Jolie at KFC: Finger-licking good news

By Leonard Pitts: Syndicated columnist

In the first place: If I never see another stupid, cutesy shorthand (i.e., Billary, TomKat and Bennifers I and II) applied to another celebrity couple, I will light candles of thanksgiving.

In the second place: Namibia?

As you know unless you, well, have a life, that South African nation is where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie — Brangelina to the cognoscenti — have ensconced themselves with their two young children while they await the birth of their baby. They’ve been followed by a phalanx of photographers eager to get shots of them and — the holy grail — the aforementioned baby.

But it seems the paparazzi are not getting along well with the couple’s bodyguards, variously described as “thugs” and “goons” in press reports. Apparently, the photographers have been such a nuisance that Pitt and Jolie had to issue a statement pleading for privacy. This prompted Namibia’s prime minister, obviously kept insufficiently busy by affairs of state, to ask that the two be left alone. At least four photographers have reportedly been given a choice between departing the country and spending time in one of its fine penal institutions.

But the camera crews soldier determinedly on, even following the family to the local KFC because, you know, inquiring minds want to know what they had for lunch. One imagines some loser with a Nikon staking out a chicken joint and phoning in urgent bulletins by satellite phone. (“It looks like … yes! Brad’s going with the hot and spicy, and we have now confirmed Angelina ordered the extra crispy.”)

I have trouble figuring out what I think about all this. Part of me thinks it’s hysterical. Part of me thinks it’s pathetic. Part of me thinks it’s hysterically pathetic.

And part of me simply remembers how it felt, nine years ago in August, to see that awful news bulletin. A car carrying Princess Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi al-Fayed, had raced into a tunnel in Paris, reportedly trying to elude paparazzi. The car, piloted by a drunken driver, never emerged.

Maybe you remember how it felt, too, that sickening, sobering crunch of reality and frivolity colliding, lives of gossip, glamour and gossamer brought to an end in a cry of brakes and a cruelty of asphalt. Angry celebrities such as George Clooney and Rosie O’Donnell used the tragedy to point out that it’s no fun being camera stalked and that while fame means many things, it should not mean surrender of one’s right to use the toilet unmolested by inquiring minds.

There followed much hand-wringing and soul searching from editors who bought invasive pictures and readers who bought magazines such pictures appeared in. Out of this came vows to turn away from the practice and support of intrusion journalism.

Nine years later, there’s a stakeout at a KFC in Namibia. (“Code Red! Angelina has changed her order! Do you copy?”)

A man asked me the other night why media are like this. Why, with mass murder in Sudan, an insurgency in Iraq, the national debt scaling nosebleed heights, they spend so much time, talent and treasure on ephemera.

I told him media are like this because the people are, because this is what people want, what matters most to them. They are less interested in the news that impacts them, the news that determines how and sometimes, if, they live.

Yes, the entertainment industry is an influential multibillion-dollar concern. And yes, too, gossip is eternal.

But don’t you sometimes get the sense that we have become conspirators in our own distraction, eagerly ingesting a media opiate that discourages too much thinking, too much digging, too much asking? It’s a sign of how distorted are our priorities, how shallow our concerns, that two actors have to flee to Africa to have their baby in peace.
And that they can’t do so, even then.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at: lpitts@herald.com