Please don’t run for office, Angelina Jolie

Jennifer O’Connell: It’s one thing celebrity activists lecturing us about the things we should be concerned about, and quite another them deciding they would like to legislate on it too

Angelina Jolie is thinking about running for office. Of course she is. With that beatific smile, the UN special envoy position and the postcard-perfect family life, she is already the head girl of Hollywood. She didn't tell Vanity Fair, the organ to which she revealed her possible interest (she doesn't yet make her public pronouncements through the medium of a vision at Knock, but it may be only a matter of time), what political role she is considering, but it's unlikely to be mayor of Miraval. So governor, then. Or president. Why not?

Jolie radiates goodness and worthiness, strength and compassion. She is smart, caring, beautiful and – I'll just say it – unbearably self-righteous. Yes, she may have stolen Brad Pitt away from the woman destined ever after to be known as "that poor Jennifer Aniston", but that was nearly a decade ago, and even Aniston – as she points out in every single interview – has moved on.

Jolie has moved on too: these days she is run off her feet being good, and accepting awards testifying to her goodness. There are tours of Syrian refugee camps; trips to flood- ravaged areas of Pakistan; the schools she has founded; the campaign against sexual violence; the preventative double mastectomy she wrote about with such honesty. She’s so good, it’s exhausting. She’s so good, you would quite like her to head off on a humanitarian mission to Mars.

It is hardly Jolie’s fault that photographs of a refugee camp in Syria are unlikely to make even the inside pages unless she is in them, or that charities are tripping over themselves to dream up awards they can give her in the hopes she will grace them with her presence, or that the UN is handing out gongs and ambassadorships like sandwiches at an Irish funeral. It’s hardly her fault if she ends up taking herself a bit too seriously.


Whose fault is it? Well, let's see. We are the ones with the relentless obsession with celebrity culture, the ones who have turned it into the prism through which everything else is filtered. So Syria isn't happening unless Jolie is there; climate change is not a thing until Leonardo says it is; Ebola is not a crisis unless Bob's on it. There is no real harm to all this, even if I agree with Lily Allen that there's something a bit smug about it all. But it's one thing celebrity activists lecturing us from their five-star hotel suites on the things we should be concerned about and spend our money on, and another thing them deciding they would quite like to legislate on it too.

There was a time – back in the days before Band Aid 30 and even plain old Band Aid – when philanthropy was its own reward; when celebrities donated their energy or their money without the need for awards or, God forbid, validation at the ballot box.

Sydney mother needs help, not a media witch hunt

The heartbreaking story of the newborn baby “left for dead for five days” in a storm drain in the Sydney suburb of Quakers Hill, and then found alive by passing cyclists, understandably made global headlines last week. But, as with most straightforward narratives of innocence and evil, there was almost certainly more to this one than met the eye.

For a start, as paediatrician Simon Newell of the UK's Royal College of Paediatrics pointed out, although newborn babies are designed to survive on tiny amounts of fluid for their first few days, even the hardiest of infants is unlikely to have lived for five days on none at all, let alone wrapped in a thin blanket 8ft underground in a climate where daytime temperatures rise to 40 degrees, and nighttime temperatures fall to 18. "It is much more likely that somebody was caring for this infant and then decided to leave the poor child down a storm drain," he told the Guardian.

That didn't stop the media baying for the blood of his mother, who had by then been identified and charged with attempted murder. She faces 25 years in prison. Her full name was splashed around the internet, despite not being released in Australia for legal reasons, alongside, in some publications, photos of the infant (the "Drain Baby" as some outlets tastefully called him) and the predictable below-the-line commentary calling for the mother to be left to die in a storm drain herself.

In the days afterwards it was reported that the woman had hidden the pregnancy from her family and the baby's father. You might imagine that, 20 years after 15-year-old Anne Lovett and her baby died in a grotto, cases like this would be handled more sensitively, that we would be closer to an understanding of the complex psychological factors involved in denial of pregnancy or baby abandonment.

Pregnancy denial is thought to affect one in 475 pregnancies at 20 weeks, and one in 2,500 at birth (making it about as common as eclampsia). It is a real and serious psychological condition, which very rarely results in neonaticide. And yet, compassion and help for those suffering it is often less than forthcoming – in one study in the US, only 10 per cent of women who gave birth unexpectedly in hospital were even given a psychiatric consultation.

The mother in this case needs support and expert psychological intervention, not imprisonment, and certainly not a media witch hunt.