The most depressing thing in the history of modern society happened the other day. We all knew it was coming: the rumors swirled, the fears mounted, and then … they did it. They told the world. Weeping! Sobbing! A sense of total and complete despair! Darkness looms; the world will never be the same again. That’s right. Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis have split up.
Yes, I had a huge crush on Mr. Depp in my youthful years. His relationship with Vanessa Paradis seemed like perfection; two adorable children, a home in France, a romance that blossomed over Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights. Sniff. And now it’s all over. I have never been so upset.
Perhaps a bit hyperbolic. Obviously this is not the celebrity end of the world. But again, there’s a grain of truth in all of this. It is kind of depressing that a celebrity couple who seemed so happy and balanced should split like this. It’s like the midpoint of a romantic comedy where the couple who are supposed to be together have a fight and then cut to a montage of soulful music, watching rain patter on the windows of their individual apartments, or wandering on the beach. Only in a romantic comedy, it all ends happily.
We have such a remarkable obsession with the love lives of celebrities. We’ve even gone so far as to conflate them into a hybrid celebrity couple powerhouse: Brangelina, Bennifer (and Bennifer 2: The Reckoning). Filliam H. Muffman. I personally know people who got upset when Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon split. Celebrities are, after all, the people we secretly want to be. We indulge our fantasies with them, everything from their high-flying lifestyles to their romances.
But we’ve come to expect couples to break up: Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, Phillippe and Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Reynolds, Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore (and, less surprisingly, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher). It’s only a matter of time before Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart cease to be Stew-Pattz or Patt-Stew or whatever the hell they are. Pretty much par for the course. How many times did Elizabeth Taylor get married and divorced? Or Charlie Chaplin? What of Fairbanks and Pickford, the Brangelina of their day? How many break-ups did Cary Grant go through? Did you know he was in love with Sophia Loren for awhile and she would have none of it? DID YOU? The gossip columns of Hollywood have always been a-twitter with celebrity love stories, break-ups, scandals, etc. Ever since Hollywood became Hollywood. Because it’s just so much fun, like a real-life soap opera that none of the rest of us have to participate in.
There’s another side of the coin of celebrity relationships, though, and it’s the one that Depp and Paradis seemed to exist on. The ‘endless love’ side. The couples that should never break up. Bogie and Bacall, Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The great love stories of our time. I personally will be quite upset if Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey ever split. But why? Why, really, should I care? I don’t know these people; none of us know these people. Yet somehow we know the twists and turns of their love lives. What does it mean that Johnny Depp bought Amber Heard a horse not long before his split with his girlfriend was announced? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
In much the same way that we await the downfall of celebrities – Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Mel Gibson, et al – we await the inevitable break-up of their relationships. It’s a real life soap opera, complete with villains and heroes and evil twins. There are reversals of expectations, car crashes, explosions, madness, drug abuse, love stories that peter out and love stories that self destruct; all with the added titillation of it being true. But is anything in Hollywood really true? Do we consider celebrities people just like you or me? No, of course not. They’re better and worse than you or me. They’re celebrities. It’s the equivalent of gossiping about your neighbors and friends, but without the personal involvement. We can indulge as much as we want to in the trials and tribulations of celebrities because we don’t actually have to see them every day. We don’t have to relate to them as people. So we can call Angelina Jolie a slut for breaking up a marriage one day, and then vaunt her as a great mother the next. It’s just like a villain becoming a hero.
I’m sad for Depp and Paradis, because they did seem happy. I’m sad for their kids, who are adorable. But seriously, I don’t know them. I only know what the media tells me and what I can imagine. It might be exciting sometimes for us to live vicariously through these pretty, damaged, at times bizarre human beings, but we so often forget that they’re people. As contemptuous and fascinating as Lindsay Lohan might be, isn’t there the smallest part of us that feels sorry for her? She’s a person, after all. I almost feel bad about writing this post now. To me, as to the rest of the movie-going, celebrity-watching public, it’s all just fantasy. For them, for their children, their families and their friends, it’s real.