Goodness can be insulting when a famous person flaunts it. One smooth operator, Trevor Neilson, has created a firm called Global Philanthropy Group to which celebrities suffering a career slump can sign up to support a good cause suitably keyed to their own image, thus benefiting the cause and getting their own picture in the news in a synergy that calls for no comment other than that generosity was supposed to be spontaneous.
If Neilson set up a branch office in Spain (unlikely, because here we have a cause on every doorstep), he would surely tell his celebrity clients how counterproductive it is for the faces appearing in connection with good causes — be it Civil War graves, immigrants, VAT on culture, abortion, public education — to always be the same ones. Not that there is anything wrong with the faces, but repetition erodes their effect. Even believers in the cause ask: Is there nobody else? Is a celebrity's face more effective than that of an unknown citizen whose profession normally has to be specified — cook, doctor, designer? Indeed, dependence on a celebrity probably betrays a lack of audacity on the part of the campaign planner.
I am up to here, for example, with the relentless activism of Sean Penn, who shows up in a red track suit at the Hugo Chávez funeral. I used to be irritated too, although in another way, at the relentless goodness of Angelina Jolie, her uncontainable urge to adopt children from the third-world countries she has visited. It was amazing how easily she managed it when most adoptive parents face an obstacle course.
That a famous beauty comes out and says there is life after mastectomy is something deserving of praise
However, the article in which she announced her double mastectomy has begun to convince me that her generosity is real. One friend of mine, normally compassionate, said: "What do I care what that woman does with her body?" He is younger than I am and perhaps has never witnessed the stigma suffered by women who have had a breast removed. I remember the pity felt for them, a pity close to humiliation in that the subject was taboo and the woman considered less than a woman. Since breast cancer began to be openly spoken about there have been a number of campaigns and artistic expressions to break the silence, ranging from the raw exhibition of the appalling scar to those that sublimated the process into an experience necessary for attaining a sort of higher spiritual state.
In this context the fact of a famous woman, an icon of physical beauty, who comes out and says there is life after mastectomy seems to me deserving of praise. I do care when someone whose image crosses frontiers confesses that her breasts are not entirely her own but that her love life and career go on. It was no less important when the actor Rock Hudson said he had AIDS. These are gestures that require courage on the part of the persons concerned because what they put at the service of the cause is not money or ideology but a real vulnerability. Possibly this confession may bring a rise in calls for genetic testing — unnecessary if there are no clear precedents in the family. In any case, it offers hope to women in a situation that until just the other day castrated them for life.
I have seen such reconstructed breasts on a friend of mine and, as Jolie has written, "The results can be beautiful." So is the chance to be alive with your children for as long as possible. When you have someone near you who has gone through this process, which is far more complicated and costly than you would gather from an article that endeavors to convey an optimistic outlook; when this operation has the face of a friend and you have heard the story of her fragility, you feel more respect for the celebrity woman who has ventured to show her scars and to suggest, without saying it in so many words, that she may go on being beautiful.