Musician Amanda Palmer, formerly of the Dresden Dolls, took to her Patreon account to reveal that her husband, author Neil Gaiman, had left New Zealand, where they were residing with their young son, and returned to England. Palmer noted that she was still in lockdown for the foreseeable future with their four-year-old child Ash and that the split was not related to the current COVID-19 pandemic. While she said that she would not reveal the details of the split, she did hint that ‘other things came to light after we got here to new zealand’, which sent many tongues a-wagging. Matters were made all the more dramatic when Gaiman tweeted about Palmer’s Patreon post and said that they were going through ‘rocky times.’
The implication from Gaiman’s tweet, or at least the message that most people took from it, was that Gaiman didn’t view his current relationship status as over. Jokes quickly spread about Palmer ditching her hubby via Patreon blog post and how deeply messy the fallout would inevitably be. Despite both parties claiming that they wanted to keep matters private for the sake of their son, everyone has accepted, and have great expectations, that the divorce will be extremely public, always online, and messy as all hell.
The Palmer-Gaiman marriage has been characterized by its consciously candid nature from the very beginning. Neither person has been especially shy about sharing the juicy details of their personal life and relationship with their mighty and wildly devoted fanbase. Indeed, that was half the appeal of Gaiman and Palmer as husband and wife. They collaborated on artistic projects frequently. Palmer talked glowingly about her husband as both a creator and partner. They shared love letters to one another via blog posts and albums. One poem that Gaiman wrote about Palmer, which appeared on the 2012 record An Evening with Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer, celebrated his wife for how ‘she laughs at my jokes, sings unconcerned on the sidewalk’ and ‘f**ks like wildcats in thunderstorms.’ They talked about their ‘on-again, off-again open marriage’ in The Times last year, with Palmer describing them both as ‘slutty, but compassionately so.’
This is a celebrity couple who may not be A-Listers or comparable to the expected Hollywood mold of fame, but they are still heavily defined by their dynamic as two famous people who got together and became more famous as a unit. They were never going to be as big a deal as, say, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt or Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, but Gaiman and Palmer offered something far more appealing to those who loved them: Total emotional access. Celebrity is heavily reliant on creating the illusion of this as a means to encourage the parasocial relationship between subject and fan. It’s rare that the celebrities in question fully commit to it, although we see this happen more frequently among the lower-rungs of fame, especially reality T.V. stars, influencers, and the like. Typically, it’s seen as, to put it bluntly, tacky, but Palmer and Gaiman cloaked their oft-questionable openness in creative merit. It’s not gauche to reveal every aching detail about your marriage if you turn it into ART, and both had extremely prolific outputs on this front.
Gaiman never shied away from this aspect of his marriage to Palmer but she was clearly the dominant force of this particular business model. She currently has 15,420 patrons on Patreon and is an avowed fan of crowd-funding to the point that it has become one of the things she’s most well-known for. She even made a TED Talk about ‘the art of asking.’ While she wasn’t the first celebrity of note to follow this model, she has become its patron saint of sorts, partly because she wants that title. It’s part of her self-styled image as a radical figure who is so very unlike the other celebrities. She lets it all hang out and that’s the gift. To be more specific, that’s the product.
Of course, Palmer’s product has never just been about her brand of revolutionary honesty. Mostly, it’s been about an endless series of public f**k-ups that she can justify as a synergistic part of her goods and services, all of which can be offered for the right price. This is the woman who has a long-standing love of using the N-word, after all. I’ve written before about why Palmer is so easy to hate and how those qualities are what make her so beloved to those die-hard fans. For every ten people wondering what the hell she’s doing writing sympathetic poems about the Boston Marathon bombers or claiming that Donald Trump was going to make punk rock great again, akin to Weimar-era Germany’s cultural boom, there are two or three fans subscribed to her Patreon who see her as being unafraid to stick it to The Man. This is her bread and butter, to be the perpetual screw-up who positions her bouts of misogyny, racism, ableism, and straight-up exploitation of her own fans as part of what makes her so imperfectly perfect. There are plenty of issues with this strategy when there’s no money on the line, but when you make it your primary mode of employment, it’s no wonder that people start to enjoy the chaos, positively or otherwise.
Palmer has earned the brunt of criticism during this public split, and it’s hardly unearned (see literally anything she’s said or done over the past fifteen or so years.) It became common consensus for many to say that, while they loved Gaiman and his work, his association with Palmer had soured them on their hero. She was the poison apple and he was the unwitting princess, a metaphor I’m surprised neither of them have used already. Gaiman is the one with the power here as the multi-million best-selling author with big money to his name and the acceptance of mainstream media/publishing. He gets the benefit of the doubt, even when he was happily tweeting about being jetlagged from a long flight, a clear indication that he’d left his family mid-lockdown to fly to the other side of the world. Most major celebrities are currently being chewed up and spat out for their displays of privilege during this pandemic, yet Gaiman flying from New Zealand to England during a lockdown and leaving behind a toddler is spun as ‘Good for him getting away from that woman.’ Regardless of what you think of Palmer, it is deeply questionable that we continue to see this narrative of a 59-year-old man as being unwillingly enthralled by a manic pixie dream girl to whom he has been rendered powerless. Palmer may be more openly spilling the beans of their split but he’s still leaving his own trail of breadcrumbs.
At the heart of this sad story is a four-year-old boy who it already seems is being used as a shield of sorts by both of his parents. None of what will unfold will be private because neither Palmer nor Gaiman has ever played by those rules and neither sees it as personally beneficial to do so. It’s a sad state of affairs molded into the gossip train-wreck of the year, as it was always going to be. The big question now is who makes the behind-the-scenes drama into a Patreon goal or tacky poem. It’s too close to call.
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