Why ‘Brangelina’ fascinates us

The announced divorce of a celebrity couple says much about our relationship with fame

Actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have announced their divorce. Andrew Kelly / Reuters
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With so many serious world events taking place on Tuesday, those who don’t follow celebrity news would perhaps have been surprised that so many serious news outlets were running a story about a marriage breaking up.

Not merely any couple, of course, but one of those rare celebrity couples so famous that they morph into one ubiquitous portmanteau: “Brangelina.” Yes, after 11 years together, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are divorcing. Not one serious national newspaper ignored this news.

It is worth pondering why. True, this split was not on the same level as the global fascination with Britain’s Princess Diana after she divorced the future king. But around the world, many people, even those who are not familiar with their latest films, took an interest.

Part of it is mere celebrity interest: two famous actors are divorcing, which means the endless guessing game of why and who else they will be dating will begin. Part of it is also a feeling that there was unfinished business. Pitt used to be married to Jennifer Aniston, an actor famous for her role in Friends, whom he left for Jolie. If that seems too inside celebrity, it shouldn’t: Friends was a global TV sensation and many, in that unreasonable way we form attachments to cultural icons, felt someone they knew well had been hard done by. Those fans were celebrating on social media – and many others, perhaps wronged in their own relationships as well, were quietly celebrating with them.

Yet perhaps the biggest reason is that the story of the three is somehow the story of so many less celebrated individuals. Aniston only recently remarried after the split and has spoken out about the endless press speculation on why she remains childless into her forties. Jolie and Pitt had what is called a “blended” family – six children, three biological and three adopted – something that is increasingly common. Perhaps in the lives of these talented individuals we see the struggles, successes and sadnesses of all our lives, though we live them far from the media spotlight.