Angelina Jolie and the Age of Narcissism

 

For those of us who consider ourselves serious journalists, Hollywood gossip does not even begin to amount to a guilty pleasure. It is as much of a guiltless distraction as it is entirely joyless. Yet the widely advertised divorce of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt is the exception, on at least a few levels.

Divorce is generally a painful affair, the more so when little children are involved. Their materially privileged condition and upbringing does not make it less heart-breaking that their mother and father are splitting.

Yet, as the expert pen of Maureen Callahan at the New York Post shows, this sad affair is yet another example of the rigid control Angelina Jolie has exerted on the couple’s narrative. It even became a brand of sorts, “Brangelina,” the kind of facile (and in this case, ugly, too) nicknames the press is so apt at creating.

Callahan’s long exposé basically comes down to this: Ms. Jolie craves attention. A lot of it. At best, this is a professional flaw. She is an actress, so narcissism is an almost essential qualification for stardom. But in Jolie’s case, it seems, this trait has overtaken her vocation. In other words, she needs to be in the limelight, no matter what.

Her looks, last name—she is the daughter of actor Jon Voight—and connections have got her this far. But her career has been failing for quite some time now. “Minimally talented spoiled brat,” wrote producer Scott Rudin to then-Sony chief Amy Pascal, in an email exposed by hackers. “She’s a camp event and a celebrity and that’s all.”

And that fits in quite right with Ms. Jolie’s newly revised narrative. She will teach at the London School of Economics, even though her academic qualifications are dubious at best. “She is reportedly seeking to move to England permanently to join the House of Lords, which requires UK citizenship, and remake herself yet again, this time as a politician,” Callahan writes. According to other reports, she even hired a consultant to pave her path to becoming Secretary General of the United Nations. No kidding.

“I’ve never loved being in front of the camera,” she said in 2014. Really? Maybe she does, very much so. She just now fancies herself in a different role: stateswoman; baroness at the House of Lords; or, as her charity work may lead her to believe, world savior.

For all the good she may have done—even though her charity has donated far less than it is purported to have—one may legitimately wonder if she has done it just for the poor and hungry of this world or, rather, to satisfy her craving for attention on a galactic scale. No god can survive without worshippers. Ms. Jolie is a beautiful woman and a mediocre actress. That does not make her any less deserving of respect than any other person. And she is nothing else. Amid all her material wealth and social connections, she probably misses the friend capable of reminding her of that.

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