 AM on June 3 [4 favorites]


St Peepsburg: (But at least she is pretty much the only woman Action Heroine in a landscape of Action Heroes. They rewrote Salt to make the main character a woman instead of a man.)

Meh. Maybe as a mega-star, but I'm not sure the argument is that great even there. The list of actors who can be cast as female action heroes is small but it is growing and it's not constrained to the Jolie badass model. She's had a longer run than most, to be sure, and much like black leading men, there seems to be only room for a small number at a time -- but that space is expanding as money folks learn they can make bucks off female action heroes.

Off the top of my head, and trying to keep it reasonably current: Jennifer Lawrence, Ming-Na Wen, Katee Sackhoff, Kate Beckinsdale, Mila Jovovich, Sandra Bullock, Scarlett Johansson, Zoe Saldana. Some less obvious examples include Melissa McCarthy & Helen Mirren. Obviously not all of those get a lot of credits as action heros, but a few (e.g. Johansson, Lawrence, Jovovich, and Beckinsdale) have made a bit of a rep for it.

And honestly I don't think Jolie should get credit for greasing that skid. Kate Beckinsdale and Mila Jovovich should get more.

So let's think about why we (and by 'we' i do mean 'you and I', because I initially shared your thought about Jolie) think of Jolie as that action heroine prototype? I think this article is about why: It's how she manages her image. Much as with musicians, the actual influence and the perceived influence are often very different things. The actual influences are usually people you don't see or who are less well-known; the perceived influences are high-profile, but at least in the first generation, they don't typically have as much real influence as the people who are later written off as minor players.
posted by lodurr at 9:33 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


The whole idea that giving children who already have mothers a better life means helping yourself to their children in the process is disturbing enough it should be questioned.

So much of people's success is due to their environment. I have a hard time believing Zahara would fare as well in that part of the world, even with the Jolie-Pitt money, than she would in the US.

Some people cannot raise their biological children, even if they do love them, because they know the child may be better off someplace else. And that's okay.
posted by girlmightlive at 9:36 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


These are real letters, but People’s choice to run these particular ones — always in a way that outshines the single dissenting voice — implicitly encouraged other readers to take up the same attitudes.

[...]

Her savvy, then, stems from the same thing that makes us write better as we grow older or think more expansively after traveling abroad, the thing that happens when you realize your relative insignificance, or have to make difficult decisions, or experience pain, or witness suffering. It’s the sort of skill that can’t be taught, and that’s the reason Jolie doesn’t need a publicist: Everything she says and does in public is guided by her myriad, textured, educating experiences of the world.


And we were thus ushered into a utopia of goodness and light where everything was right and nothing was wrong anymore.
posted by saucy_knave at 9:47 AM on June 3


I agree with many of the comments upthread that applaud Jolie for using her stardom for good. I am a huge fangirl about Jolie when otherwise I don't care a whit about celebrity - she isn't just beautiful (which she is, she is stunning) she is really smart and has amazing self awareness (in a good way). Great article.
posted by bluesky43 at 9:49 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


Well I disagree that people being forced (by the necessity of poverty) to hand their children over to wealthy people if they want their children to eat is an ok state of affairs, or that this is a model that anyone should see as "ok" or a status quo we should aspire towards keeping rather than actively breaking down by addressing the plight of poor children and their families in more truly humanitarian ways.

I think it reflects a cultural blind sport that Angelina fell into as a result of a large portion of society viewing adoption as a favorable solution to poverty over feeling compelled to actively address poverty in ways that center the needs of low income and poor people even when they are adults as well as when they are children, and that value the ties between families and the needs of families to stay together.
posted by xarnop at 9:53 AM on June 3 [3 favorites]


Idk, I'm personally glad I didn't have to die of malnutrition or avoidable childhood diseases, but instead got to live in the US and have access to medical care and running water. I'm also glad I didn't have to live to adulthood in a country where other women my age and ethnicity were forcibly sterilized by the government. Sorry that offends you I guess.
posted by elizardbits at 10:03 AM on June 3 [9 favorites]


Adoption is often a favorable solution to living in poverty, if the circumstances call for it.

