By now you would have heard that Angelina Jolie has filed for divorce from Brad Pitt, her husband and partner of 12 years, bringing one of the world’s most recognisable and exalted marriages to a seemingly abrupt end.
Word of their split, broken first by the incorrigible sleuths at TMZ and confirmed later by the couple themselves, generated plenty of news and social media fodder on Wednesday. It prompted articles about the mechanics of Hollywood divorce and potential financial repercussions for Pitt’s upcoming film, as well as the inevitable deluge of Twitter memes and hyperbolic social media commentary. “The internet is completely devastated,” claimed Harper’s Bazaar.
Understandably, however, Brangelina’s break up is not interesting to everyone. As with many celebrity stories that are widely reported and discussed, particularly by young people and women, headlines announcing the split were accompanied by predictable groaning from the comments section: “Why is this news?” “No one should care about this.”
These are fashionable criticisms well known to fans of entertainment news, or in its broader sense, popular culture. They are opinions you might have heard — or espoused yourself — around the time of Kate Middleton’s wedding, a controversial Bachelor finale or anything to do with the Kardashian-Jenner clan.
[I]n reality, the entertainment world is a vast and expensive industrial complex that affects our lives and takes a lot of our money — whether you like it or not — making it as worthy of examination and debate as say, sport.
The underlying belief, in this particular school of thought, is that we should not be talking and writing about celebrities or reality TV shows or silly internet memes related to them because we do so at the expense of more sobering, intellectual issues.
“We shouldn’t talk about celebrities, as it leaves less room to learn the important stuff,” wrote one commenter on The Age’s Facebook page, as if humans are incapable of reading about the Syrian civil war and two actors in the same 24-hour span. I also wonder how many of these critics devote their days exclusively to “important stuff”?
A broken marriage is not news in itself, at least not to strangers. But when it involves Angelina Jolie, an actress-turned-celebrated humanitarian, and Brad Pitt, arguably Hollywood’s most famed leading man of the last 20 years, whose very public careers have been shaped by their relationship to one another, then that broken marriage is newsworthy.
Their break up is obviously less consequential than the global political and economic developments that will take place this week. Brad and Angelina do not deserve to be CNN’s top story, as actress Susan Sarandon pointed out Wednesday. But that does not mean that anyone gets to take the moral high ground by not wanting to talk about them.
I have always enjoyed celebrity gossip, much to the derision of many people I know, mostly men, who wonder why an educated and well-read person knows so much about the Kardashians.
But I do. I could talk endlessly about Kim’s decade-long manipulation of the media, her Becky Sharp-like trajectory from Paris Hilton’s personal assistant to one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People”. I love dissecting the arc of Taylor Swift’s relationship to Kanye West — and the racial and gender dynamics at play between them. But I also like looking at red-carpet gowns. I like wondering whether Rihanna is dating Drake.
I suspect that a lot of the smug scoffing about entertainment news is gendered. “Gossip” is considered a female pursuit, something reserved for bored housewives or neighborhood spinsters.
But in reality, the entertainment world is a vast and expensive industrial complex that affects our lives and takes a lot of our money — whether you like it or not — making it as worthy of examination and debate as say, sport. I know footy fans — again, mostly men — who can recite 20 years’ worth of Grand Final winners who can’t believe I can name every Kardashian.
But there’s a dedicated sports segment on the news every night and hours-long games every weekend. And gossipy discussions about player trades or drug cheats rarely receive the same smug hand-wringing from Facebook commentators and snarky “how can you watch this stuff?” remark I might cop for watching one 30-minute episode of Real Housewives of Melbourne.
Some celebrity happenings are more newsworthy than others. There is a clear difference between articles about Rihanna’s love life and the more watershed news of Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out.
But entertainment stories don’t exist in a vacuum. They reflect — and sometimes shape — the culture and social mores of the world we live in. The way we talk about Angelina and Brad’s divorce in the coming weeks will serve as a prism with which to talk about about how we view women, marriage, film and media.
I’ll be reading the pop culture sites tonight. Don’t make me feel bad about it.
► An edited version of this story also appeared in The Age.