When Dr. Thomas Bayer “Deconstructed” Brad Pitt
Thomas Bayer likes to get people in trouble.
A true international man of mystery, Bayer, 61, is a suave, well traveled, educated and mischievous man, sophisticated, worldly and wise. Yet, he would whisper the naughtiest things in my ear when sitting in dark lecture halls looking at slides of fleshy, in flagrante Caravaggio paintings in the art history classes we took together at Tulane. He would lean in, dispense a wholly inappropriate X-rated observation, and I would laugh out loud and get yelled at.
Bayer is the man behind the scenes. You won’t find him in the forefront, seeking the limelight or top billing, but everything he does seems to create a big ballyhoo.
Like when he started the “Brad Pitt for Mayor” campaign in 2009.
Yeah, you may have heard of it. You may even have bought the T-shirt.
Bayer’s account of the fanciful, farcical political production is documented in a self-penned chapter in the recently published “Deconstructing Brad Pitt.”
There’ll be a book signing at 6:00 p.m. tonight, Tuesday, Oct. 21, at Octavia Books, 513 Octavia St., with co-editor Christopher Schaberg, an Associate Professor of English at Loyola University, in attendance.
Schaberg and co-editor Robert Bennett’s anthology is an academic study of how movie star Brad Pitt’s multifaceted career, from romantic hero to social humanitarian, seems to evoke so many strong emotions from so many people in so many different ways.
Bayer, a former art dealer, professor and occasional lecturer at Tulane, will be the first to admit while his epic charade started off as a lark, a higher concept emerged from his blockbuster boondoggle that propelled him to change the direction of his life.
Born and raised in a little village near Munich, Bavaria, Bayer can’t even vote. “I am not a U.S. citizen,” he said. “I’m barred from all political involvement. That my idea for ‘Brad Pitt for Mayor’ would be taken seriously by people was the last thing on my mind.”
In February 2009, Bayer was with friends at the Crescent City Brewhouse talking about the upcoming 2010 Mayoral election when he floated the idea of New Orleans’ newest favorite son, Make It Right Foundation founder and French Quarter resident, Brad Pitt becoming a candidate. A rowdy caucus ensued, but later, at home, all Bayer’s doubts disappeared when his partner of 20 years, fellow academic and author Dr. Laura Kelley exclaimed, “Well, he’d get the female vote.”
Bayer’s plan to capitalize on the zeitgeist of the times, a post-Katrina world where Pitt’s cause célèbre, Make it Right, was charged with rebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward with eco-friendly sustainable homes, was set into motion.
Bayer wrote a satirical 13-point platform for Pitt’s candidacy. You can buy the book to read the manifesto in its entirety, but #3 was, “If we elect Brad Pitt mayor, Angelina Jolie would be the First Lady of New Orleans.”
He and Kelley created T-shirts with “Brad Pitt for Mayor” emblazoned across the front, and wore them around town. The shirt’s design was soon picked up by local T-shirt shop Storyville on Magazine Street, and Bayer and storeowner entrepreneur Josh Harvey agreed to give a $2 kickback from every $20 shirt sold to Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation.
An article was written about the movement on June 12, 2009, in London’s “The Daily Mirror,” and the story went viral, yielding more than 1 million results in a Google search soon after. “That’s when it really took off,” Bayer said. “It added a level of excitement."
Bayer’s folly was legitimized when on Aug. 13, 2009, NBC’s Today Show host Ann Curry held up one of Bayer’s “Brad Pitt for Mayor” T-shirts during a TV interview and asked Pitt if he really was considering a run.
Pitt dismissed the prospect by joking, “Yeah. I’m running on the gay marriage, no religion, legalization and taxation of marijuana platform.”
He told Curry he didn’t stand a chance.
Yet, a petition was signed by more than 6,000 locals to ask the City Council to consider an abeyance to the residency law to allow Pitt to run despite the fact he had not lived in New Orleans for the required 5 years. A "Brad Pitt for Mayor" Facebook page still exists and boasts 13,486 likes.
Bayer continued to spin the story preparing stump speeches a la “The West Wing,” when journalist from around the world would call him around the clock from Brazil, France, Spain, India and China.
“The phone went nuts,” Bayer said of the media mayhem. “Journalists not knowing the time difference would call at all hours, and even when they did know the time difference, they didn’t care. There was lots of pure invention. I would be quoted in interviews I never had. Facts were never accurate, interviews never took place, statements were never made. But we didn’t want the bubble to burst.”
And it’s not because Bayer wanted to meet the mega-celeb – which he never did by the way. Bayer said meeting Pitt would have actually cheapened what he was trying to do.
While Bayer was playing his part as campaign manager, he was really championing something else – ecological, sustainable architecture and Green building technology.
“The whole conversation about Brad Pitt in that brief moment in time had a distinct positive twist on it,” Bayer said. “It was not like other media stories that focused on his tabloid celebrity or personal life. This publicity and exploitation actually highlighted Make it Right and sustainable architecture and social causes.”
More than 20,000 people bought the T-shirt, Bayer said, and Make it Right said they collected more than $40,000 from his efforts.
“We had a serious effect,” Bayer said. “With 20,000 sales, that meant there could be 20,000 people out there who learned about Brad Pitt and his involvement with Green architecture. It was a positive outcome.”
Even the editors of “Deconstructing Brad Pitt” will be donating a portion of their royalties to Pitt’s Foundation.
Pitt never ran for Mayor, and Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu won by a landslide on Feb. 6, 2010, but Bayer’s interest in Pitt never waned.
“I didn’t really pause to sit down at the beginning to map out where this was going,” he said. “But New Orleans would be a great center for the building industry, a living laboratory, and this fictional candidacy promoted the theories of sustainable architecture, healthy living, an alternative urban lifestyle and social activism.”
Bayer travels to Tulum, Mexico. There, he met some industrial designers who were trying to create an effective septic system for off the grid living. Bayer spent 2 years with them inventing a new septic system he said is self contained and extremely effective yielding a final outcome of potable water.
“The ‘Brad Pitt for Mayor’ campaign was an awakening for me,” Bayer said. “I took from it a significantly heightened awareness of sustainable architecture. It resonated with me. Maybe I’m not the only person to have been touched by a T-shirt that said ‘Brad Pitt for Mayor’ on it. For the 20,000 people who bought the T-shirt – what does it mean to them?”
One local boutique in Tulum still sells the popular shirt.
Bayer said he always wears the shirt when he travels. Not that he needs help, but Bayer said the T-shirt is a chick magnet.
“The ‘Brad Pitt for Mayor’ T-shirt overwhelmingly inspires women to start conversations,” he said. “I’m not a shy man by any means, but I would recommend to any shy guy out there to wear this T-shirt and you will find women smiling at you all the time. What more can you want? It works beautifully.”
“It’s fascinating to learn what celebrity is really all about,” he said.
Make It Right Foundation
912 Magazine St.
New Orleans, LA 70130