So you’re standing in the checkout line staring back at all the beautiful faces grinning up at you from the magazine racks next to the chewing gum. As you scan the well known personalities next to catchy tag lines your wandering gaze inevitably finds, “The shocking tale…how woe-begotten so-and-so has been left by…attractive but adulterous such-and-such…” Being the saps we all are, but not wanting to admit it, we share a knowing smirk with others in the line before smuggling it into our shopping basket and heading home to indulge in what the Germans call Schadenfreude. The closest word to it in the English lexicon is to Gloat but in German it reads more like, “gloating over the misfortune of others”. Yep, most of us are guilty of this.
We love them when they get together, and some even more when they split
But whether we have a word for it or not, our fascination with these kinds of famous rifts or in some cases unions leans pretty heavily into schadenfreude territory. “Not I!”, you say? You are above this feeling? That’s fair. Maybe instead you like knowing the celebrities that entertain our daydreams, are more like us than they seem. It makes them more relatable, even attainable. Maybe, you are the type to root for the underdog, especially if we didn’t approve of whom our favorite celeb is dating. It gives us the chance to reinforce our own views on relationships, or the opposite sex.
It is precisely these sentiments which tabloid journalism like People, Us, Star, Entertainment etc. use to translate famous breakup news into large sales figures. In fact a brief stroll through the cover stories for People Magazine for 2012 which was more marriage and breakup focused saw an increase in sales of 1.9% overall. Reports for 2013 so far show a 0.6% decline by June, a year in which People focused on celebrity lifestyle, hottest lists and bios. I’m not saying bad news is good news for all celebrity magazine sales because for instance the Kardashian wedding issue bumped People sales by 31% as revealed in the Hollywood Reporter. Looking deeper at these figures reveals that People also increase the cover price by 25% for that issue so…where does that leave us?
To go from browse to buy
Well, the truth may be in the nature of journalism itself. Reporting any news is more like telling a good joke than relaying bald facts. It’s all about subtext. It’s not what you say, but how you say it that makes the greater impact. In the ever narrowing wedge of magazine sales which, while leveling off, are still declining by 3-4% per year — presentation is everything! Catching the eyes and entertainment pocket money of the public is critical and requires a working knowledge of human psychology.
So too when it comes to parleying celebrity news and especially breakups into dividends. The choice to report in a star-friendly versus star-bashing editorial style is also a statement about which side of human nature that publication is banking on to entice a reader to go from browse to buy. This is a case in which our deep seated views on celebrity are reflected pretty succinctly in the numbers.
Publishers can’t get enough of these stories
Look, we know what the possible reasons are for why we gravitate to these stories, whether as a cautionary tale, schadenfreude, or simple escapism. We also know why publishers can’t get enough of these stories. In the sagging market of physical newsstand sales and home delivered subscriptions, scandalous copy and famous faces continue to make money.
Whatever the numbers say we clearly we love star relationship news so much that the need to find new and bizarre ways to express it drive some pretty strange trends.
For instance, it is now commonplace to created what is known as Portmanteau names for celebrity power-couples. These monikers are made by joining two names together such as Bennifer, Brangelina, Kimye and the like. Perhaps stranger still is the rise of celebrity centered fan-fiction although some would claim many Celebrity magazines indulge a little in this themselves whilst trying to create a controversy where none exists.
Still though, it feels like a central question wants to surface from the dubious core of this discussion. Something that doesn’t sit right. Something we sense between the lines and the covers of our favourite glossy. A link between us and the stars we admire.
Fake celebrity marriages
It might be time to ask the question: What do the stars get out of subjecting themselves to the unblinking eye of the media? Especially in the face of personal heartache or even happiness, as in the case of marriage announcements. Well, if unjaded human nature prevails then like anyone who is in love, they are happy and simply want to declare their intentions. Marriage is a public affair, a contract if you will, validated and overseen by friends, family and in some cases, the press. Hollywood marriages take on all comers for public spectacle. It’s a given that many a film producer has wished for the kind of budget that some superstar weddings command! To put it in perspective, Kim Kardashian wore $10 Million dollars in jewelery alone in her marriage to NBA power forward Kris Humphries. Wow! They must really be in love? Their 72 day marriage notwithstanding. Though longer, the same goes for the marriage between Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, a ceremony with a reported 50,000 flowers and millions spent in accoutrement. Lavish doesn’t begin to cover it so is this a reflection of true love and bottomless funds, or something else? Well, some would argue that the devil in this case is not among the details as the saying goes, but rather in the timing.
Try this — type, “fake celebrity marriage” into your friendly neighborhood search engine. Uh-huh…exactly! Now if you read a few of the articles based on the premise you begin to spot a pattern. That is to say, some stars or their press agents, seem to announce they are dating, divorcing, engaged or in some cases officially single around the time they need to promote their next movie, project or clothing line. Without assuming too much, couples like Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have been suspected by many in the know of having an arranged marriage as it were to the benefit of both their careers. Even the lovable Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Aniston’s relationship was likely a bid to raise more than the popcorn prices before the release of the movie, The Break Up. The list goes on but without losing focus, doesn’t it seem like a kind of love triangle between the press, the celebrities and us – discerning readers though we are.
Yet often we hear about how stars guard their private lives with perimeter fences, security, handlers, legal representation and CCD cameras. So why is it that somehow even the most private details of their ‘pre-wedding jitters’ and bitter breakups are highly publicized. Is it because they live public lives and therefore – not to stretch a metaphor but – everyone can see what’s on their clothesline? Could it be the relentless prying eyes of the paparazzi? Possibly, but it is also common for celebrities to agree to interviews even when they are in the midst of seemingly major life events. Would you?
Is it such a stretch that they may be acting the story of their own lives
To balance the scales and in the interests of fair play, we can argue that maybe the naive but innocent party has been misrepresented and wants to do damage control. They could let the press in on the gory details to exact revenge against an ex, or despite their fame, are lonely and want to declare their availability. They could be trying to gain child custody by arguing their case in the court of public opinion. All of those might be true but there is a very real chance that stars use the press and it’s audience as much as they themselves are used. In some cases we and the press are well and truly played. Since many of our favourite personalities are also Actors, is it really such a stretch that they may be acting the story of their own lives for our benefit? That it may be to sell the one product that matters most to their careers – namely themselves? Kind of seems that way. So the next time you are waiting at the checkout counter and see those familiar faces looking back at you from glossy covers, you may be experiencing what Shakespeare knew so well ~ that all the world’s a stage, especially when the camera is watching.