Angelina Jolie was named Forbes' "most powerful celeb in the world" last week. Naomi Wolf, in the new issue of Harper's Bazaar (?) thinks it's cuz Brangie "brings together almost every aspect of female empowerment and liberation." Or something like that.
"Serious thinkers" talking about pop culture is sort of my favorite thing ever, almost as good as when opera singers cover Stevie Wonder or chefs "reimagine" Twinkies. In recent weeks, we've seen Wolf, Rhodes scholar, prominent third-waver and beauty myth-maker, ask "who won feminism?" - the humorless old hairy-leggers or those of us living the dangerous vida loca?! The answer, according to her Bazaar piece, is Angelina Jolie. See, that's why women love her - "she becomes what psychoanalysts call an "ego ideal" for women — a kind of dream figure that allows women to access, through fantasies of their own, possibilities for their own heightened empowerment and liberation." Hey, you said it, we didn't.
Wolf breaks down Angie's mystical appeal thusly:
Bosomy and wasp-waisted, with that curtain of hair and those crazy pillowy lips, she is an obvious male sex fantasy...Polls also show that if women — not just lesbian and bisexual women but straight women — had to choose a female lover, they would want to sleep with Angelina Jolie. In other words, women both identify with her and desire her.
She Has it All.
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.
She's Done the Impossible Switcheroo from Whore to Madonna. Wolf points to Jolie's long, strange trip - from tiresomely brother-macking, blood-sportin' self-styled shit-show married to grizzled oldster with fear of antique furniture, to the (sexy!) paragon we all know and allegedly love.
She Flies a 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.
She's Takes Lovahs.
Equally ostentatiously in her role as lover, she took for her own pleasure the male seen as the most desired of the tribe, Brad Pitt, who is always ranked at the top of indexes of male beauty and virility. As for the constraints of social convention — ahem, he was still married? You can have a variety of feelings about this, but Jolie's evident disdain of that social constraint certainly, for better or worse, put her in the same self-entitled category as those men who have traditionally taken what they wanted and let the emotional chips fall where they may.
To those of us who find Brangelina impossibly dull (or, you know, fine in Girl, Interrupted and attagirl for UNICEF) her appeal is more like this: people like crappy movies, too. Movies full of abrupt transitions and overblown characters. (What this says about our feminist acumen I'm not sure, but then, Wolf doesn't think much of that.) I'm not sure if Wolf is paying Angie's fans the ultimate compliment or just being really patronizing. She's not wrong: clearly women are drawn to the dramatic highs and lows of the Angelina storyline, the family's beauty and diversity, the novelty of a movie star using her powers for good, the idea of a goddess who has it all. But is that a good thing? (If this is "having it all," "having it all" was a lot more literal than I ever knew.)
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. And that right there pretty much justifies the Forbes pick.
The Power of Angelina [Harper's Bazaar]