Zahara is, what, six years old, and she gets to travel the world, live in a safe city, be part of a large, multicultural family, with a guaranteed college education already paid for and US citizenship. Even if Jolie sent her mother money, she wouldn't necessarily have all those opportunities.

We also shouldn't assume that her mother wanted to raise Zahara in the first place. She has said that she is glad that the girl is living the life she has now.
posted by girlmightlive at 10:07 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Adoption is often a favorable solution to living in poverty, if the circumstances call for it.

It's downright traditional. And it's probably had a lot of the same problems associated with it for most of the time it's been practice (which is probably more or less forever). You could draw an analogy with 'fosterage'.
posted by lodurr at 10:12 AM on June 3


Jolie always bothered me as an action hero. Her physique just never looked right, she is just too skinny for me to believe that she spends most of her time punching people.

If we're going to cast women in action roles, I've always though they should look more like Gina Carano who is built like a person who punches people for good reason. When I watched the movie "Haywire" she was SO much more believable in all of the action scenes simply because she is a better athlete.

I'm all for female action stars but every time they cast some rail-thin, stick of a person in those roles, the action suffers. I blame the standard conventions of beauty that mean it's somehow okay for men to be big and muscular but women have to be thin like a model no matter how athletic their occupation.

I know it's a total derail but I had to get that off my chest.
posted by VTX at 10:17 AM on June 3 [5 favorites]


actively address poverty in ways that center the needs of low income and poor people

What ways?
posted by nerdler at 10:31 AM on June 3


Yeah, solving hunger and poverty and war and the general awfulness of the world sounds like a great goal, and I'm all for it, but in the meantime I'm not sure how much I'm up for micromanaging and second-guessing the ways some people try to lend a hand up to other people.

I wonder how much Brecht Jolie has read. All this has got me thinking of her as Shen Te/Shui Ta.
posted by one weird trick at 10:37 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


Here's my problem, if you have people with a huge portion of wealth and they are saying "Child poverty must end! We should help! We must stop it immediately!" And because alleviating poverty is hard settle on ways of "helping" that are destructive to entire communities, leave parents with even worse levels of trauma than before, and provides disincentives to compel those who care for child welfare to up their game on the initiatives to help the children of poor families who are still living with their parents, or could live with their parents if the parents had the resources to house and feed them, it's actually a real problem.

It's romantic and simple to say, "poor kids are better off with wealthy families so let's just encourage all poor parents to hand them over because after all, it's better for the kids" (this also assumes any and all suffering or damage to the parents is acceptable collateral damage proving these parents are seen as dehumanized and their harm or suffering considered acceptable) but the realities of doing that cause a lot of real harm not only to the parents of children removed but also to the children who stay IN their families of origin and people are less inclined to want to help because they see the solution to child poverty as removing all of them and transferring them to wealthy families.

It isn't that there isn't logic involved in saying poor children are better off with resources, it's simply that discarding the parents kids already have is idealized and it dehumanizes real people, who love and need their kids as much as anyone else.

The situation with this child Angelina adopted was indeed dire, but why, if it's ok to say "I can only help this one child" is it not more favorable to say "I can only help this one family"? The sympathy tends to go with this already wealthy and well supported woman getting what she wants out of her desire to "help" when this kind of thinking about humanitarian efforts should not be the basis of how we set up supports for needy families around the world.

The fact that Zahara's biological mother is delighted she will have lot's of resources does not involve any statement about her desire to not raise or see her child. Inferring as much is wishful thinking to hand wave uncomfortable feelings about the realities of the inequalities that occur in adoption as well as other "humanitarian" efforts that often serve the people helping more than those who need help.

