Why do we follow the story of Brangelina?

With Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt divorcing another Hollywood fairy-tale is coming to its end. Our societies are somehow obsessed by celebrities so how is it perceived by American public, how important is this news for America, and why? Read few comments.

Patty Williamson, Associate Professor, School of Broadcast and Cinematic Arts, Central Michigan University

My reaction is to the Jolie-Pitt split and its impact on American culture is two-fold:

First, I think the attention that is being given to the divorce filing shows that the American news media are looking for ways to attract an audience that has very little to do with actual “news.” In a commercial, profit-based media system, we’ve seen an increase in attention given to entertainment news, and a devaluation of more complicated international and national stories.  And this seems to be happening not only at the national level on cable news outlets, but also at the local level.  Speculation about why the couple split would have, in the past, been reserved for tabloid news, but today it becomes a lead story on many news outlets.

My second reaction is that schadenfreude seems to drive our thirst for stories about the split.  There seems to be an inherent joy that some feel when successful, beautiful, rich public figures hit hard times.  Either they are excoriated by the public, or we somehow feel more of a kinship with them, seeing them as somehow flawed and more human.  More like us.

Robert Thompson, Professor of Popular Culture, Syracuse University

It’s important for America only insofar as it’s given a lot of people something to talk about for a little while. One of the values of celebrity is that the whole country shares a knowledge of a small number of famous people. We cannot talk to strangers about the idiosyncrasies of our own families because no one else knows them: we can all talk to anyone about celebrities like Brad and Angelina because EVERYONE “knows” them. This is nothing new: national interest in famous couples goes back a long way–Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor come to mind, but there have been many more. The Internet, of course, gives everyone the possibility of offering their opinions on the subject.

Joshua Gunn, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, University of Texas at Austin

I am not sure how to answer your question, because I’m not so sure I can speak for “the American public,” which is an abstract noun. Such an abstraction is not meaningless, of course, but I would suggest “the American public” is the illusory idea of some unifying sentiment. There are many publics, and they are brought into being by the media. This is to say, a public is brought into being by whatever they hold in common—in this case, “news” reportage about the divorce. Publics do not preexist polls or stories about them; they are brought into being by such things.

So I think if you want to get a sense of how the “American” public perceives the Jolie-Pitt Split, you have to look at how it is portrayed in the mass media. To that end, this public uses the failed marriage as a projection screen to negotiate their own relationships. Of course the idealized, “soul mate” narrative that propped Pitt and Jolie’s union is one perpetuated by Hollywood, and it was one they were happy to cultivate. Selling photos of their family to popular magazines made them millions which, admirably, they donated to charity. At least if reporting and commentary on social media are any measure, the “American Public” is supposed to be bummed out. This public is supposed to be speculating about their respective drug or alcohol abuse, or possible infidelities. It’s all wild speculation in the service of a fantasy that, ultimately, makes media companies money. Tragedy sells.

The public I am most familiar with is the one that is constituted by university classes: students. I asked my “Celebrity Culture” students if they had a reaction to the news, and my sense is they don’t care. This millennial generation isn’t cynical or apathetic; I think they see the news as part of a larger “reality television” fantasy script (which is what it is). I cannot speak for them, but my sense is that it has little impact on their personal lives.

Although public figures, and deliberately so, Jolie and Pitt and their children deserve the privacy they are requesting. In the end, they are human beings just like the rest of us, with complicated emotions just like the rest of us. A majority of adults have had a break up, with either a friend or a lover, and it stinks. Unlike the rest of us, however, Jolie and Pitt have to navigate an impossible narrative of eternal love that is more fit for a movie screen, but it is a fantasy that is woven into their lives. That must be its own kind of hell to disentangle.

Richard Walter, Professor, Screenwriter Chairman and Associate Dean, UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television

What’s coming to its end, based upon what I read, is not a fairy-tale but, apparently, a nightmare for both Brad and Angelina.

There is just about nothing at all anywhere on earth, or in the entire universe, that is less important than this divorce. I cannot think of item of news that is more trivial and inconsequential.



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