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Why Are We So Obsessed With Celebrity Splits?

I was surprisingly devastated when I heard about Chris and Anna? No, I’m not talking about some close friends of mine I’m talking about actors. And just to clarify, actors whose careers I have barely even followed by the way – I have never seen an Anna Faris film. Yet there I was reading with surprising melancholy about the demise of her eight-year celebrity marriage.


There are two types of celebrity obsessives in this world (I’m oversimplifying somewhat, feel free to crucify me in the comments) the open consumers of celeb stories and the stealth consumers.

The open consumers are ready to tease out the twists and turns of the lives and loves of the rich and famous. We go DEEP on the details. Who said what, who did what, who just wrapped filming with a potential extramarital love interest…? Perhaps it is unseemly but it is a pastime as old as civilisation. The very word celebrity derives from the Latin word for recognition or renown, ‘celebritas’ and the ancients also had their version of fame in the word ‘fama’ meaning rumour or reputation.

The stealth obsessives prefer to think that they are not interested in these base matters, that they are above such shallow pursuits but even they can’t resist pouring over celeb gossip mags in the salon or might frequently find themselves indulging in a guilty little Daily Mail sidebar vortex.

Personally, I straddle the two categories, but I can’t say I feel any guilt for having a keen interest in the lives of celebrities. After all, for the most part, they need me to – my consuming the details of their lives is a crucial part of the celebrity eco system on which they rely for their money and success.Obviously, the thing that is even more fascinating than a solo celeb is a coupled up celeb and when celebrities marry our interest intensifies. To gossip is human, and frankly, as much as our own friends can provide fun gossip fodder, ultimately J-Law and Darren Aronofsky (Intriguing New Couple alert) et al are leading far more exciting lives than Saoirse and Paddy from the Parents Association. It is also something of a victimless crime, in that gossiping about friends is slightly shady behaviour while I think we all know that J-Law is definitely not going to care too deeply about what three Penneys-clad friends whose combined yearly earnings are less than what she makes in a week, are saying 12,000 miles away over a budget wine.

Obviously, the thing that is even more fascinating than a solo celeb is a coupled up celeb and when celebrities marry our interest intensifies. To gossip is human, and frankly, as much as our own friends can provide fun gossip fodder, ultimately J-Law and Darren Aronofsky (Intriguing New Couple alert) et al are leading far more exciting lives than Saoirse and Paddy from the Parents Association. It is also something of a victimless crime, in that gossiping about friends is slightly shady behaviour while I think we all know that J-Law is definitely not going to care too deeply about what three Penneys-clad friends whose combined yearly earnings are less than what she makes in a week, are saying 12,000 miles away over a budget wine.

So why are we so obsessed when the celebosphere is at such a remove from our reality? Our curiosity for one another is well-documented, the commercial success of Gogglebox alone tells us that we will literally watch other people watch something. Celebrities however wealthy and privileged they may be are still living out a human narrative even if it is on a macro level and my god we are obsessed.

As founding editor of Gawker, Elizabeth Spiers wrote in the Washington Post:

“If supply is indicative of potential demand, it’s worth noting that the string “Ben Affleck” “Jennifer Garner” “divorce” yields 18.4 million results on Google. By comparison, “Iran nuclear deal” yields 7 million results, and “does god exist?” a mere 427,000.”

Spiers goes on to posit that while celebrities are in no way fictional people, they are enacting stories, real-life large scale dramas that the media spin and we tune into for regular updates. She argues that certain couples will be more compelling becasue of the narrative they take part in. For example, the marriage of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner was a redemption story, “bad boy settles down. It’s also a sequel of sorts, the bad boy’s previous relationship with Jennifer Lopez — the other Jen — had been fraught with much of the same drama, and was ubiquitously covered and discussed at the time,” writes Spiers.

The other great enduring celeb couples have similarly succinct and cstory linesstorylines: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were a Shakespearean tragedy doomed by the very passion that drew them together. Meanwhile, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston were a fairy tale – the girl-next-door, TV actress selected by a Hollywood star and whisked away from mid-level celebrity to the big leagues.

And so on to the most recent celebreak-up to dominate the last week, Anna Faris and Chris Pratt. The pair released nearly identical statements on their respective social media channels.

A post shared by Anna Faris (@annafaris) on

The combined engagement with these brief missives was massive with more than half a million people liking, sharing and commenting on the posts. The public’s outpouring was so impassioned, it prompted actress Kristen Bell to actually offer advice on how to deal with the couple’s separation.

On one level, it was surprising that the Faris and Pratt split entered the public consciousness (neither have really achieved A-list status) and on another, it made perfect sense: Anna and Chris were the most ‘us’ couple. They reportedly met on the set of a pleasingly middling teen movie, Take Me Home Tonight and wed in 2009. They welcomed a son, Jack (no Apples or Bananas here) in 2012 and seemed to effortlessly embody an insta-friendly image of the fun, funny and down-to-earth couple. They’re hot but not in an entirely unrelatable Brangelina way. It’s unlikely that they’ll do OTT photo shoots revealing their ‘journey’ and new-found love for whittling nor give carefully considered 8000-word exit interviews to Vanity Fair. They’re not rebranding their split as some kind of new level of vagina-steaming, conscious uncoupling, enlightenment. They’re sad it’s over and frankly, we’re sad too.

Faris and Pratt’s narrative speaks to us for the very fact that it is a love story of the most underwhelming, least cinematic proportions. They didn’t manage to make their marriage work, something that is a very real prospect out there on the horizon of many of our lives. And so we pour over the low-key Twitter statements and we speculate about the involvement of Jennifer Lawrence because we need a villain, but really sometimes there are no answers to why. Celebrities tell us a story about ourselves, that is why we are interested. Celebrity marriages can be seen, in a way, as a reflection of our ‘civilian’ marriages in an alternative universe where the loads of financial stress, children and career are somewhat lessened. Perhaps it gives us some strange kind of comfort that even when circumstances are perfect, nothing’s perfect.

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