June 3, 2023
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ColumnsPopped Culture

Column: Celebrity Relationships and the Public Eye

There is seemingly no topic of conversation more beloved in American society than love. For individuals, often younger ones, talking about relationships with family and friends has been a long-standing tradition. But starting with the rise of paparazzi and accelerating onward with the development and use of social media, celebrities’ relationships catch the public eye.

Although some interest in the world of Hollywood is natural and healthy, the increase of digital access to celebrities by way of celebrity news, social media and photographs has led to a rise in speculative-based narratives about celebrity relationships. This trend can lead to increased amounts of cyberbullying, shallow “psychoanalysis” and other intrusive behaviors. The romantic affairs of celebrities themselves attract a lot of public interest, but the fangs of the public’s opinion come out especially during breakups or at signs of turmoil within partnerships.

The widespread interest and reflections on these relationships are a side effect of the parasocial trend. The excessive investment in celebrities has become easier to fuel with social media. The more popular a celebrity is, the more input and investment people tend to place in their relationship.

The breakup of singer-songwriter Taylor Swift and actor Joe Alwyn has been the event in the world of celebrity romance that has recently been at the forefront of the news. When Entertainment Tonight first broke the story April 8, reporting on the couple’s “amicable” separation after six years, internet users went into a frenzy. Some Twitter users went viral posting about their sadness over the separation, especially after the romantic songs that Swift allegedly wrote about Alwyn and those that they wrote together, like “Exile” and “Sweet Nothing.” 

The public outcry quickly transformed into a public jury. Speculation of why Alwyn and Swift broke up arose and the couple was villainized. Fans speculated that Alwyn cheated on Swift after Alwyn’s co-star for the upcoming film, “The Brutalist,” Emma Laird posted a photo of him on Instagram on April 18. Laird’s comments on the post were shut down after she was cyberbullied and met with comments full of snake emojis from fans. 

Many fans also believe that Swift was subtly adding “Easter Eggs” within her Eras Tour setlist to indict Alwyn of this deed. Even some news sources reported on these “clues.” Despite there being no concrete statements or explanations, the public court showed disdain for Alwyn across social media platforms.

Some misogynistic tweets were made regarding Swift’s dating history, often criticizing Swift for dating a lot of men. Swift has been shamed for well over a decade and demonized for taking time to find someone right for her.

The genuine fascination surrounding Swift, Alwyn and their love lives caused real pain for people, including the very members of the relationship themselves. Alwyn and Swift have been treated as a public spectacle instead of two people going through a difficult time of transition. This public intrusion into their relationship is quite dehumanizing.

Whenever a celebrity announces a breakup or new relationship, there is bound to be speculation surrounding the updated status. However, there is an entire subsection of celebrity gossip that is built on the unknown, like “shipping” culture where fans cast their opinions on who they think would look good together, even if there is no proof of any romance happening between the individuals they selected. This phenomenon has often occurred with fictional characters in TV shows or movies and now has expanded to include real-life celebrities and even online influencers. 

Some celebrities, like Lauren Jauregui and Louis Tomlinson, were both speculated to have romances with fellow band members of Fifth Harmony and One Direction, respectively, and expressed discomfort with this trend. The conflict especially becomes noticeable when one or both of the people being shipped are in relationships already.

Co-stars are often the pairs or groups that cause intrigue. There is not a movie or television show genre that sparks as much of a conversation as rom-coms. People question the idea that if the chemistry on-screen looks so real, there may be a chance the actors are having a rendezvous. This mindset by the fans has been supported during instances in which co-stars get together during or after filming their projects; these specific circumstances cause shipping culture to grow in prominence.

“Euphoria” star Sydney Sweeney and “Top Gun: Maverick” star Glen Powell are the recent subjects of interest in this matter. The actors are filming a rom-com, “Anyone But You,” and behind-the-scenes photos show the actors quite close. 

Fans began to speculate that the pair were hooking up behind the scenes, especially after the duo were seen in a video together, featuring Powell dipping Sweeney in a behind-the-scenes shot. Some fans cheered the pair on, while others condemned them for allegedly cheating on their partners. The fire was further fueled after Powell’s girlfriend unfollowed Sweeney on Instagram. Fans expressed their opinions despite there not being any direct confirmation of these claims by any party involved. In fact, sources confirmed to TMZ that Sweeney is still with her fiancé. However, this information did not lighten the speculation.

Although many fans simply want to feel connected to their favorite celebrities and to see them happy and in love, the act of investigating every aspect of their idols’ romantic lives and imposing their opinions onto their relationships causes emotional distress to celebrities and their partners. 

In a way, celebrities’ relationships are as commodified as their work. Many entertainment news sites use fan speculation and gossip forums to write popular stories. Furthermore, the pedestal that these romances are placed upon not only pressures celebrities to have to play a part, but also fosters unrealistic expectations for the general public when it comes to love. 

With this reality-television-type of consumption for celebrity romance, everyone loses and feels obligated to fulfill the public’s expectations of romance.