Most People Want to be Brad Pitt. I Do Not.
Unfortunately for me, we do share one key feature. And I hate it
It is my strongly held and incredibly shallow belief that most people want to be Brad Pitt. He is good looking and cool. Witty and charming.
Most of us can barely get through the day without being reminded that we will never be as effortlessly effortless as Mr Pitt. It is simply a sad reality we all have to live with.
But there is a big problem with Brad Pitt, and that is that while you will always recognise his little cherub face, he will never recognise yours.
This headline screamed at us recently, as Brad Pitt screamed in frustration.
Brad Pitt believes he suffers from prosopagnosia, a rare “face blindness” disorder — but “nobody believes” him.
The Oscar winner, 58, said in his June 2022 GQ cover story that he wants “to meet another” person who also experiences the condition.
Pitt, who has not been formally diagnosed, worries about appearing “remote … aloof, inaccessible [and] self-absorbed” while struggling to recognize faces, according to the article.
This was a desperate plea from Mr Pitt, who came out almost a decade ago as having a condition that made it near impossible for him to recognise faces:
Brad Pitt won’t remember you. If you've met him, he'll have no idea who you are when he meets you again. Even if you’ve had what he calls “a real conversation,” your face will start fading from his memory as soon as you walk away. He’ll try to hold on to its outlines, but your features will suffer an inexorable erasure, and the next time he sees you you'll be brand-new to him. He used to try tricking those he’d forgotten into thinking he remembered them, or at least waiting them out for a clue or scrap of context.
Imagine living with such an affliction, the features of a new acquaintance fading from your mind as they step away.
What did Brad’s date look like? He has no fucking clue.
“So many people hate me because they think I'm disrespecting them,” he says. “So I swear to God, I took one year where I just said, This year, I’m just going to cop to it and say to people, ‘Okay, where did we meet?’ But it just got worse. People were more offended. Every now and then, someone will give me context, and I’ll say, ‘Thank you for helping me.’ But I piss more people off. You get this thing, like, ‘You’re being egotistical. You’re being conceited.’ But it’s a mystery to me, man. I can’t grasp a face and yet I come from such a design/aesthetic point of view. I am going to get it tested.”
He did get tested — discovering he has a condition called ‘prosopagnosia’. Brad was destined to his own personal hell, each new face he met resetting like a deranged Groundhog Day.
“You meet so many damned people,” he says. “And then you meet ‘em again.”
I feel Brad’s pain, because this is exactly how I experience life as well.
You know when you see a stranger’s face as they walk by, but you don’t care because you don’t know them, and you just carry on with your life?
That’s how it is when I see a friend’s face. The features walk by, meaningless. They could be anyone. Sometimes, it just happens they’re someone I know very well.
Let’s clarify this, because it can be hard to explain. If I’m in a location I know, and know who to expect, things are fine. I know that Dax Shepard will be in the attic when I arrive to record a podcast. That’s great. I go over to a friend’s house, and I know Dan and Norie will be there. That’s fine.
But if I see a friend in a place I am not expecting it, chances are, the features won’t register. They will drift by, as if I don’t know them at all.
It’s not like a murky mess or anything — I see the face, and I’ll register knee-jerk judgemental human things like “attractive” or “scary” or “kind eyes” — I just don’t know that I know those kind eyes.
I did it to my friend Aimee earlier this week. Totally blanked her. I’ve known her for a year, and so I texted her afterwards, asking her to recount what it was like for her:
“I was walking back from a hike and noticed David from the other side of the street. To me, David is an instantly recognisable character, tall, and uniquely “David”, so I’d already clocked him from across the street at a very busy intersection.
I thought he’d probably notice me as well as I was walking towards him, getting closer and closer… but he did not.
Even as I got within several feet of him he still didn’t register as I was smiling and walking towards him that it was me or that I was even there.”
Thankfully, Aimee’s grin eventually cut through. “You know this person,” my brain said. “Who are they?”
I got the answer pretty quick — but I had to really think.
Social cues from other people often save me, and I am better at trying to pick them up than I used to be. A smile isn’t just a stranger smiling at me — it is a clue it might be a friend. Maybe a family member. My brain works overtime to figure out who it is. I usually get in in a few seconds.
If they’re wearing an item of clothing I expect them to be wearing, that helps. A Nine Inch Nails hat they always wear, or a baseball cap of a team they love.
Their voice is a huge cue. That’s why walking around with headphones is dangerous for me: I can miss out on key information, and it’s a few more seconds till I know who’s talking to me. A few more seconds of social suicide.
Time helps. If I see someone all the time — a best friend — my ability to recognise them increases.
But mainly it’s context: if I am expecting a person, I’m fine.
