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The internet has been awash with emotion since the announcement that Brangelina are filing for divorce. And whether you consider the coverage to be tasteless gossip or karmic retribution, this response to the death of a cultural property says a lot about our relationship with celebrity.

Memes and GIFs of Jennifer Aniston 'responding' have proliferated internet-wide. She’s become the (likely unwilling) unofficial face for the breakdown of a marriage – whether it’s Rachel-from-Friends-cheerleading Aniston, or belly-laughing-in-2016 Aniston. Her role as a prop in the internet’s response hints at the idea that Brangelina, Aniston and the rest of the world collectively form a pseudo-intimate friendship group – something that’s similarly reflected in the term ‘Brangelina’ itself. “Nicknames are something that we use when we are close to someone,” says Vanessa Díaz, an assistant professor of communications at Cal State Fullerton. “When you assign a nickname, it creates a sense of closeness. I think it’s very powerful for the consumer.”

And it’s true that we do feel close with celebrities; one study of young adults in the US found that 90% had felt a strong attraction to a celebrity at some point in their lives. According to behavioural expert Patrick Wanis, in these one-sided interactions “the fan projects and shares feelings, thoughts and fantasies with the celebrity, though the celebrity never reciprocates.” 

It’s the end of an era for our phoney friendship group It’s the end of an era for our phoney friendship group
New York Post (2016) ©

But Brangelina is neither Brad nor Angelina – it’s a separate entity that’s reaching its own demise, as the name suggests. And because of that, it’s as comparable to a celebrity death as it is to celebrity gossip. "We grieve more today over the death of a celebrity because of the narrative,” says Wanis. “The constant bombardment of every occurrence and every detail of the life of a celebrity leads us to believe we have an intimate connection with them.”

Today, social media has magnified that interaction – Brangelina was born in a pre-social media era, and privacy still had its part to play. By comparison, actors, models and musicians alike are commonplace alongside friends and family in newsfeeds. The relationship we share with these perfect strangers has never been more intimate. “It almost feels like this is the transition from the era of Brangelina to the era of Kimye,” says Díaz. “Kim and Kanye are talking to their consumers and fans differently. Brangelina has a kind of mystique that newer couples don’t have because of the access that we have – or the illusion of access that we have.” So while the response to Brad and Angelina’s break-up may have seemed like overkill, imagine what would happen if Kim left Kanye.

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Lore Oxford is Canvas8's deputy editor. She previously ran her own science and technology publication and was a columnist for Dazed and Confused. When she’s not busy analysing human behaviour, she can be found defending anything from selfie culture to the Kardashians from contemporary culture snobs.

28 Sep 16
3 min read

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