Having supported dozens if not hundreds of women who have placed children who "wanted" their child to be adopted but because of the lack of resources they had, the statements women make about being pressured by circumstances to hand over their children to people with greater resources are complex and also reflect the often total lack of power to assert any rights to the contrary, especially once the adoption has happened and if they want any hope of ever seeing their children again they MUST believe adoption is good and believe and act on positive feelings for the adoptive parents in order to receive any scraps of visits/pictures/updates about their children.

If we're talking about international initiatives, my perspective is we could start here "
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection." from the universal declaration of human rights.
posted by xarnop at 10:40 AM on June 3 [5 favorites]


There are organizations taking money and donations claiming to help families and we should require they actually provide needed resources to those families before asking the poor to hand over their children.
posted by xarnop at 10:42 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


I just want to come in and say that the idea of adopting-out children who a family can't care for is not some modern, Western concept. For many cultures, putting out a child for adoption - to other family members, to strangers, anyone who wants/needs a child - due to adverse family conditions or a lack of birth control, is not that unusual.

Pure anecdata - when I lived in PNG I once made an offhand comment about wanting a baby one day. I had people who lived in my compound coming to my door talking about family members looking for a new home for new babies or even babies not even born yet. And then strangers started turning up, offering me children. It is not that unusual in PNG culture for an 'extra' child to be offered up for adoption.

I am not saying that international adoption should be used an excuse not to help communities in need, or that mothers should not be encouraged to keep their children, or that rich white people should be able to 'buy babies' when they feel like it. But to try and make out that adopting out children is some kind of Western imperialism imposition is ignoring longterm ways of doing things in many cultures.
posted by Megami at 11:01 AM on June 3 [13 favorites]


The article seems to imply that some of the life choices she's made were for the purpose of burnishing her image. It seems a lot more likely that she's done stuff she wanted to do and the only manipulative part is just hiring smart people to spin the media coverage so she looks good doing what she wants to do. I have no problem with that, since I can't ever think of the media as underdogs in that sort of conflict (she's nowhere close to the scale of media manipulation as the billionaires who buy entire media outlets). If the media is idiotic and sycophantic, that's not her fault.
posted by straight at 11:11 AM on June 3 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the adoption thing is becoming a derail, but both here and in other threads, there is this assumption that all birth parents love their children and would want to raise them if they could. I'm sorry guys, but that is just not the reality. Which is something I know from personal experience. Luckily, my grandparents all loved me to bits and had the means to care for me, and I am neither bitter nor sad. But I can easily imagine a situation where adoption is the better solution.
posted by mumimor at 11:21 AM on June 3 [7 favorites]


Well yes I'm totally familiar with that, and also that in most cultures that practice adoption in that way, the ties to the original family are not actually cut in the way westerners presume because ownership of people and elimination of sharing parental roles with other parents is not seen as so threatening. Those are also often cultures who call all the mother and great aunties "grandma" and who share parenting duties a lot more than westerners do.

So often they don't understanding they are literally be cut off from their children forever and their children will be raised to seem them as strangers and non-family with no honoring of ties or ancestry. This is not actually the same practice at all. They would also assume it reasonable to expect their children might come back and live with them and still be part of the family in later years.

"On the other hand, in many African cultures, children are often given to adoptive families. By giving their child to another family, the birth family seeks to create enduring ties with the adoptive family."

Of course not all biological parents love or want their children, I have known parents who did not love or want their kids (at least no to the extent the kids needed) myself. My point is in not that all adoptions are wrong, but that there was not an offer of needed resources even on the table for the family of Zahara to even MAKE a decision that was not coerced by the needs of their child to eat. And that's a problem; and to me personally it tarnishes my ability to enjoy Angelina's movies that I might otherwise enjoy, although I find problems with a lot of aspects of hollywood culture and the movies coming out of it.

