Angelina and Me

I can’t remember when I first took note of Angelina Jolie, but it was probably when I was flipping through magazines at a hair or nail salon, since that’s where Angelina magazines reside.

I gradually became aware that she had supposedly stolen another actress’s husband, that the husband was Brad Pitt, that Angelina and Brad had children and adopted several more, that they hung out in exotic places and that they plan to marry, though no one knows when. Brad and Angelina both seemed smart and attractive enough, although no more so than most of their celebrity peers.

Then I began seeing Angelina’s picture in publications to which I subscribe. Most recently she popped up in an ad in the New York Times in a center spread I’d seen before. In the picture a soulful-looking Angelina sits barefoot on an old wooden canoe in a swamp. A caption helpfully tells us the setting is Cambodia and implies that Angelina’s life has changed.

“How?” I wondered. Over her shoulder hangs a Louis Vuitton bag. What is the message? Did she arrive in Cambodia and, seeing poverty amid beauty, go to work for Oxfam? While toting a LV bag? Has she decided to dump Brad and join an ascetic Buddhist sect?

What is this ad trying to do? Make us want to go to Cambodia? Make us want to become Angelina? (Brad might be okay, but I’m not sure I’d want so many children.) The message might have something to do with film-making, but the Louis Vuitton web site was confusing, so I gave up.

The most obvious answer, of course, is that the ad is supposed to make us want to buy the bag. This bag, however, is so 1980s.  That was when fashion creators decided you wanted to wear their logo. Then and now the bag looks like it’s made of vinyl, which makes one wonder how LV gets to charge $900 for it. LV must believe they appeal to those who seek status and acceptance, even though carrying this bag might better reveal how dumb one is for paying such a huge amount for something that looks like vinyl and how insecure one must be to show up in such a thing.

Which led to another thought—it’s hard to believe any advertisements anymore. Maybe we never did. My personal favorites on television are the oxymoronic “clean” coal ads. Do these companies think anyone swallows this stuff? BP has funded ads too, touting their good works in the Gulf. Maybe, but I don’t think ads will change the story of neglect, insufficient safety and ineffective solutions to a terrible problem.

Another strange group of television ads that has surfaced in the last 20 years are those for expensive medicines treating conditions you never heard of. Some of those conditions might be better treated, we are learning, by taking a half an hour walk everyday.

Advertisers don’t hold back on insulting the audience. One ad mocks an arthritis sufferer because she takes several cheap ibuprofen—a friend calls this Vitamin I—rather than a more expensive once-a-day pill. How frazzled and entitled does one have to be to not manage to pop a couple of pills every few hours?

Some ads are believable, and it doesn’t take a focus group to produce them. A couple of pages after boat-bound Angelina is an ad for Harrys (sic) Shoes. The shoes are not fashionable but the picture clearly shows what you’ll see if you visit Harrys. And the upmarket T. Anthony touted an alligator briefcase, again letting you know what is (literally) in store. These ads, which let you know exactly what they provide, seem to be the most effective. Apparently Steve Jobs was this kind of advertiser. He designed good-looking, effective products, let the public know when they would appear, and stepped back to rake in the dough.

I’m not looking forward to the coming political season, in which we’ll be accosted with political ads that will probably be nasty and smelly. Romney seems to have made Rick Santorum so angry with his attack ads that Santorum, at least as of this writing, is withholding his endorsement. Brown and Warren won’t be pretty either.

Strangely, advertising ineffectiveness, meanness and lack of credibility may play into the hands of neighborhood newspapers. Like Harrys, the ads in such publications are believable. One store is having a sale. Another is getting a new shipment of a popular product. All remind you that Mother’s Day is about to take place. An new insurance agent has set up shop—though we hope it isn’t at street level.

I still don’t know what Angelina in a boat is all about. She looks pretty silly sitting there in a swamp with an expensive bag. But after writing this I probably won’t think about it much. What I want to know instead is—Angelina, when are you and Brad getting married?

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