Sunday, June 24, 2007

We're going there

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketSo Ron Rosenbaum, in his Slate piece and his disheveled appearance on CNN's Reliable Sources today, thinks the Tom Junod profile of Angelina Jolie in the July '07 Esquire is the "worst celebrity profile ever written." In his interview with Howard Kurtz, Rosenbaum rambled for a time about the utter meaninglessness of celebrity profiles and made the preposterous assertion that there's no real difference between Jolie and Paris Hilton. (There's a track record Ron)

Rosenbaum rightly slams the recent fiasco in which journalists covering A Mighty Heart were asked top sign a contract asserting they wouldn't ask Jolie personal questions. I agree with him there. Then he goes to say that his his piece isn't an attack on Tom Junod, whose "noncelebrity work" he has often admired. Here's the first paragraph of Junod's piece:

This is a 9/11 story. Granted it's also a celebrity profile—well, a profile of Angelina Jolie—and so calling it a 9/11 story may sound like a stretch. But that's the point. It's a 9/11 story because it's a celebrity profile—because celebrities and their perceived power are a big part of the strange story of how America responded to the attacks upon it. And no celebrity plays a bigger role in that strange story than Angelina Jolie.

What? In the piece Jolie describes her 2001 trip to Sierra Leone and subsequent work as an ambassador for the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees. Junod writes that Jolie's new career path has "nothing to do with 9/11" but is the "representative story of the post-9/11 years." I don't know where Junod spends his days (the TriBeca Film Festival? Coachella?) but for many Americans the representative story of the post-9/11 years would be one about spending a lot of time watching CNN and then realizing that US troops weren't greeted as liberators and that Saddam wasn't about to nuke the U.S.

The mistake Rosenbaum makes is taking the view that just because this Esquire piece is badly written - it continues in this vein of pseudo-serious rumination - that it's not possible to do a thorough and informative piece on Jolie's career and activism, and that indeed such a piece is not worth writing. Rosenbaum wasn't asked during the CNN interview about the fact that Jolie had appeared on Anderson Cooper's show earlier in the week. I think that if there's one star of cover-of-Esquire caliber who'd be open to doing more than dispensing cliches about their latest movie and their family life, it's Angelina Jolie. Rosenbaum (an estimable nonfiction writer whose books on Hitler and Shakespeare I've admired) should stop whining and do a story following the actress through an African refugee camp or one of Jeffrey Sachs' Millennium Villages (Jolie is funding the only Asian Millennium Village) Celebrity journalism is only as good as the journalists who work in the genre. If the media outlets whose reporters refused to sign the Jolie contract all deign to write more probing pieces, Rosenbaum should get off the sidelines and join the fun.

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