Give Peace a Chance
Smith, Sean, Newsweek
Byline: Sean Smith
Angelina Jolie is to blame, really. Because of something she said to me in India four years ago, I have quit my 13-year career as an entertainment journalist, have given away almost everything I own, and at 43, have joined the Peace Corps.
Yes, the Peace Corps still exists. In fact, the agency, founded just weeks after President John F. Kennedy took office in 1961, will celebrate its 50th anniversary this March. Since its creation, the Peace Corps has sent more than 200,000 American volunteers abroad, where they have worked in poor communities as teachers, health educators, and advisers in business, the environment, and agriculture, among other fields. Although the Peace Corps's public profile may be quieter today than it was during the Kennedy era, the agency is now on the cusp of resurgence. In 2009 the Senate approved an increase in funding from $340 million to $400 million, the largest single-year jump in Peace Corps history.
I knew none of this, of course, when I arrived in Mumbai in November 2006 to interview Jolie. I had been a writer at NEWSWEEK for almost four years at the time, and a journalist for a decade covering the film industry. It's fair to say the Peace Corps was nowhere near my radar. What was on my mind, though, was a growing dissatisfaction in my work that no amount of success seemed to cure. I was good at my job and paid well, and yet I couldn't shake the sense that I was spending most of my energy on something that ultimately wasn't real.
Writing about Hollywood is like being a reporter at Disneyland. At first, you can't believe that you get to spend every day in The Happiest Place on Earth. Everyone wants to ask you about your work. You're surrounded by princesses, and the sky sparkles with pixie dust. But as the years go on, you learn about the oily machinery that manufactures all that enchantment. You see what Cinderella's really like when that glass slipper comes off. And then one day you notice that the magic is gone, and all you're left with is a small, small world.
So I was seeking something authentic when I arrived in India, and I got more than I bargained for. …