Friday, July 13, 2012

Heroes, villains, and celebrity divorces


Our Top Story Tonight - In a world of pain, loss and hardship for millions of struggling everyday people, we're obsessed with Tom and Katie.

Only my take on that is, possibly, not what you think.

While we're all going "With all the vital news going on, WHO the Bleep CARES?" I'm sort of honor-bound to talk about my lengthy adolescent concern with celebrity love affairs.  Some people never do it.  Others outgrow it by the end of high school, like you're spozed to. Some of us have to let it go.

It's probably a useful phase of teenage development, letting us process "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?" at a safe distance, by vesting emotionally in somebody else's life and thinking about what we'd do differently, while avoiding personal risk of that broken heart.

Many people -- I'm not allowed to say "most," but there sure are an awful lot of us -- stay in that stage of emotional development for way too long.  Only it's no longer to learn our hearts at a safe distance, but to avoid learning.  That we make flat cardboard Heroes and Villains out of them is a clue.

I speak of myself, here, and well into my middle age.  Relationships confounded me, the best evidence being that I even entered into my first marriage to a badly damaged manchild.

At the time, I was a big fan of Christian singer Amy Grant.  Grant wrote about life's hard stuff back before there was hard stuff in Christian music.  She was still young and wholesome and Perfect Role Model For Young Women blahblahblah, when she gained mainstream music fame with a song ("Find a Way") that said

   I know this life is a strange thing.
   I can't answer all the why's.
   Tragedy always finds me
   taken again by surprise.
   I could stand here an angry young woman
   taking all the pain to heart...

The same album had lyrics that said "I need you stayin' here so we can work it out," and "They're gonna hit you from all sides, better make up your mind who to, who not to listen to" (that one written by her then-husband, troubled but talented songwriter Gary Chapman).

And then she divorced.  It was time to outgrow my personal-stake-in-celebrities, not by relabeling her The Bad One, but by accepting that everybody has strengths and weaknesses.

If you don't hang around any Born Again media, you have no. freakin.  clue.  what a blowup this was, or how jawdroppingly long the vitriol continued; it went on for over a decade.   Major Whore of Babylon accusations.  Her ex remarried first, the kids are grown, her kid with her new husband is 10 years old, and still, her shattered life of 1999 has some people seething, after Eddie and Valerie, Meg and Dennis, and other collapses of longlasting relationships get shrugged off by the general public.

Next example, and I'll explain why it's similar, is Aniston.

Nothing is weirder than the tabloid-intensity of Jennifer Aniston's celebrity.  She has talent, and has made some good project choices and handled them well.  But her media following, years after The Split, makes me think it has more to do with the fact the she's never remarried.

Brad and Jen were a particularly touching couple for a reason that tells you a lot about our craving to put stars on pedestals.  Neither had been married before, which isn't unheard of but is kind of rare, and let fans believe in that Great Big Commitment hugeness.

Should we admire Jen for not revving up a typical Hollywood  multi-spouse carousel?  Or is she playing the bleep out of it, doing Debbie Reynolds without the diaper pin?

I don't know, but she has been stalled as The Wronged Wife for a petrifyingly long time.  Grant, on the other hand, did remarry, and reaction to her was vicious.

What do Grant and Aniston have in common?  Not a lot personally, but that's why they demonstrate so well the A and B sides of the celebrity romance coin.  They both fall outside the pattern, but that's what reveals the pattern.

Here is how The Public wants it to happen:

                BEST


innocent           guilty    
remarried          alone      
       _______|________        
innocent    |        guilty    
       alone           remarried       


WORST             

We want the parties to fit neatly into little boxes labeled Innocent and Guilty.

THEN the innocent party needs to find happiness - after a proper interval, to prove his/her serious commitment to the original marriage - so the collective psyche can believe in hope and reward for goodness.  And the (presumed) guilty party should remain single till some vaguely defined time when we're satisfied that he/she has paid the dues.

Both women have crossed their lines on the grid.  Jen, innocent party, remains in "ex" mode, past the time-to-heal date.  Grant, labeled "guilty", refused to remain in "ex" mode and moved on long before that magical indefinable date on which she would have been thought entitled.

Again, I took this mindset with me into the 1990's, so don't go thinking that I'm claiming superiority to The Public.  This stuff has power, and not just over the chronically stupid.

Just as Grant and Aniston tell us something about the roles The Public wants, Cruise and Holmes tell us how much reality we're willing to throw out, to shoehorn it into that Guilt / Innocence grid.

He is despised, she is labelled a Feminist Heroine.

The roles seem extreme, but it's more than that.  They go against the usual Guilt / Innocence pattern.  Roles are not being assigned by the usual "Adandon-er, Abandon-ee" criteria.  It's not just about smirking over the kharma - that he blindsided Nicole, so now it's his turn.  Katie would never be crowned this level of Heroine based just on that.

That he has, thus far, been a gentleman about this;  that he was stunned, after her faking it with him days before;  that he clearly genuinely loves his daughter and in fact all his kids -- not seeing much denial of any of that, and still, none of it seems to gain him a shred of good will.  One article today likened Katie to poor cult-abused Rosemary in Rosemary's Baby, and attitude toward Tom seems to make him a Hubbardist version of woman-repressing Henry the Eighth.  In fact, worse.  Nasty though Great Harry was, people believe in his genuine love for Jane Seymour, and nobody's even granting that to Tom and the mother of his third child, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.

It's as though they couldn't possibly be two people who honestly tried and who managed their choices badly, or who might have actually wanted a successful family but came to major spiritual differences they can't reconcile.

Its isn't two people, it's a religious battle between rigid concepts of Good and Evil:  she's The Little Christian Girl -- Catholicism is no Fundamentalist ideal but it's in the ballpark -- Who Kneecapped Scientology.  Because the religion is despised, there's a twisted idea that its adherent deserves whatever pain is inflicted on him.  They're calling it a feminist coronation, but actually it's her perceived religious triumph people are saluting.  The couple has admirably and quietly worked out the settlement, but we're still ranting because it's about Faith itself.

What we really need is to grow up.  It's hard to do.  Especially as an adult, it's hard to detach from the celebrity love drama and stop having a personal stake in it.  I speak from experience.  But if we have to have a personal stake, making it a religious stake is both simpleminded and a disservice to the couple and their child. They are human beings, rich as hell, but not metaphors for cut-and-dried concepts of faith.

1 comment:

Christy said...

Great thoughts. Such a hard thing to let go of, but it's amazing how much better the movies and music are when you're just appreciating the talent and not requiring near-God-like status from the actors and singers.