TO: Angelina Jolie, Sean Penn, and Brad Pitt
FROM: Rob Long
RE: Planet Hollywood
Welcome to the fascinating world of foreign policy! It's wonderful that Hollywood has taken such an interest in world affairs -- the hotel lobbies and corridors of Davos have never been so glittering, and hotspots in Africa and the Middle East are sprinkled with stardust. Boffo kudos, as we say in the business.
The world, though, is a complicated and treacherous place. It's impossible, really, to convey the pitfalls and booby traps waiting out there as you venture far outside the 310 area code. Playing to the lefty Academy Awards crowd is fine, but that instinct may get you into trouble in, say, Caracas or Pyongyang. If you say something that delights a Fidel Castro or a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, chances are it's going to go over badly back home -- and for good reason.
Still, your success in navigating the ferociously competitive world of Hollywood is the ideal training for global activism. Think about it: The entertainment industry is characterized almost entirely by shrieking egomaniacs, psychotic dictators, money-losing operations, clueless bureaucrats, corrosive nepotism, enormous travel allowances, and fraudulent accounting practices -- not unlike most large nongovernmental organizations, the World Economic Forum, and the continent of Africa. You are well prepared to succeed on the world stage. Just remember these five key points:
Try a Modified, Limited Bono: To be an effective advocate of anything -- immunizations, Middle East peace, women's rights, whatever -- you must first decide what you're not going to advocate. By entering the global fray, you're effectively trading on your name and your image, in other words, your brand. Think of yourself as an international brand and focus tightly on one, and only one, key issue.
As always, let Bono be your lodestar. In the 1980s, Bono represented a constellation of international causes -- opposition to apartheid, AIDS, the environment, world poverty -- and was an effective spokesman, frankly, for none of them. As the 1990s progressed, though, he began to focus more closely on a single issue, Third World debt relief, and he found that the more finely honed approach improved his effectiveness. By the early part of this decade, the rock-and-roll icon had managed to corral such unlikely allies to his cause as former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill. Bono's African road trip with O'Neill was a media sensation, and the image of the somewhat baffled O'Neill and the cool-cat singer in pink wraparound shades indelibly etched the idea of Third World debt forgiveness onto the global agenda. One idea, one brand, tight focus, tight leather pants. You really can't do better than Bono.
Notice, too, that his choice of issue has a clear-cut definition of success. Third World debt either is forgiven or it is not. Poor countries struggling under enormous debt burdens either will or will not find relief. Contrast that with, say, global warming, another one of Hollywood's pet issues. Whatever one thinks about climate change, it's almost certainly going to involve muddling through, demanding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in a few places and allowing it to go unchecked in others, for decades to come. A celebrity who chooses such an amorphous, open-ended issue will quickly become tangled up in messy domestic politics and hobbled by the indifference that inevitably accompanies such a long-term challenge. It's as silly as choosing "world peace" as your cause. As much as we admired your plucky initiative, Sean, your prewar tour of Iraq quickly became an international joke because of your credulous, childish appearances with members of the peace-loving Baath Party. Face it, world peace ain’t gonna happen. Debt relief, clean water in the sub- Sahara, and micro-loans for Bangladeshi women just might.
Don't Forget Your Training: Remember that sitting still, listening with an intent expression, and responding with pleasant but noncommittal murmurs are the hallmarks of a seasoned world leader. They are also what you as a movie star do best. Don't forgo the skills that got you where you are. As anyone who has ever seen Henry Kissinger make his way through the Four Seasons restaurant at lunchtime will tell you, the line between foreign policy and show business is thin.
Negotiating the international scene with purpose is hard enough. It gets even worse when people with different agendas distract you. When your convoy of Range Rovers blows into some dusty village, the new gray-water treatment plant you've come to see will have to wait until after the village children do a traditional dance, you've visited the clinic, officiated a soccer match, and greeted the local despot. Maintain a cheerful indifference to all of it: Remember, you're all about water (or whatever). You've sat through a lot worse, especially the time when you didn't win the Oscar and had to pretend, with a camera lens inches from your face, that you were truly happy for the winner.
As important as remembering your training is recalling your lack of training. Meryl Streep is a well-known fanatic about getting foreign accents just right. Philip Seymour Hoffman reportedly refused to come out of character when off set, so intent was he on becoming Truman Capote. But we all know how tiresome that kind of work can be, particularly when you're not getting paid for it. Brad, we've noticed you hanging around think tanks such as the Center for American Progress. Be forewarned that the time will come when you're too busy, too tired or, frankly, too bored to bond with a lot of star-struck geeks, at which point you'll be criticized and mocked for being an unserious dilettante. Who needs that?