I did read the TFA but all the "people said this" and "vanity fair said that" gets my head spinning because I find it hard to care about her image other than how it impacts our culture as a whole.
posted by xarnop at 11:30 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


This is probably the most complete article on the circumstances or Zahara's adoption.

there was not an offer of needed resources even on the table for the family of Zahara to even MAKE a decision that was not coerced by the needs of their child to eat

Adoptive parents don't have any legal or ethical or financial obligation to the biological families, unless it's been previously agreed upon.
posted by girlmightlive at 11:51 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


Well that depends on who is defining what appropriate ethics are. There's no LEGAL obligation to help a starving person who is offering you sex for food, that doesn't make it any less than ethically dubious to use their vulnerability for your own profit on such terms. Ethically, if you really care about the needs of those involved, you could always just ... help them, without using them for your own profit.

I understand this is a novel concept, one that especially Americans don't do very well, but not all people define ethics or morality the same way.

Angelina's behavior on this does reflect certain values she was given in her culture, and that her privilege has enabled her to embody, so I'm not really out to make Angelina into a terrible person more than the culture that promotes and reinforces those values as a whole, but I find when discussing her image it's hard to neglect what to me is a glaring violation of human rights in the name of humanitarian efforts.

Especially when the entire article is talking about what a great humanitarian she is.
posted by xarnop at 11:59 AM on June 3


From that article I posted:

Mentwabe said her mother did what she thought was best, and denied newspaper reports in the United States and Europe that she wanted Yemsrach, renamed Zahara, back.

"My mother was not misled by anyone, as was alleged by some media outlets. Her motive was to save the child from dying which I fully understand.

"I have never disputed the adoption of my baby by Angelina Jolie.

"I think my daughter is a very fortunate human being to be adopted by a world famous lady. I wish them both all the success they deserve," she said.


I understand what you're saying in general, but I don't think it applies to this specific case. I don't think it's as obvious as you're implying that her family was coerced.
posted by girlmightlive at 12:10 PM on June 3 [8 favorites]


xarnop, your entire argument is based on the assumption that the preference of Zahara's biological mother was to keep her. That is not at all obvious, especially after reading the article girlmightlive links to (I had no idea Zahara was born a child of rape). Expecting Angelina Jolie to single-handedly locate the mother (who had abandoned her daughter), reunite the family and then set them up for life, financially, goes beyond any reasonable expectation of goodwill. You are holding Jolie to an impossible standard.
posted by The Gooch at 12:13 PM on June 3 [11 favorites]


One of my (many) vices is a certain enjoyment of celebrity gossip. The OP link mentioned my favorite source for my vice, which is a Canadian web site called Lainey Gossip that spends a lot of focus on the optics and management of celebrity brands. I realized on reading this article that 1. I've been reading Lainey Gossip for almost 10 years now! and 2. there wasn't much in this article about how Jolie manages her brand that hadn't already been covered by my long-term reading there. Still, it's a good summary of how Jolie, who has a great grasp on the art of the press, manages her business. And it is definitely a business, even though I suspect Jolie does mostly what she wants to and the business end is about managing perceptions.
posted by immlass at 12:25 PM on June 3


In case anyone missed the byline, the article was written by Anne Helen Petersen. Yes, the same Anne Helen Petersen that wrote all the Scandals of Classic Hollywood posts from The Hairpin, the "Cool Girl" persona post on BuzzFeed a few months back, the Zac Efron/movie masculinity post that was discussed here last month (see other FPPs here)... she also used to teach that college course about Mad Men that I am desperately sad I cannot take (although I've got that syllabus saved somewhere so I can mine it for reading material), and with the help of at least one assistant she maintains the Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style page on Facebook. Homegirl's a pop culture analyzing demon and I love her for it.
posted by palomar at 12:39 PM on June 3 [6 favorites]


She talked on Inside the Actor's Studio about meeting Maddox, and how she had felt so soiled and wondered if she really could be a mother, and if she could be a good one, and he woke up and smiled at her and there was this instant connection between them. That episode really shifted my view of her significantly, as before I'd mostly been aware of her in the titles of tabloids.

There is no way to actually gauge authenticity from a distance like there has to be between celebrities and "the rest of us", but it rang true for me how she described it and the affect she showed, and weirdly I've felt personally invested in her ever since. I'm not often a fan of individuals, but she's one of the exceptions.

