Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson seem to be the most in-demand celebrity couple of the moment, with multiple awards ceremonies besetting their status as the world’s finest celebrity couple.
But while they may be enjoying the perks that come with their celebrity, they’re also facing some serious backlash from a vocal minority who deem their relationship as ‘fake’ and ‘toxic’.
Since their fairytale union in 2013, public opinion on the couple has shifted somewhat. Where once they were seen as glamorous celebrities who had triumphed over adversity to stand as a triumph of romance, they are now more often cited as glamour’s dark horse, a power couple who perhaps aren’t as well-suited to each other as we’re led to believe.
Whether or not this is fair is a moot point. What is certain is that the media’s continuing fascination with this celebrity couple, as well as their willingness to engage with their detractors, only serve to embolden those who dislike them.
This year, the power couple became the focus of yet another PR campaign when their engagement was announced at the Rio Olympics. The press release for the event touted the ‘pioneers’ as “breaking barriers as a couple” and urged us to witness a “historic” moment in “one of the most iconic cities in the world”.
As an LGBTQ advocate who has worked in media for more than a decade (where I have interviewed and worked with some of the world’s most prominent figures, including Stephen Hawking and Jared Leto), I find this kind of messaging incredibly frustrating. To me, it is quite literally fake news.
The Rise (and Possibly Fall) of Celebrity Couples
Celebrity coupling has become a trend, and not just in media, with some famous faces choosing to buck the trend and go solo. But while some may see this as a step back for the celebrity couple, it’s actually an evolution. While couples like Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn have achieved a level of mainstream popularity that sees them regularly gracing our TV screens and magazine covers, celebrity couplings aren’t as ubiquitous as they might seem. And that is a conscious decision on the part of these famous soloists.
Part of the issue is that today’s celebrities are in a different place in their careers. Where once aspiring stars might look to more established stars for guidance and support, today’s generation of famous individuals are defining themselves and their brands through a proliferation of platforms, many of which are aimed at younger audiences. This is a key reason why we’ve seen a resurgence of TV shows like MTV’s Wild ‘n’ Out and Netflix’s Sex Education, which give visibility to young LGBTQ people and their story. In other words, today’s celebrities aren’t waiting for ‘The Man’ to give them an assignment or tell them who they should or shouldn’t be with. They’re carving out a space for themselves in a world that is increasingly dominated by traditional power couples and ‘family friendly’ storytelling.
Why Is Celebryty Coupling So Hard To Swallow?
While some might argue that this trend will never go out of style, celebrities are humans like the rest of us. They’re capable of making mistakes and they’re just like the rest of us in that they want to do what makes them happy. This is why we shouldn’t be so quick to vilify them for their shortcomings or inconsistencies. Despite this, it seems that the public is still willing to give celebrities the benefit of the doubt; they just aren’t as willing to do it as they once were.
In the past, when a celebrity engaged in a scandal it would usually be accompanied by a laundry list of terrible deeds. But today, when celebrities get in trouble it is usually for something that can be considered ‘sins of omission’ rather than ‘sins of commission’. These are, in other words, mistakes that they didn’t actually do but could have potentially done. Did they mean to invite and accept an invitation to swear on a podcast? Did they mean to show up late to a friend’s birthday party and disappoint everybody? These are the kinds of transgressions that celebrities are likely to commit and end up apologizing for. They might also try to make amends by sponsoring an event or supporting a cause that is important to the people they’ve inconvenienced.
And yet, despite this, people are still mad at them. Why is this?
One possible reason is that while we’re aware of the celebrities’ mistakes and their sincere attempts at contrition, we don’t always know what their intentions were in the first place. Was inviting that stranger on a date the best idea? Was showing up late to that party a moment of weakness or a calculated move aimed at boosting their PR game? It is difficult to tell, which makes it more difficult to accept their apology. At the end of the day, we’re still likely to question why they needed to apologize in the first place.
The ‘Toxic’ Mythos Around Celebrity Couples
Not all celebrity couplings are created equal. While the vast majority of them are perfectly content to bask in the glory of their newfound celebrity, some are clearly threatened by it. These are the couples who see their fame as a kind of curse, a burden that is holding them back from what could be a more ‘normal’ life. They feel that their celebrity represents some great injustice, a betrayal of sorts, and they want to do everything in their power to claw back some semblance of respectability. These are the celebrities who will stop at nothing to damage their opponents. To them, ‘celebrity’ and ‘toxic’ are synonymous.
There is no question that the ‘toxic’ celebrity couple epithet has attached itself to Stewart and Pattinson. Since their split, the actress has filed for multiple bankruptcy proceedings, including one in 2019 in which she listed more than $10 million in debts. In April, she was sued by a collection agency for more than $500,000 in unpaid bills from 2006-2013. (Her representative has called these “old debts” and claims that Stewart is now solvent.)
On the other side, the actor has been arrested multiple times for assault and battery — including against journalists who were trying to do their jobs. A decade ago, these scandals might have been enough to destroy this couple’s already tenuous trust in the public. But today, with neither of them wanting to be the subject of another tabloid expose, we’re seeing a new twist in the ‘toxic’ relationship.
Instead of apologizing for their bad behavior, Stewart has taken pleasure in sharing new details about their violent past. In April of this year, she revealed that she and Pattinson had gotten into a physical altercation in which he had scratched her face and bit her arm. (She also alleged in a subsequent interview that he had punched her multiple times and caused her to miscarry their twins.)
In light of these revelations, many are wondering if and when Stewart and Pattinson will ever reconcile. With gossip columns speculating on whether or not their famous union was even real, it seems that the question is no longer if they’ll be back together but when. And perhaps this is a good thing. While the world may see them as the gold standard for celebrity couples, they are in fact merely human foils to a greater comedy of errors. Were they to get back together, it would almost certainly be a publicity stunt aimed at attracting an audience.
Ultimately, we should remember that celebrities are not role models and what makes them interesting is not that we should want to follow their lead. It is their very ordinariness, their fundamental lack of perfection, that makes them so compelling. If we want to understand what makes Stewart and Pattinson unique, we should look to their transgressions, inconsistencies, and imperfections rather than their stardom. The more we know about them, the greater we understand their appeal.