Science Is Giving You Permission to Care Too Much About Celebrity Breakups
I’m sure a good many of you are looking at your various screens this week and wondering why the hell people seem to care so much about two celebrities breaking up (especially considering all the other things that are happening in the world).
I bet a lot of you are wondering this. Probably wondering it aloud. Possibly very loudly. You know, just to make sure everyone knows how much you DON’T CARE.
The thing is, I don’t believe you.
Okay, sure, you might not care about Brangelina specifically (though there are some pretty great reasons why you can stop judging yourself if you do), but you definitely have your own Brangelina. You’re reading these words on a pop-culture-based website, so don’t try to tell me you don’t care about this stuff. You have TV characters or actors or couples that you feel illogically invested in. Maybe for you it’s Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, or Amy Poehler, or Leslie Knope, separate from Poehler even though you KNOW that doesn’t make any sense. These people aren’t our friends, but sometimes (or maybe all the time), we get wrapped up in their lives for reasons we don’t understand. But now, at least, those feelings have been validated by Official Science, and there’s a really good reason why we have these attachments.
Our brains are dumb. Like, officially. New York Magazine confirms it.
From a psychology standpoint, all the sadness and schadenfreude are indicative of the “parasocial relationships” that people have with celebrities. The researchers Donald Horton and Richard Wohl coined the term in a 1956 paper, arguing that the advent of mass media created a one-sided “intimacy at a distance.” For actors — such as Brad and Angelina — a sort of fusion takes place between the characters they play onscreen and the personae they communicate in media.
Back in the days when theatre was the main form of entertainment (and presumably we can expand that to books and even movies), there wasn’t the same level of attachment, because there was an end point. A curtain call, a last page, end credits, whatever you need to signal to your brain “this is where those characters end and I understand the difference.” But now with television, the characters continue to live in our lives, week to week, year to year. We see them grow and we get attached.
And with celebrity culture and reality TV butting in as well, it makes sense that our dumb brains would have a blurry “confusion of identities.”
We see them as a conflation between character and person; celebrity lies somewhere in between… For audiences, celebrities are a lot like fictional characters: We receive them through media, and form conceptions of their personalities without ever meeting them.
Making this all even more confusing for our fragile minds is that Brad and Angelina, specifically, met while playing a married couple. When Dax & Kristen did those commercial series that was just them being cool and in love, it made (most of) us love them more. We love it when Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally do anything together. Conflating their careers and their personal lives and our connection to them is a story all on its own, and it’s an immersive experience that’s super engaging.
Maybe it doesn’t make you feel better to know that you only care about these things because your brain is so dumb. But remember, it’s not just your brain. It’s ALL brains. So stop fighting it and just admit you love this shit.