Sometimes I wonder about where we draw the line between "publicity campaign" and "managing to carve out some privacy when people photograph you getting on a plane" when it comes to modern celebrities. So much of their lives is played out on a stage of others' choosing - the good and the bad - and is magnified ten times in both praise and approbation. I've long thought that this must be a particularly difficult balance to maintain, and that we who are not under such great scrutiny underestimate the toll it takes on a person.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:27 PM on June 3 [4 favorites]


I hate-read lainey gossip. The gossip information itself is often right on the money (i.e. the info comes out into the larger public 2 weeks to 3 months later), but with the opinion-editorial it always sounds like she's yelling at me and telling me how to think.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:31 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


viggorlijah : I have very strong reservations about Angelina Jolie because of the ethics behind her adoptions. While I know plenty of people with more unethical adoptions (most of whom are simultaneously loving parents - it's complicated), they don't usually simultaneously present themselves as international humanitarians with reputations tied to ethics. Her children are loved and in a great family, but there is a dissonance there about their adoptions that jars badly, and one that is very clearly absent from her publicity. Madonna's adoptions got far more press coverage with better overall conditions. It bugs me because I want to like and admire her, but this one glaring omission that I am more hyper-aware of than most because of my own experiences adoption in Cambodia makes me feel very cautious about any of her public image.

AFAICT, you're complaining that AJ doesn't present herself as someone whose adoptions may offend someone, or that she hasn't defended her actions to you.

Celebs don't actually owe you an explanation, any more than they owe you a nip-slip photo or a revealing interview.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:32 PM on June 3 [6 favorites]


Also: I cannot WAIT for the tell-all from the Pitt-Jolie kids. t-minus 20 years...
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:14 PM on June 3


Angelina Jolie the person is not someone I actually know to make any judgement of. What I do know is her public image and that if she influences others to view humanitarian aid because of her celebrity status and not because she is actually the most knowledgeable person to be influencing public behavior, that is working speaking out about.

It is no one individual persons job to go out and solve poverty in the whole world, but we can work together to come up with solutions that aren't exploitative.

Setting up a sweatshop and claiming you're a saint because the workers are appreciative since conditions are so bad there they are really genuinely happy for food, doesn't mean we can't assess the ethics of such situations.

And we can choose to engage with organizations that are using a model of family preservation-- who THEMSELVES would have ensured Zahara's grandmother had access to food and medicine, instead of one that is making money off the processing of taking foreigners money to give them children without offering the family quality aid first.

Jolie, the brand, should rightly be criticized for her role popularizing an exploitative view of adoption and foreign aid policies. Jolie the person, I don't know anything about her. She could easily read and learn about the complex ethical issues involved or that "Ethiopia isn't a signatory to The Hague Convention, a treaty to guarantee intercountry adoption is transparent and in a child's best interest."

From the same article:

"The adoption model works like this. Agencies in the U.S. typically charge about $25,000 to adopt an Ethiopian child, generally less than for other countries. Ethiopian orphanages that supply children to these agencies depend on funding from them to operate—providing an incentive to procure adoptable children. "

It's concerning to me that the family was not in touch with aid services to help them get food and that adoption agencies are taking large quantities of money to continue the process of selling children-- participating in that model encourages a model of aid that neglects addressing the hunger and strife of the families involved and focuses on growing more profitable adoption programs. Angelina could put pressure on Ethiopia to ratify the Hague convention, to use ethical adoption practices and to follow a model of providing resources first when family members are alive.

I'm just saying if the world is looking at her as a model of humanitarian aid, I'd just like to point out that this is irresponsible and harmful. I don't doubt she wants to do good and I think that's awesome, I just think wanting to do good doesn't mean everyone should turn a blind eye to the ways that help can sometimes harm.
posted by xarnop at 2:22 PM on June 3


... Angelina into a terrible person more than the culture that promotes and reinforces those values as a whole, but I find when discussing her image it's hard to neglect what to me is a glaring violation of human rights in the name of humanitarian efforts.

