Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Celebrity in the Classroom: My Angelina Jolie Rant

My daughter is performing her (very late) morning routine. Its usually a fairly loud activity. Much bustle and water running. She has the E entertainment channel on and there is breaking news. Angelina Jolie has checked into a French hospital for the approaching birth of her twins.

I usually end up with a rant about Angelina Jolie once a semester. The rant usually is aimed at a world were nobility is measured in adopting "the other". Saving the poor Africans from their own selves. Way back in 1994, I did some consultancy work for US AID and the International Red Cross. It was a "rapid assessment survey" aimed at gaining a rough and ready picture of children who had lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS in Tanzania, the so-called "AIDS orphans". We worked closely with the Tanzanian Ministry of Health. It was made very clear that on no condition should we make any recommendations which would include an expansion of the role of orphanages. It is a core value of the modern nation-state of Tanzania that families be preferenced over orphanages. Our charge was to find ways to enable families to take in their kin not abandon them.

Those issues have flitted across the world stage of celebrity gossip with Madonna's controversial adoption of a young boy in Malawi. I usually try to point out to my students that governmental policies for these east African nations would be for the boy's father (who remains alive) to be in the position of securely caring for his own son. Inevitably, as the Geertz quote at the bottom of this blog indicates, we turn to the discussion of our own popular culture messages: will these children be "better off" living in the fishbowl existences of Madonna's or Brad and Angelina's life?

When my daughter leaves for college next month, I fear I am going to have a hard time keeping up with the issues with which our students relate. Although, I suppose I will now have an easy justification for reading all the US Weekly's when I get my hair done and watching every episode of Dr. Drew's celebrity addiction series on VH1.

Next up, I think, will be a post on my past academic year's foray into the anthropological analysis of Rock of Love. We had great fun with that. I wonder what other issues others have found great success with? When I started teaching I had a favorite Northern Exposure episode I showed every semester. I, also, have a fondness for the original South Park Christmas Episode with Mr. Hanky the Christmas poo standing in as the ultimate cultural universal--I have never had the nerve to actually show it for fear of complaints to the Dean but I nearly always reference it with a good number of students chiming in their approval.


Larry C. Wilson said...

Could you explain a little more why it is wrong of Angelina Jolie to adopt an orphan?

Pamthropologist said...

I suppose the short answer is contained within the post. I, concurring with the government policies of most African nations, would prefer a world in which children are not "given up" to orphanages because of poverty. And perhaps celebrities who say they care for African concerns should not follow that method of expressing that care; as if we can solve the poverty of Africa by taking the children of Africa (with the implication that this makes us noble and caring).

Jolies' adopted daughter Zahara, for example, has a living mother and a grandmother who gave her up under the murky circumstances produced by the daily poverty often typical in many African countries. The mother reports that she fled when she could no longer bear to see her daughter dying of malnutrition and the grandmother gave her to the local orphanage with the socially-accepted reason for adoption in many parts of Africa-- a designation of "AIDS orphan". Most of my research revealed that street children and "AIDS orphans" have families that want them but simply can't afford the extra mouth. Wouldn't it have been far better to create a viable life for this family as an intact unit?

And yes, I do question Jolie's drive to adopt. But that is a discussion best left to a psychology blog, perhaps?

I don't like The Gap "Red: campaign either. I think its weird the way many Americans think you can solve problems by buying something. T-shirts and bracelets. Commodity Fetishism at its highest?