The world’s saddest person has finally crawled out from under the sad bajillions of dollars she’s made over the years, clawed her way through the sad memories of the last decade of middlingly famous, questionably talented dudes who’ve rejected her and her sad self and at last trapped a man into filling the hole in her sad, professionally successful, by all accounts non-substance-abusive, award-winning, generally talented and supported by nice ladyfriends heart!
In the popular imagination, here is the hierarchy of sadness as I have come to understand it, from not at all sad to the most sad thing anyone can think of, ever: single men, latter-days Charlie Sheen, Olympic silver medal winners, adorable kittens in compromising positions, married men, victims of violent crime and/or systematic injustice and oppression, single women, divorced women, Jennifer Aniston.
Ever since the advent of the “Team Angie” and “Team Jen” T-shirts, the world has been divided into two kinds of people: those who love homewrecking vixen sluts, and those who love sad, rejected women who are too stupid to just get fucking married to the first moderately functional male human who will have them.
Whether you’re on Team Angie or Team Jen, you are still on “Team Judging Women, Because Today Ends In Y.” Angelina Jolie is vilified but at least boner-inducing, while Jennifer Anniston is pitied but at least invited to brunch with your mom. Because apparently not marrying John Mayer is something we feel bad for people about these days?
I always thought those T-shirts were stupid. I generally lean toward Jen, because I’m generally on “Team Divorce Is Sad, But I Don’t Know Anything About Your Celebrity-Person Relationship,” which mainly means I’m on “Team Grown-Ass People Making Their Own Decisions In Light Of The Fact That They Are Famous And To At Least Some Degree Their Personal Lives Have An Effect On Their Careers So Probably Shit Is More Complicated Than This Pithy T-Shirt Makes It Out To Be.”
Funny, though: “Team Brad” never really caught on. I guess because women are interchangeable accessories built for men, who really would prefer not to seriously be involved in relationships with women except it’s a good way to get reliable sex, which is the number one concern of all men, everywhere, all the time. Woe is us!
Like Chloe Angyal over at the Guardian, I also do not care about Jennifer Aniston’s love life:
I wish Aniston and Justin Theroux nothing but the best, but I wish our fixation on her left ring finger would stop. Not just hers, either: all women’s. Our willingness to buy into this “Jen single and loathing it” narrative, and our willingness to watch romcom after romcom in which the professionally fulfilled woman realises that the only thing that will really bring her life meaning is a diamond ring are one and the same. And they’re inextricable from our belief that an unmarried woman is somehow less of a woman. Incomplete. Unfulfilled. Miserable.
Obviously I’m writing about Jennifer Aniston’s love life, but don’t mistake that to mean that I have an investment in it. What I do have an investment in is countering narratives that tell women they are and always will be less-than if they aren’t partnered with a man.
Which came first: The celebrity gossip rag writers, editors and publishers who need to believe that their professional lives aren’t totally meaningless so they construct elaborate fake narratives based on pedantic bullshit in order to sell magazines to people who either can’t or won’t think for themselves? Or the people of the world who need to believe that someone else has to have it worse than them so they’ll read literally any combination of words that tells them this is true?
I guess the thing that gets overlooked in all of this is that while Aniston admitted to being sad after her divorce (who wouldn’t be, to varying degrees?), the entirety of the narrative created about her for the past more-than-a-decade has been a fiction imagined by people who want solely, only and entirely to capitalize on the deepest socially ingrained fears of people because it sells magazines. We have no way of knowing whether anything we think we “know” about Jennifer Aniston is true. Ditto for like, all celebrities.
So, I question two things: one, that Jennifer Aniston is actually a sad person, and two, that anyone really gives a shit whether she is a sad person. The first one is easy enough to leave alone — like I said, without being Jennifer Aniston or her close friend or family member, I can’t speculate about her emotional state.
The second question is more complicated, and it requires deciding whether you think celebrity gossip rags are mirrors to culture, influencers of culture, or perpetuators of stupid cultural narratives that people cling to because diversion from simple, binary understandings of how humans live in the world is hard.
I think taking it for granted that the content of celebrity gossip magazines are accurate reflections of popular opinion is a mistake. Celebrity gossip magazines are accurate reflections of what the people who produce those magazines think will sell magazines. But certainly they stick with narratives that sell, so the Aniston-as-sad-sack narrative must do okay on newsstands. Still, I think we care about this stuff to the extent that we care about reading the instructions on the back of shampoo bottles when there’s nothing else available in the bathroom. It’s something to put our eyes on and pass the time.
It’s true some people are really, genuinely into celebrity gossip and culture. But more people, in my experience, are really into things that assuage their fears and fuel their hopes about what they have been told a good or bad life looks like. We’re interested in the personal lives of celebrities the way we’re interested in the only slightly more fictional-to-us lives of characters in books and films. Humans tell and listen to stories because we are social animals and these are ways we make sense of the world.
Unfortunately, one of the ways we do this is to make sure somebody feels worse than we do — and in a world charged with the electric pulse of patriarchy, that somebody is usually going to be a single woman. And of course, the single woman derision isn’t reserved for celebrities like Jennifer Aniston or the lead female characters in romantic comedies: in the United States, we actually take political steps to make sure that single women stay down. We deride the “welfare queen,” even though that stereotype is a demonstrated myth. Senior women, of which a great number are not partnered, are disproportionately negatively affected by a health care system that already fails them — one that vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan proudly wants to gut even further. Conservative politicians not only actively want to limit women’s reproductive choices, but straight up tell women that they should be wives and mothers before they’re anything else. No wonder we gobble these gossip rag narratives: we know what most of the popular culture is saying about single ladies and it’s not good.
Who wants a “Team Ugh, How About You Just Do You, And I’ll Just Do Me” T-shirt?
Contact the author of this post at Andrea.Grimes@Gmail.com.