Because she adopts children that have been put up for adoption she's violating human rights? I find it very odd that you can ascertain from the fact of these adoptions that peoples' human rights were violated.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:24 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


I find it very odd that you could have read extensively about the ethics of international adoption and the potential harms and abuses that can and do happen when ethics are not considered and still find anything I am saying odd.

Consent is more complex than that, this is why we have labor laws despite that people will sign up to consensually perform all kind of damaging and destructive labor and in most countries we rightfully put limits on what industries can do to people even if they consent.
posted by xarnop at 2:29 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Could we please not compare international adoptions to working in sweatshops? Thanks.
posted by palomar at 2:33 PM on June 3 [5 favorites]


Or to prostitution, or to child abuse, or to any of the other disturbing comparisons we often hear from you, which are frankly insulting to many of us, both adoptive parents and adoptees.
posted by elizardbits at 2:46 PM on June 3 [12 favorites]


The article is not about adoptions in general; it is about Angelina Jolie. The argument that all international adoptions are bad; therefore Angelina Jolie is violating human rights not only has a weak premise but the conclusion doesn't follow. You have no idea of the true and complicated circumstances around these particular adoptions- none of us do- yet you can confidently state that she is violating human rights. That is odd.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:51 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


[xarnop, it might be time to take a step back and let people discuss other aspects of this story before this becomes a you vs. everyone thread, thanks]
posted by mathowie at 3:10 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


with the opinion-editorial it always sounds like she's yelling at me and telling me how to think.

Yeah, on the one hand I like that Lainey has strong feelings and that the site has a strong authorial voice (or set of them, now). On the other, I often disagree with her voice, and she's pretty pushy about it. I keep going back because her celebrity analysis is so good and for all that she has her faves and un-faves, she's a lot less woman-hatey than some of the other celebrity analyst type sites I've read. I finally had to give up Tom and Lorenzo because they're so hostile about women's bodies and fashion choices as part of their celebrity game.
posted by immlass at 4:17 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Sorry but I've always hated Angelina Jolie, mostly because of all the crappy movies she makes. (Has she ever been in a single good movie? Gia was kind of interesting, I guess) She seems smug and mirthless. I just don't trust the whole "oh I'm roaming around the world, saving lives" crap. Mark my words, in a few years time, maybe ten or so (when the kids start leaving home), the story on her is going to be way different.
posted by Jess the Mess at 5:56 PM on June 3


Jolie adopted from Cambodia at a time when international adoptions were in a state of turmoil because of child trafficking for adoption. The woman who arranged the adoption of Maddox, Lauryn Galindo, went to jail for visa fraud and money laundering because they couldn't apply the child trafficking laws directly to her in a glaring loophole. It was a very painful time for adoptive parents and children who were in a limbo. The whole thing was a giant mess. Jolie as was her absolute right and as many parents did because they did not feel they could handle the emotional cost against their family's welfare in a personal choice, did not comment on any of this and has never discussed AFAIK (and I have looked for this so I'd be glad to be corrected) the trafficking mess in Cambodia. Being involved in something bad does not mean you have to be an activist. That is not a responsibility that can or should be required. I chose to do something about adoption trafficking because of our involvement and because I could emotionally, and I know lots of great parents who did different choices to help.

However. It jars me that her brand is humanitarian and adoption-supported when she omits any discussion of the adoption trafficking that her children's countries and Maddox in particular were very close to. There are rumors and info about Maddox's adoption status that are contradictory and more importantly personal so I never comment on them. That's up to the Jolie family and more importantly, to Maddox. The actual status and history of each child is private.

Jolie chooses to center her children's adoptee status and non-US cultures for publicity, but deletes or refuses to address any of the difficult parts.

But her brand/publicity benefits from the silence over this issue and it reinforces the rich people adopting from a third world poor families narrative (and the "my adopted child healed my soul" narrative which is also toxic, but ties more into the overall "motherhood perfects you" social conditioning) and the absence of her children's birth histories except as places they visit is troubling in a way that for example, Meg Ryan's very low-key and quiet adoption of a child from China is not.

