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Birth of a (Shiloh) Nation

Birth of a (Shiloh) Nation

Here’s the story of two superstars, who met on the set of a summer blockbuster, had everything but needed each other, and then needed more. They’ve traversed the globe looking for it, continent-hopping “diplomats” like Condi Rice but with Rive Gauche style. Alas, they’ve arrived in a place they call worthy (if not home), the low-profile African nation of Namibia.

Why Namibia? And why do we care? Let’s venture back a few years to where it all began …

Angelina Jolie, who at various times has been enshrouded in rumors of bisexuality, masochistic deviance, incest and botox (those lips!), first sparked the current “Third World babies as fashion accessories” trend back in 2002 when she rescued little Rath Vibol from a Cambodian orphanage. She whisked the boy back to Hollywood, renamed him Maddox, styled his hair in a mohawk, dressed him in baby Diesel and began toting the tike around town like a Gucci bag. She calls him "Khmer," "Madness," "Mad," "My Love" and "Psycho," and teaches him Buddhism because she considers it part of his culture.

Before long Maddox needed a friend, so Jolie went to a place where no baby could possibly pass up rescue by a rich white woman: Ethiopia. It was in July of 2005 that Angie discovered Zahara (“luminous”) Marley, an AIDS orphan, who at six months weighed scarcely nine pounds. Back to the U.S. came Zahara, where soon her newfound family was joined by Papa Pitt—recently single—who became the kids’ adoptive daddy.

And so we come to the latest chapter, the genetic anomaly that is Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt. Born amid the tightest of security in a beachfront compound/resort in Namibia, Shiloh instantly became front-page news across the world.

Shiloh. It’s a Hebrew word for “place of peace.” It’s also a place of commemorative violence, as in the Civil War battlefield in Tennessee. But the word will most likely be known to the world—from this point on—as the name of “the sexiest baby alive.”

Poor little Shiloh; I wonder if she has any inkling of the circumstances into which she’s been born. Does she realize that a photograph of her fetches more than $4 million? That a destitute country—Namibia—is practically betting its future on the notoriety that came with her birth? What a burden. As if being born into extreme wealth isn’t enough.

Shiloh is also born with somewhat of a mild international stigma: She is rich and white. Her Anglo-Saxon genes carry the heritage that brought the world colonialism, mainstream Christianity and racism. Though she’s full-blooded Jolie-Pitt, her sister Zahara and brother Maddox have the advantage of being Ethiopian and Cambodian, respectively. By ethnic nature these elder siblings are less apt for fascist warmongering. With all the cards stacked against Shiloh, it’s no wonder her parents felt it necessary to birth her in an exotic, non-Western, never-heard-of locale like Langstrand, Namibia. Surely here baby Brangelina could get off to a better, more organic, spiritually-centered start.

What did Mr. and Mrs. Smith know of Namibia prior to selecting it as the birth country of their offspring? It is uncertain, apart from Angelina’s various travels as Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. and her time spent in Africa filming Beyond Borders, why the country was selected. I suspect a chief reason had to be the sheer novelty of it. Who goes to Namibia to have a baby? I’ve never heard of that … but it sounds so very cool!

And coolness, of course, is the name of the game. It is always cool to travel abroad, but only insofar as the places you travel to are not “touristy” or riddled with the European propertied class. Coolness in travel is always one step ahead of the Lonely Planet guidebooks and three steps ahead of Fodors. You’ll not find Namibia on anyone’s tourist radar. Hence the birthplace of Shiloh, the world’s coolest, sexiest, purest, most destined to be a Nobel Peace Prize-winning baby.

Why Namibia? Because it is real. Africa is true, unpretentious and closer to natural existence. Or so has the thinking gone for many, many years of fashionable travel. The lure for hipsters is the other—the exotic, the not here. It’s about difference for the sake of difference; fresh perspective, new ideas, mind expansion, you get the idea. The desire is to escape the superficiality and consumerism of the western “fast food nations” for the utopian authenticity of elsewhere. Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter put it nicely in their 2005 book, Nation of Rebels: “The prime motivation of the traveler in foreign lands is to penetrate the simulacrum of the front into the reality of the back. If our society is all ‘front,’ the attraction of non-Western societies is that they appear to be all ‘back’—that is, guileless, open and authentic.”

Unfortunately, the “guileless, open and authentic” places in the world are disappearing for the very reason that they are so desired. When something becomes trendy because it is unknown or un-trendy, soon the hordes will flock there, and the hipsters will move on. It’s good for a country’s commerce, but not for its coolness. I expect that many a hipster is disappointed when they first travel to a third world country expecting some sort of escape from consumerism. All they want to do is explore the “beauty” of simple living, the “mosaic” of shanty markets, but when a smelly hawker tries to sell them bootlegged DVDs or give them a ride in a rickshaw, they cringe. “I don’t want to make you pull me in a rickshaw,” sayeth the hip tourist. “I just want to learn about your way of life!” It doesn’t occur to them that the “way of life” for most of the world is more a “way of survival,” and it depends on the money earned from selling DVDs and rick-shaw rides to moneyed yuppie tourists.

I wonder if the Jolie-Pitts realize why their birthing holiday thrills Namibians so.

“They have honored Namibia with their presence," said Prime Minister Nahas Angula of the young family. But why? Because of the cross-cultural nobility of such an act? NO! Because the worldwide frenzy over Baby Brangelina’s birth in Namibia amounts to the mother of all tourism boosts? YES! It’s all about money—what else? Namibian officials have already expressed hope that Shiloh—by birth a rightful citizen—might one day establish permanent residence in that country. Of course they do! What better publicity for a country?

And so Shiloh, dear child, I pity your position as a pawn in so many games. Whatever you may be to the world—a paparazzi target, a symbol of hope, an exercise in exotic breeding—please know that there is hope. It is not in yourself, nor is it in Namibia or any other nation-state. And it is not in a postmodern spiritual syncretism, as much as your parents might believe is the case. But I pray that you’ll find it someday—the “place of peace” that your name implies.

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