Brangelina: Why Do We Care and Why Does It Matter?

Actress, philanthropist, and all-around good person Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt on Tuesday and it caused a bit of an uproar (in some circles, at least). It's always been the case that certain celebrities and certain celebrity relationships permeate a special circle of the cultural conscious. They are household names with which the public is familiar. Consequentially, when substantial changes happen - like divorce - we feel it. There is a tendency to trivialize emotional reactions to such events and disregard the kind of conversations that these events may spur. While I'm the first to admit that the divorce of a celebrity couple doesn't necessarily warrant a breaking news headline, I do think our interest in such a subject is revealing in regards to how we frame our perspective of the world. 

Celebrity couples exist as a part of a social fabric that help us to understand unattainable spaces that exist in our world. For most of us, it's impossible to really conceptualize what it means to be a celebrity, actor, model, or rock star. We don't/can't relate to those experiences. However, when a celebrity gets married, adopts a child, or gets a double mastectomy (as Angelina Jolie did in 2013), they enter a shared space, one that we can better understand because we have experienced those things as well. These shared spaces gives us a way to empathize with them. The marriage of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt helped us better understand two celebrities who might remain unknowable otherwise. Their divorce does detriment to this vision by removing an element we used to understand them. This idea, at least in part, helps to explain the public reaction.

As a counterpoint, it's important to note the influence of their professions. As actors, Angelina and Brad's personas get wrapped in the roles we see them in, blurring the line between who they are and who we think they are. They worked together on Mr. and Mrs. Smith - a playful and sexy romantic-comedy that launched their coupling. Ten years later, they starred in By the Sea (a film that I'm hoping to write about soon), that depicted a married couple struggling to reunite after a trauma. These fictional narratives influence how we perceive their real life relationship, making it more difficult for us to understand them as regular people.

"Celebrity" is a fascinating element intrinsic to a modernized society that is accompanied by a really tough contradiction: how can we reconcile our tendency to idolize these celebrities while also contextualizing them within reality? We want to know them without possessing the capability to truly understand them. The uproar about the Brangelina divorce will fade, but the public's interest in celebrity couples will not and we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the importance of that fascination.