I felt more generous about this until I realised how tightly she controls her public image and that the adoption-related spin was by her design. She doesn't owe the public anything, especially about her children, but she chooses to spin her adoptions a certain way and to benefit from positive publicity based on a skewed and damaging view of international adoption.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:04 PM on June 3


Regardless of how ethically the actual adoption was carried out (including both the adoption agency and the birth parents) there are still potentially huge issues with trans-cultural adoptions. A lot of adoptees have major identity issues when they get older. Being an different race than their parents exacerbates those issues to the point where many of those adoptees, as adults, work for or form organizations that work to prevent trans-cultural adoptions.

I had a roommate who was a first-wave Korean adoptee, both of his adoptive parents are white. Other than really liking Kimchi, the whole thing was not at all a big deal.

My sister-in-law is also a Korean adoptee and she has a lot of issues around it. She loves her parents but she feels like she was ripped away from the culture that she was born into and she won't ever be able to re-connect with it. I'm certain that she could explain it better than I could but if we're going to talk about the issues surrounding Jolie's adoption, this is the problem we should be talking about.

There is an argument to be had that if Jolie really had the best interests of the child in mind and the mother/grand mother could not and would not care for the child, it would have better for the child if Jolie had used her resources to find another member of that child's culture to adopt them that had the resources and the willingness to do so.

My Bradjolina are taking great pains to keep these kids in touch with their native cultures but no one is talking about that aspect and they should be. Maybe these kids will be like my roommate and the trans-cultural nature of their adoption will never bother them or they just won't have the kind of identity issues that my SIL does but we won't know that for at least a decade and it's really too late for Jolie to change her mind about it by then.
posted by VTX at 7:40 PM on June 3


I've been an Angelina Jolie fan for ages. She's incredibly charismatic and I find it impossible not to instantly sympathize with her when she's speaking. Before Maddox she always seemed to be on a ledge about to jump, and from time to time, seeing gossip about her or paparazzi photos or whatever, I found myself worrying about her a bit. Which is weird, since I don't know her. I suspect if I met her in person I would be permanently in love with her after 12 seconds. She seems to be one of those people.

I guess it's a good thing I don't travel in the kinds of circles that would put me in that situation! I would be broken hearted for life.
posted by Hildegarde at 12:43 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]


The most famous people I've ever had a conversation with are a few mid-list SF writers. I'm happier that way, I'm pretty sure. (Though I used to work with a guy who was the lead architect on one of the very first SAC target image databases, and personally I think that's way cooler than being in movies.)
posted by lodurr at 6:45 AM on June 6


Has she ever been in a single good movie?

Hackers was unintentionally hilarious. Gia, as you said, was pretty good (though IIRC she somewhat regrets having taken the role, or for allowing herself to be bullied into full nudity, I can't remember the details. Think it may have been during her Actors Studio interview that she said this?).

Salt was absolutely amazing. Seriously. It is a great little spy/caper flick. Girl, Interrupted was pretty good. According to all reports she's nailing it in Maleficent.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:20 AM on June 7


Has she ever been in a single good movie?

It's a small triumph for feminism that she's allowed to be as mediocre as male action stars in vehicles similar to hers (Tomb Raider and Salt, which, as I think someone mentioned upthread, was a straight-on Tom Cruise movie that they gender-swapped for her).
posted by immlass at 8:39 AM on June 7 [4 favorites]


small and ironic. plus i think you just nailed the reason I've seen so few of her movies: I just don't give much of a crap about most of those action movies anymore. I only sat through Mr. & Mrs. Smith because my wife & stepdaughter seemed to want to. (In retrospect they'd probably rather have skipped it.)
posted by lodurr at 4:35 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]


Angelina Jolie lauded by William Hague over war zone anti-rape campaign
posted by XMLicious at 2:02 AM on June 10


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