Brad Pitt and Envy
Via Gwenda Bond, this hatred-barely-covered-by-moth-eaten-snark commentary on Brad Pitt's new mission-oriented celebrity.
The writer, Hank Stuever, quotes Brad and Brad-loving celebmediates in their claim that neoBrad is a result of fatherhood. He then points out that most fathers (he neglects to say: middle and upper middle class fathers) respond to fatherhood by moving to the suburbs, buying gas-guzzling SUVs, and taking their jobs seriously.
But Brad wants more from us and for us. It turns out the future lies in this constant upscaling of the volunteer heart. Your child must now do charity work to get a diploma, your co-workers are training for another bike-a-thon, and your movie stars are forever looking for a cure -- not a cure for them, a cure for you.
To this, Stuever pleads poverty. Not relative poverty, but the actual variety. He doesn't reflect that the middle/upper-middle class sense of "responsibility" that drives otherwise perfectly serviceable men out to the suburbs in Hummers (which houses, cars and private schools then necessitate a six figure salary) isn't responsibility at all but a need to maintain the status symbols of class.
There are good schools inside cities. There's safe-driving to be had in a ten-year-old station wagon. You can raise kids on a decent, but not spectacular salary. But you can't keep up with the Joneses that way. I'm not complaining about the choices these men make. My parents made the same choices, and I might well do so too, if I ever have kids. I don't know if I'm rebellious enough to thoroughly repudiate all class associations.
But I'm thoroughly disgusted by Stuever's implicit claim that men of his class can't do otherwise because they're not rich and famous like Brad Pitt. He pooh-poohs the "upscaling of the volunteer heart" as if volunteerism were an upper class privilege. He even references 20th Century America's most reactionary idiot, as if her very name could put the kibosh on all of Pitt's pretensions:
That reliable anti-volunteer, Ayn Rand, would grab a barf bucket (not for you, for her). That sort of cynicism is so passe; you have not seen the light.
But the very idea of "charity work" as noblesse oblige passed (like bad seafood) out of the cultural understanding of pretty much everyone in the world except middle/upper-middle class Americans at the beginning of the 20th century. "Service", "giving back" and "volunteering" is something that we have absolutely no idea how many Americans of all classes participate in, because the narrowness of our definitions precludes any real intelligence-gathering. But as someone who's done a great deal of low-level community fundraising in my life, I've found that the poorer the community, the more likely they are to "do what they can" for good causes.
When canvassing for environmental causes, I got smaller, but much more frequent donations from working class neighborhoods. When asking for outright in-kind donations for a variety of organizations (as opposed to "sponsorships", where the org gives value back), I had much better luck with small-business owners than with companies. And, as any adult volunteer coordinator knows, when looking for reliable volunteers for one-time duties, like a mailing or a special event, call on the folks in your community with the lowest incomes; they'll be the ones who are most likely to say "yes".
It's not willingness, nor a "volunteer culture" that's lacking among poorer Americans, but rather information about how to and when to and to whom to donate your money and time. Which is where the celebrity bleeding hearts come in. They draw attention to causes and to organizations that have the infrastructure sufficient to handle large volumes of small donations. Far from being ridiculous, the Brangelinas of the world are serving a vital role in the economy of global service organizations: a vital PR function that can't be done any other way.
Everything about this tactic, though, seems a calculated insult to middle/upper-middle white men. That they might ever care about celebrity opinion is an insult. That an appeal from an undereducated prettyboy would work on them more than their own NYT-readin', independent-thinkin', unsusceptible-liberal-considered-opinion-actin' selves is a much greater insult. And the idea that they need to be prompted to "do the right thing" is the greatest insult of all. What they do for "the community" will always, inevitably, spring out of their own intelligence and knowledge of the world, like Athena out of Zeus's skull. They don't need no stinkin' badgers.
It never occurs to Stuever that Pitt might not be aiming at him.
Thus, Stuever's article was nothing more than cheap excuse-making. Brad Pitt reminded him of how little he's actually doing to make the world a better place, but he's damned if he'll let a prettier, richer, more desirable, and gorgeouser-woman-fucking celebrity tell him what to do. Stuever, who writes for the Washington Post, is too busy making money for his children to spend any time, or the remains of his tiny salary, on such silly things as rebuilding New Orleans or saving Darfur orphans. Fuck off, Brad Pitt, you can't fool America's intelligent(sic)sia.
(Cross-posted at Other.)