This week, news broke that actors Anna Faris and Chris Pratt were separating after eight years of marriage. As the headline in Elle magazine signaled (and many upset Twitter users noted), “Love is dead.”
Why do we care so much about celebrity break-ups? Consider the long-running saga that is (or was) the partnership of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. The world has watched their romantic relationship evolve, develop, solidify and dissolve with wonder and disappointment. Unlike other famous couples, such as Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe, or Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, the Jolie-Pitt Family seemed even more exotic and progressive than their peers, and thus their announcement that they were divorcing was even more jarring. To complicate their once-perfect and largely private image, the now-separated parents of six grappled with the split publicly: Brad in a GQ cover story featuring him sprawled over white sands looking despondent yet admitting to whatever faults may have contributed to his marital demise. And now Angelina, who chose the September issue of Vanity Fair to market herself as a normal, harried single mom who isn’t sure how to decorate her twenty-five-million-dollar home because, after all, Brad was the interior design enthusiast.
In addition, Angelina’s perfectly-coiffed image of a mom trying to protect her kids—at one point in the interview she says, “Things became bad…[I mean] difficult…”—suffered a blow when she was asked about a disturbing game she used to cast the children who appear in her new film. Though her lawyer demanded a retraction and apology, Vanity Fair stood by the quotes, which were backed up by two different audio recordings. When all was said and done, Saint Angelina’s image was a bit tarnished.
It’s hard to be a celebrity couple in the public eye; it’s even harder to split up and retain a glowing public image. Isn’t it time we stopped caring about celebrity breakups?
Of course this is itself a challenging request. I’m not much of a movie buff or even especially obsessed with celebrity gossip, but I have found the buzz around celebrity romances—and our culture’s obsession with them—fascinating. It was hard not to watch with amazement as the Jolie-Pitt marriage crumbled: this wasn’t just a handsome man and a gorgeous woman falling in love on the set of a movie (as couples do). They were humanitarians who adopted three children from three different countries; birthed three babies, including a set of twins, then set out as a family of eight to crisscross the globe with their interracial, multilingual family, complete with tutors, good intentions, multiple nannies, and the funds to keep all this going indefinitely.
The fairytale-turned-ordinary-relationship-breakdown became even more sour when rumors circulated (likely started by Angelina herself) that Angelina decided to divorce Brad due to allegations of child abuse, his temper, or his drinking problem (to be fair, he’s been cleared of any child abuse charges). The subsequent cover stories, obviously perfectly crafted to present different but similarly sympathetic images of stars we could almost see getting back together, proved that even a well-honed public relations team couldn’t paper over the far-from-ideal conditions of the Jolie-Pitt relationship.
Of course, the entertainment media had for years played along with the Jolie-Pitt’s meticulous image-crafting of themselves and their children. Reporters produced endless stories about the couple’s six children, with their glamorous travels (almost always via private jet) and supposedly brilliant way with languages, without ever asking tougher questions about whether the globe-trotting lifestyle their famous parents are always humble-bragging about might have costs as well as benefits. It clearly exacted a cost on the marriage.
In the end, that might be why we are so fascinated by celebrity break-ups—because they’re decidedly not like us. Real life in real America with kids in school, regular nine-to-five jobs, marital spats, financial challenges and other mundane disappointments can be difficult. But in other ways, it’s an easier and less existentially precarious lifestyle to maintain than the relentlessly image-conscious one so many celebrity couples pursue (assuming you stay off Instagram, that is). So while we shouldn’t indulge in schadenfreude every time a celebrity marriage ends, we also shouldn’t complain that the demise of yet another Hollywood marriage means that love has died.