What’s the Deal?

Why are we so fascinated with celebrity splits?

We’ve seen the ugly side of fame—the media scrutiny, the paparazzi camping out on front lawns—but something about seeing a celebrity relationship play out in real life makes it memorable. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the split or not, it’s fun to watch the drama play out.

Take Robert Pattinson and Bella Swan. First, they were together in the film, which won a huge following and became one of the highest-grossing films of all time. Then they broke up. Since then, they’ve been spotted dining and shopping together, but they’ve also been seen arguing and falling asleep on separate sofas. Naturally, fans are divided over whether or not they’ll get back together again. Will Bella choose the handsome, talented vampire? Or will she opt for the hunky, down-to-earth lumberjack?

In today’s celebrity world, a relationship divided into two parts isn’t unprecedented. Take Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift. They’ve been feuding since 2013, when Taylor accused Gaga of stealing her thunder and not giving her proper credit. But their beef went beyond the music industry and into the public sphere, where they battle it out with tweets and Instagram posts. While Taylor fans supported her, Gaga’s legion of fans remained loyal to her.

Then, in 2016, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift reached a compromise. They held a joint press conference and, in the process, revealed that they were indeed friends and would continue to support each other’s work.

But even friends can’t always get along. Take Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé. Their friendship took the internet by storm when they began feuding in 2013. The two had previously been close, bonding over their daughters and vacationing together, but their professional relationship turned into a public spat. They traded barbs on social media, with Kim calling out Beyoncé for her erratic behavior and accusations of using her friends to advance her career. While the majority of fans sided with Kim, Bey was still stunned by the public turn of events. The enmity even made its way to the red carpets, with the two stars rarely seen speaking to each other during the premiere of their individual films. Since then, however, they’ve worked together multiple times and even attended each other’s wedding. Their rivalry may still be ongoing, but their friendship is certainly not.

To get a better understanding of why we’re so fascinated by celebrity splits, we need to go back to a time when celebrity was more of a fad than a lifestyle.

Where Did Celebrity Come From?

The word ‘celebrity’ doesn’t appear in the Oxford English Dictionary until the 20th century, when it started being used to describe people who were famous for being famous. The adj. ‘celebrity’ is associated with the modern concept of show business, which emerged in the 20th century and combined movies, concerts, and nightlife. Before then, ‘celebrities’ were people who were famous for being famous – people like Jesus, Alexander the Great, and Caesar. As the OED points out, this is because during this time – the 14th century – show business was largely incorporated into Christianity. People who were famous for being famous would often appear in paintings or poems depicting scenes from the Bible. People in these ‘before-times’ were more like celebrities now – they were famous because people knew them, not the other way around. In other words, during this time, being famous was a great thing, but people didn’t necessarily care about who you were as an individual.

This all changed in the 20th century. With the development of mass media, people began to value individuals more than their famous statues. The OED attributes this to a combination of things: the polarizing effects of the Industrial Revolution, the influence of new ideas (like sexual orientation) discussed at the Time Magazine and computers (which allowed for a wide spread of information and critical analysis). Combined with the new obsession with beauty queens like Margareta Göran and Sigrid Eva Björk, this created a new class of celebrities. People started to value individuals more than their statues because they could learn so much about the former from the latter.

From Court Jester to Social Media Superstar

The thing about celebrity is its transience. It only takes a bit of luck and a little bit of work to become famous, but then, once you are, everything changes. You can’t force time to stand still, and even if you could, you wouldn’t want it to. 

Take Charlie Sheen, for instance. After a few hits in the 70s and 80s and a decade in the bar and restaurant business, he found his way back to television, where he played various roles (including a court jester) on various sitcoms. In 2009, he was featured in an Arthritis Self-Help video, in which he called out then-President Obama for not visiting the web – a platform he says he uses as much as anyone else – and suggested that he was the best choice to combat arthritis since he was a non-junky and could still work hard.

Why Do We Obsess Over Celebrity Splits?

When it comes to the influence of social media, it’s difficult to pick one medium over another. But if we want to understand the growing trend of celebrity splits, we need to look no further than the phenomenon’s most famous practitioner: Rob Wrt Pattinson.

In 2013, Rob Wrt Pattinson made the dubious decision to split from his partner of 13 years, Stella McCartney. The OED defines a partner as a person with whom one has a romantic or sexual relationship, and so it was, though they were also business partners. Rob Wrt Pattinson is one of the most famous vampires of all time, with a net worth of over $300 million. He is also the subject of several biographies, including the 2018 book Cuckoo: The Life and Loves of Robert Wrt Pattinson, the World’s Most Successful Vampire. 

So what caused this icon of vampirism to forsake his covenant with the fabled Damien and seek out new creations?