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Shakira Gerard Pique Getty.jpg

Tis the Season of the Celebrity Cheating Scandal

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | January 27, 2023 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | January 27, 2023 |

Shakira Gerard Pique Getty.jpg

Last year, it seemed like we spent a lot of our gossip time discussing infidelity. Adam Levine’s embarrassing sexts gave him a new sheen of creepiness. Ned Fulmer from the Try Guys went from a beloved internet Wife Guy to the main character of the month after he lost focus and cheated on his wife. ABC’s Good Morning America saw two of its hosts go through the wringer after their affair went public, and they were pushed out of the network as a result. Now, with 2023 settling in, Shakira is eager to let everyone know that her ex-husband, footballer Gerard Piqué, was the one who dared to betray her.

She leaves absolutely nothing on the table with her diss track, letting the satisfying spite fly as she drags her ex for moving his mother into their home, throwing her to the wolves with his own press scandals, and his possible involvement in her recent tax issues. It’s a modern-day ‘You’re So Vain’ in its dissection of a sh*tbag and it earned Shakira a whole new wave of support. In the world of celebrity scandals, there’s something about cheating that leads to a total knives-out frenzy from the public.

There’s something almost unifying about a celebrity cheating scandal. It’s inspired some of the best pop culture in history, from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors to Beyonce’s Lemonade. We tend to view public figures in a very binary manner, dividing them into categories of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, depending on our fandom preferences. In the realm of outrage, which can often be complex and delve into various social and political issues, it’s easy to rally against infidelity. We all know someone who’s been cheated on. It’s a simple and major no-no that doesn’t need to be over-explained. Cheating on your partner is awful. Don’t do it! With celebrities, there’s an added element of spectatorship to it all, an extension of the oft-moralistic nature of fandom.

It’s both weirdly relatable - see, they truly are human - and low-stakes to the outside world. We can’t help but wonder, against our better judgment, how it is that someone would dare to cheat on Beyonce and if that means there’s no hope for the rest of us. People get hurt but two consenting adults getting it on for some illicit thrills can’t help but feel like a weird sort of safe zone in the messy ecosystem of celebrity scandals. It’s less tempestuous than some drama but super easy to judge.

That moralizing aspect has never gone out of style but it feels especially potent nowadays. T.J. Holmes and Amy Orbach are fighting back against ABC after losing their jobs for their relationship. The days of the moral contract clauses are not behind us, but it’s still surprising to see a major corporation throw the hammer down in this manner. It’s not as though they have ever been this thorough with accusations of sexual harassment and assault, for one thing. Morning talk-show hosts tend to have wholesome images but it’s not a job requirement to be ethically spotless. They’re not advocating for ‘family values’ while playing around off-camera. They’re not right-wing politicians putting their money into anti-LGBTQ+ organizations. I doubt even their most conservative fans are all that concerned about this. But it’s easy to put one’s foot down and draw the line there.

Infidelity feels different now, at least in the public realm. In the aftermath of the #MeToo explosion, we’re more aware than ever of unequal power dynamics and the insidiousness of workplace abuses. We understand how these gender and sexual imbalances play out, but that hasn’t necessarily made us more empathetic towards those involved. It still feels like the vast majority of cheating stories end in far more scorn for the woman than the man (and most of these stories are about straight couples.) There are notable exceptions. Ned Fulmer was easily the villain of the tale when his infidelity with one of his employees was revealed. Yet we’re still dealing with decades of cultural demands that saw women whose husbands cheated on them as being the ones who didn’t do their wifely duties properly. The slut-shaming hasn’t ended just because we know how improperly these women are often treated.

There’s something so painfully human about cheating scandals. They’re messy, often inexplicable, typically devastating but executed with such mundanity. We want dense psychological reasoning for it yet a lot of the time the answers are a mere shrug of apathy. If celebrities are supposed to reflect our cultural concerns, all while projecting an image of something beyond human, then infidelity and our fear of it is a rare universal concept. The conversation around it has changed but not that much. This feels like one area where our most tangled of emotions are unable to get out of those knots. It calls for us to declare a hero and a villain, and the lines between the two are not always clearly delineated. For all of our cries for compassion and understanding, we’re naturally a wildly judgmental bunch, and the media certainly knows where the money lies in such narratives. Moreover, we’ll never run out of Hot Takes on the topic. I mean, I’m right here.

There are always conversations around what celebrities ‘owe’ to their fans and the various ways that entitlement works. With infidelity, we can’t help but get nosey, all while wondering if any of this is really our business. The level of intense moral scrutiny we force onto others is seldom helpful or restorative, and it’s not something any of us would want to live with. Of course, none of this is our business, but we won’t stop getting involved with it. We crave drama and a classic cheating scandal is the platonic ideal of celebrity gossip. People want simple answers to complex issues, and this is one way to crystalize that desire. And it will never end because cheating is as common as muck and millennia old. Hey, it can’t all be fake Spanish accents. Sometimes, people just lose focus.