I saw this ad on the back of a Time magazine that arrived in the mail today. It disturbed me, although it took a moment to realize exactly why. Clearly, Louis Vuitton is playing off of Angelina Jolie’s public persona as a humanitarian. But the advertisement itself doesn’t really have anything to do with helping people. It is about being inherently selfish.
The phrase, “A single journey can change the course of a life,” is nice, but it doesn’t really give you any story when paired with the image they are using. This picture is all about a beautiful, world-famous celebrity, enjoying a journey of self-discovery in an untamed, exotic wilderness. This advertisement isn’t about making the world better for everyone, it is about making you want to have the type of life where you can travel with expensive luggage. It is about colonization and empire-building. It is about elitism. It is about white supremacy.
I have to admit though, it wasn’t even all of the things I listed above that I found most disturbing. For me, it was the fact that I understood wanting to live the life portrayed in this ad. I’m not immune to creature comforts. I like Louis Vuitton products (from my limited experience with them) and certainly would enjoy having the financial freedom to be able to regularly purchase their products. I don’t blame myself for wanting to enjoy such things, but I don’t like how easy it is as a middle-class American to find myself in these types of situations.
The ad really reminded of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. I know some of her critics didn’t like how self-indulgent she was in being able to travel the way she did with a book advance. This seems like an even less likeable version of that story where a beautiful, white, American woman is traveling to a distant land to “find herself.” (And don’t get me wrong, I personally loved the book. The movie, less so.)
I guess what it comes down to is another case of “greenwashing.” Or if not exactly that, something similar. I’m so tired of all the marketing hype around “organic” and “environmentally-friendly” items. Not because I disagree with the principle, but because so often it is just used as a way to sell more things that won’t actually improve the planet. This seems like another way for Louis Vuitton to make someone feel good about themselves for purchasing their products. Because if someone as worldly and charitable as Angelina Jolie would endorse the brand, it must not just be about being an upper-class snob, right?
Update: This image was shot by Annie Leibovitz, noted celebrity photographer. Angelina’s fees for the campaign are being donated to (an unnamed) charity. Pietro Beccari, Louis Vuitton Executive Vice President, Marketing and Communications, comments: “We are honoured that Angelina Jolie agreed to participate in our Core Values campaign, whose central theme of travel as both a physical and emotional journey is one with which she can personally identify. Angelina Jolie is a global star in every sense – not only in her career as an actress, but also in her long-term commitment to international humanitarian issues.”