The internet burst into collective tears last week when actors Chris Pratt and Anna Faris announced their separation. The dude who found fame on sitcom Parks and Recreation and the witty star of a dozen comedies released a joint statement saying they were “really disappointed” and that “they tried really hard,” which is about as candid as it gets from a Hollywood couple. It seemed irrelevant that these two, married for eight years, were not A-list celebrities, (although Pratt, who had transcended his TV status to become a buffed-up action hero in movies such as Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers and Jurassic World, was well on his way.)
If the outpouring of grief on Twitter was anything to go by, it would seem that the couple, along with their five year-old son, Jack, were embedded in our hearts. They were the types you’d most likely want to have a quiet barbecue with while your kids played together. And this – this relatability – is exactly why it felt like a kick in the teeth.
This was not the high-octane circus of Brad and Angelina, this was the self-deprecating couple next door. Pratt may have been playing action heroes, which forced him to remake his body, but he registered his dissent on Instagram, where he’d post his bland, bite-size meals.
Faris, meanwhile, had a self-aware podcast called Unqualified. So when they announced their split, we did what we do when friends break-up: we wonder … are we next? And that is such a frightening thought, we quickly formulate another narrative so we don’t have to consider it.
We look at Pratt and his made-over body and his movies and we deduce that he’s outgrown his wife. But to what end? And why? Well, we don’t know because the truth is they are strangers to us. This is such an inconceivable fact to swallow when we’ve seen into their home, their every day lives via social and mainstream media, so we are left to fall back on the narrative we DO know: the other woman.
Enter Jennifer Lawrence, his former co-star from Passengers. It doesn’t matter that they had next to no chemistry both on and off-screen. It doesn’t matter that Lawrence is actually dating director Darren Aronofsky. Pratt and Lawrence seem almost like the male and female equivalent of one another.
Within 24 hours outlets were laying the fault at Lawrence’s feet. But this is not something we can blame the media for because fans on Twitter were formulating theories about Lawrence and Pratt.
This is what it means to be a celebrity in 2017 – we, your adoring public, need a story. If we don’t get a story, if you won’t give us a story we will make one up and assign it to you. This is why we allow you to shine so brightly, it’s not just because we like you in movies but rather we like you as an archetype of what we imagine you to be.
The idea of those we aspire to existing as archetypes is of course nothing new. It’s been around since Zeus banished his father to the Underworld. It’s why superhero franchises are so successful. It’s also why, when information about people we don’t know is missing, we rely on a centuries-long tradition of sexist cliches.
Consider the current court battle between Scarlett Johansson and her ex-husband, Romain Dauriac for sole custody of their two-year-old daughter, Rose. This is the extent of our knowledge, but it didn’t stop Martin Daubney from penning a searing op-ed in the UK Telegraph about it, in which he cast Johansson as an ambitious, baby-abandoning villainess.
“It’s every stay-at home dad’s worst nightmare. A previously high-flying man puts his career on hold to allow his more successful wife to continue working, while he brings up their newborn child.”
Hang on a second, “allow”? Daubney continues
“Then, a couple of years later,” he writes, “mum suddenly files for divorce – and demands custody of the child you reared while she made her fortune.”
While she made her fortune? Johansson made close to $25 million over the last two years, money that will no doubt set her daughter up for life. It makes sense that the parent who has the greater earning capacity would work, while the other takes care of the child. Although, we don’t know if Dauriac took care of his daughter 24/7, we don’t know if other care-givers were involved.
We don’t know how Johansson felt about having to leave her child while she travelled for work, but we can assume it was no easy decision. We also have no idea if this was the plan they both agreed to so they could all enjoy the fruits of Johansson’s labour. Yet Daubney has made no such assumption, preferring instead to imply that Johansson is a hypocrite because she has the audacity to speak about the gender pay gap in film.
It is undoubtedly pleasurable to project our own imagined narratives onto celebrities, it’s a huge part of why the billion-dollar industry continues to thrive. It’s just a sad fact of life that at this moment in patriarchal history, these narratives have not yet evolved to include women as anything beyond temptress or traitor; anything further than the two-dimensional fallen female, and men as hapless victims in their wake.