If they’re a surprise, then I’m always fucking surprised. Do you know how hard it is to cover up surprise? It’s exhausting. Every time I leave the house it’s a fresh game of Guess Who.
And let me tell you: That game sucks.
My friend Kate said something that once stuck in my head: “It’s almost impossible for our brains to think about how a different brain works; we are so limited by our own experience.”
She said this in a piece she wrote a piece for Webworm ages ago, which is still one of my favourite guest essays here: ‘When your mind's eye is firmly shut.’
It was about a condition Kate has called ‘aphantasia’ — the inability to visualise mental images.
“Most people who have aphantasia are also unable to recall sounds, smell or sensations of touch. That’s me. I can’t do any of it. Never have, never will. Put simply: my imagination is blind.
I can’t see what things look like, or hear what things sound like, unless I’m actually seeing them with my eyes or hearing them with my ears. But – and this is the part that is hardest to explain – I still know what things look like. I can still remember things. I still know what my bedroom looks like when I’m not in it. I know what a tree looks like. I know what my mum’s voice sounds like. I can close my eyes right now and I know where the couch is, where the bookshelf is, where the TV is. But I can’t see them. I just know.”
Kate never knew she had this until she started reading about it.
And I didn’t know about my face blindness until I started to hear from other people that had it. Brad Pitt wasn’t the reason — but he was a list of names to add to my list.
I agree with Brad wholeheartedly on this: “So many people hate me because they think I'm disrespecting them.”
For some reason I chose to get into journalism and documentary — a career that sees me meeting a lot of people. I’ve annoyed a lot of them over the years.
I wrote to a friend I’ve known in New Zealand for over a decade now. I wanted to know what it was like for them, back before I even knew I had an issue. Back when I wasn’t making an effort to catch social cues. It was actually pretty hard to read. I felt sort of terrible.
“I was introduced to Dave through our mutual friend. We ended up at events together and I thought we really hit it off. I would go as far as to say it was a mutual attraction of personalities of people who really seemed to gel.
We’d sat next to each other and had really great, quite deep conversations. I thought we could probably say we were real-life friends now, too.
Except for the next time I bumped into him at a movie, he completely blanked me. We were both standing in the foyer, waiting to go in, I smiled, waved once, quite over the top like, then another… and then he turned around. I saw him again at the front of the queue and I said: “Hey mate, awesome to see you again”.
I’m pretty sure he had no idea who I was.
That was about 11 or 12 years ago and since then he’s also blanked me at another dinner, with a friend on K Rd, a political event we both attended, and I’m pretty sure at his own birthday dinner he invited me to.”
“Even now there is a 10 to 15 seconds delay in seeing my face and being greeted with an overly friendly “Sarah!” which I think is his way of reminding himself of my name.”
It’s a strange way to exist. If I go on a date, I will leave and try to imagine the person in my mind. The face doesn’t come.
Weirdly, I can remember a photo of them better than the in-person meeting. Right now, I am thinking of someone in the context of where we were — a restaurant — and the face isn’t there. But there is a photo I remember of them from Instagram in my mind, and I can see their face clearly enough in that photo.
I Googled the condition again as I was writing this, and landed on BaptistHealth.com. It went through a list of symptoms. A lot of them I’d clocked before —
Poor recognition of familiar individuals in person or in photographs.
An inability to describe faces.
Feelings of disorientation in crowded locations.
Refusal to greet individuals by name.
That last one is a big one for me. The chance I won’t have a name to match a face is huge. It’s social cyanide to get a name wrong. My seventh circle of hell is having a new person come to a giant group dinner of people I don’t know that well, and I have to go around the table and introduce everyone by name.
No thanks. I’d rather run out onto the street and get hit by a bus.
Other points on the list I hadn’t registered — but reading them they hit me like a, well, bus:
Confusion regarding plot-lines in movies or plays with numerous characters.
This is me 110%. Movies can be hard.
Avoidance of meeting new people.
Now I think of it, yeah — kinda.
This probably ties into my other issues with memory that I’ve written about before — like having zero recollection of meeting Rob Schneider, despite photographic evidence to the contrary.
Before I go, I need to be clear. Yes, I read this in the Brad story:
The Oscar winner, 58, said in his August 2022 GQ cover story that he wants “to meet another” person who also experiences the condition.
To be clear, I am not writing this to meet Brad Pitt. I want nothing to do with the man.
The last time I connected with a Hollywood celebrity — Joseph Gordon-Levitt — things warped into a nightmare I still have nightmares about.
I could think of nothing worse: two face-blind people stumbling around the town, offending people.
No, I wrote this because I’m curious what you make of it. Do you have this affliction? Do you know someone that does? Do I know you IRL and do I keep blanking you all the time? Mum, is that you?!