On Sept. 20, the world stopped as TMZ filed the story of the century, confirming that Brangelina is no more. “ANGELINA JOLIE FILES FOR DIVORCE FROM BRAD PITT,” the headline screamed in font size 54, breaking hearts and sending the tabloid world in a flurry.
After 12 years, six children, two ex-spouses, two films together, numerous red carpets and millions of magazine covers, Brangelina no more. Will the world ever be the same again? Maybe this time it is true: love is dead.
Taken another way, however, the news is really that a 41-year-old, twice-divorced woman and a 52-year-old, once-divorced man, who co-parent six children, made a decision that 40-50 percent of married couples in the US make, according to the American Psychological Association.
Being married is nothing extraordinary. In the US alone, “the number of married couples totaled some 59.63 million pairs in 2014,” according to Statista.com. If 50 percent of those couples are divorced, Pitt and Jolie are merely joining at least 30 million other people. So why do we care?
The world is consumed with the end of this marriage. As Jane Velez-Michelle says in an article by Phil Rosenbaum for CNN: “I think there’s a certain perverse satisfaction that everyone experiences when they see somebody who has everything - money, fame, power, good looks, the world at their feet - and yet it seems like they’re just as miserable as the guy next door or even oneself.” Are we delighted that Brangelina failed? Are our lives better because theirs is worse?
What about our assumptions? TMZ’s article moves from blaring the news to insinuating that the divorce is because of “allegations of substance abuse, anger.” Page 6, the gossip section of the New York Post, goes even further, declaring: “Angelina dumped Brad after private eye uncovered Marion Cotillard affair.”
The way these two private people’s private lives have unraveled as public gossip fodder reflects more on us as consumers. The story is so un-noteworthy that the only aspect of it that is extraordinary is our obsession with it. It is not that we are unaware - most people watch the news and care deeply about current affairs.
As Dubai-based lawyer Sara al-Kabban says: “I thought it was just gossip initially, but it’s clearly for real. I know people are dying all around the world and there are a lot more important things to talk about, but I did want to take a second as I did think they’d make it through everything. All that’s left now is Jay Z and Queen Bee; it’s up to them to prove that a marriage can last in Hollywood, or I guess in life in general these days.”
Therein lies the rub - we care so much about celebrity relationships because they provide a roadmap for our own. When we look for faults and reasons for seemingly inexplicable splits, it is due to our fears about our own relationships and personal faults.
As Dr James Houran, a 20-year veteran in applied psychological research, says in an article by Stephanie Pappas for Live Science: “Celebrity worship, at its heart, seems to fill something in a person’s life. It gives them a sense of identity, a sense of self. It feeds a psychological need.”
That need is to know ourselves better. When we look to Brangelina to peel apart where it went wrong, it is about protecting ourselves from making the same mistake by choosing a mismatched mate or ruining a seemingly happy relationship. We are most interested in what happened between these two because we want to know that the signs were there, that we would have known and gotten out fast, or tried to make things work. This is part of our biology.
“The social intelligence needed for success in this environment required an ability to predict and influence the behavior of others; an intense interest in the private dealings of other people would have been handy indeed, and strongly favored by natural selection,” says Dr Frank McAndrew for Psychology Today.
“In short, people fascinated with the lives of others were simply more successful than those who were not, and it is the genes of those busybodies that have come down to us through the ages.” So it is OK to care about Brangelina and reflect on what happened and why. It does not make you a bad person, unconcerned with the world. We are simply trying to do better and learning from all avenues, including glamorous Hollywood.