Naomi Wolf's Harper's Bazaar essay on Angelina Jolie has attracted contemptuous comment. “An absurd, overwrought, swooning love letter,” Willa Paskin called it on DoubleX. Paskin’s disgust recalls Ron Rosenbaum’s condemnation of Tom Junod’s 2007 Esquire profile of the actress, which worked a strained and inappropriate post-9/11 angle.
The magic of Jolie’s self-presentation? She makes the claim, with her life and actions, that, indeed, you can get away with it. All of it. Against every Western convention, she has managed to draw together all of these kinds of female liberation and empowerment. And her gestures determinedly transgress social boundaries — boundaries of convention, race, class, and gender — giving many of us a vicarious thrill.
Then there is the plane. Women are so used to being dependent on others (certainly on men) for where they go, metaphorically, and how they get there. Flying a private plane is the classic metaphor for choosing your own direction; usually, that is a guy thing to do, yet there was Jolie, with her aviator glasses on, taking flying lessons so she could blow the mind of her four-year-old son. That is the ultimate in single-mom chic: Even before she had reconstructed a nuclear (or postnuclear) family with a dad at the head of it, she was reframing single motherhood from a state of lack or insufficiency to a glamorous, unfettered lifestyle choice. Paradoxically, having done so, she makes the choice of a man to help her raise her kids seem like one option among many for a self-directed woman rather than either a completion of a woman or a capitulation.
Brangelina are totally enigmatic; we don’t know anything about them except the Harlequin-worthy synopsis. People like them because they can project whatever they want onto them. Maybe moms fantasize about Angie reading to her kids at night, then having hot sex with Brad. Those who want to turn their lives around probably are inspired by this scion of movie star and model who’s fearlessly pursued a course of growing up. Doubtless somebody somewhere has taken up flying as a result. Hopefully a few have turned to good works. (Ideally no one, anywhere, will allow Angelina Jolie to have any impact on her decision to adopt or not.) Some woman involved with a married dude may stay with him that much longer because of her tabloid happy-ending. Some people will see The Last Kiss and think it’s profound. And Naomi Wolf will look at Angelina Jolie and project her own fantasies: a feminist icon whom women love because they think the right way.
Glamour is an objective illusion, but it reveals subjective truths. The Harper’s Bazaar profile may tell us nothing true about Angelina Jolie, but it’s an x-ray into the soul of Naomi Wolf.
[Beauty Myth autograph photo by Flickr user liberalmind1012 under Creative Commons license.]