The Magazine Reader

Bringing Out the Worst In Celebrity Coverage?

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Is the cover story of Esquire's July issue really "the worst celebrity profile ever written"? Ron Rosenbaum thinks so, and his spirited denunciation of the article has the New York magazine world buzzing like a June bug on speed.

"In the history of fawning gentlemen's-magazine profiles," Rosenbaum wrote last week in the online magazine Slate, "there is unlikely to be a more ludicrous example than the profile in the July Esquire of -- yes -- Angelina Jolie, which spends many thousands of words and invokes grave national tragedies to prove to us that Angelina Jolie is not just a good woman, not just an enlightened humanitarian, not just a suffering victim of celebrity, not just strong and brave, but, we are told, 'the best woman in the world.' "

So who cares? Normally, nobody in their right mind would pay attention to an Internet attack on a story abut Angelina Jolie. But Rosenbaum is one of America's best magazine writers and, to make things more interesting, much of his work has appeared in Esquire. And Tom Junod, who wrote the Jolie piece, has twice won the prestigious National Magazine Award. In the mag world, this flapdoodle is roughly the equivalent of, say, Norman Mailer denouncing Don DeLillo's latest book as "the worst novel ever written." Hence the buzz.

So: Is Junod's story on Jolie the worst celebrity profile ever written?

No, it isn't. In fact, it's not even the worst celebrity profile ever written by Tom Junod. That would be his 2001 profile of rock singer Michael Stipe, in which Junod made up half the incidents in the article and readers had to go to Esquire's Web site to find out what was true and what was fiction.

And if you want to be nasty -- and admit it, you do -- you could note that one prime candidate for the title of "worst celebrity profile ever written" might be Rosenbaum's hideously self-indulgent 1997 Esquire "profile" of reclusive novelist J.D. Salinger, in which Rosenbaum teased the reader for seven pages before revealing that he had Salinger's phone number but was too shy to dial it. In fact, Junod calls that Salinger piece "the low point in Esquire's history."

Not surprisingly, Junod doesn't think his Jolie piece is the worst celebrity profile in history. "I tried to do something ambitious with what I had and that seems to have provoked this guy," he said in a phone interview yesterday. "If I had written 6,000 words on Angelina Jolie's breasts, he probably wouldn't have been bestirred."

Junod is right about that. If he'd written a typically banal profile of Jolie, it would have been lost among the zillions of other banal pieces on Jolie. Junod really did try to do something ambitious, which is commendable. Unfortunately, what he did was babble on with a lot of pseudo-profound drivel about Jolie and the Sept. 11 attacks. Here, for instance, is his lead paragraph:

"This is a 9/11 story. Granted, it's also a celebrity profile -- well, a profile of Angelina Jolie -- and so calling it a 9/11 story may sound like a stretch. But that's the point. It's a 9/11 story because it's a celebrity profile -- because celebrities and their perceived power are a big part of the strange story of how America responded to the attacks upon it. And no celebrity plays a bigger role in that strange story than Angelina Jolie."

Huh? Did you understand that? Me neither. " It's a 9/11 story because it's a celebrity profile." Does that mean that Us Weekly and Star are Sept. 11 magazines?

And it gets worse. After a few more paragraphs of this piffle, Junod suggests that Jolie is "the most famous woman in the world." Then he suggests that she's "the best woman in the world" because of "her generosity, her dedication and her courage." And then he writes this: "In post-9/11 America, Angelina Jolie is the best woman in the world because she is the most famous woman in the world -- because she is not like you and me."

Yikes! No wonder Rosenbaum went ballistic.

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