Essay

Brad Pitt, Forcing Us To Volunteer

Actor Brad Pitt speaks during a press briefing about the
Actor Brad Pitt speaks during a press briefing about the "Sustainable Design Competition for New Orleans" in New Orleans last week. Pitt was a juror in the competition in which architects are designing environmentally friendly houses in a neighborhood of the city's Lower Ninth Ward. (Lee Celano - Reuters)

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By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Brad Pitt! What does he want from us? Save Africa, save New Orleans, save the planet -- but we're not like you, Brad, not as able, so show us. (Show us, but keep in mind our budget.)

Soon he and Angelina Jolie won't even live on Earth, they'll just dangle above it, in a nursery-equipped Gulfstream IV, sort of the way Brandon Routh's Superman prefers to just float, in the stratosphere, listening acutely, compassionately, for trouble down there, and when he hears it, zoom , down he goes. We were always told that this is what the citizens of the future would do: They would have no fixed address. They would go where needed, constantly, selflessly.

It was supposed to be orphans and Darfur and genocide, wasn't it? Or adoption and finding meaning and fatherhood? That was the focus, right? Really, no, it's the world. Look at the whole world. Jet around the world and look at it for yourself -- that's what Brad is saying, what Brad is doing. Knowing you can't fly, he instead takes the press along -- that pesky media horde, put them to work on something that shows the magnitude of it all, the suffering.

He showed up in New Orleans last week with some starchitects, talking about green apartment buildings that take river water and run it through turbines for cheap, clean power -- he went on, but honestly we've already forgotten. It turns out that while he was in Africa all that time, inseminating Angelina and divorcing Jennifer Aniston and not appearing in any movies, there was a hurricane in New Orleans and -- nobody knows this, but Brad says there is still unrepaired damage and woe, and something must be done, something like a two-part interview on the "Today" show. (The second part aired yesterday morning.)

Ann Curry: Something is happening to you to make you want to do this stuff, because you're doing more and more of it.

Brad Pitt: Man, I got kids now and it really changes your perspective on the world. And, you know, I've had my day. I've made some films and I've really had a very fortunate life and it's time for me to share a bit.

Ann Curry (eyebrows scrunched in complete, serious adoration) : Hmmm. Angie says that. She says that the reason why she does so much humanitarian work is because having children, she feels a greater responsibility, that she --

Brad Pitt (cuter by the moment) : It's true. It completely changes your perspective. And it certainly takes the focus off yourself, which I am really grateful for. I'm really grateful to -- I'm so tired of thinking about myself, man, I'm sick of myself. I can't do justice to it any more than any other parent can. You feel that you want to be there and you don't want to miss out on anything. And it's a true joy. And you want to be there for them if they -- if they need anything. It's a true joy.

Ann: Love?

Brad: Yeah. Oh, it's a very profound love, yeah. The best thing I ever did. You know, you can . . . write a book, you can make a movie, you can paint a painting, but having kids is really the most extraordinary thing I've ever taken on. And, man, if I can get a burp out of that little thing, I feel such a sense of accomplishment.

Ann: . . . Matt?

Matt Lauer: He seems like he's in a really centered place -- grounded place -- in his life right now.

Ann: I think very much so. I was very impressed with him. Very intelligent and really humble, Matt.

Parenthood changed him. The children, the children. Brad Pitt is not the first man to find his higher purpose lingering near the Diaper Genie.

But most people have another reaction to parenthood: That is when they buy the 13-mpg hulk of a car, and start testing for mold spores in the playroom. That is when a Sam's Club card looks pretty good. That is when they head for the better school districts and the tract mansions. That is when people access the true narrative of boredom. That is when the world stops seeming like some wonderful Eurailpass or a Let's Go guide. That is when a job really becomes a job and you cope with it. If Brad Pitt were having the standard response to fatherhood, then he would be playing Superman in "Superman Returns," for $22 million minimum and a percentage on the back end, not being Superman, not handing out $2 million to aid organizations. Fatherhood usually inspires serious cocooning, fortressing, amassing of personal funds.

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.

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.

Complete attention, to wherever he points, that's what Brad wants from us, followed by our boundless, humanitarian heartfeltness. He is in a complete mode of celebrity glow, and on him, for some inexplicable reason, it looks good. Whatever meltdown Tom Cruise had in the summer of 2005, Brad is having the exact opposite in the summer of 2006. He grows stronger, more golden, and he wants us to share in it.

Soon Brad or Angie will begin showing up and just laying on hands. He'll spit in the dirt and make clay and rub it on the eyes of the blind. People will clamor just to touch the frayed hem of his cargo pants. As if they already don't.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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