Breakups are hard. Occasionally, adjusting to the news of the breakup of a particularly beloved celebrity couple is also hard. Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan Tatum's breakup, announced Monday, reminded us of this. We peons can temper our pain with Ben & Jerry’s, or any other indulgence of choice. But celebrities have an extra step to the break-up process: Choosing a word processing medium, crafting a break-up statement, and carefully settling on a media outlet through which to release it. Are you a Notes App to Instagram couple, or an exclusive statement to Us Weekly couple?
For the most part, break-up statements are predictable beasts. They follow the same format, hit on the same beats. They use “we” pronouns, to show solidarity and eliminate any potential for character smearing in the tabloids: “This is not the future we envisioned,” Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert wrote in 2015. They celebrate the relationship, as it once was: “Gigi and I had an incredibly meaningful, loving, and fun relationship,” Zayn Malik tweeted in 2018. Celebrities reference up their children to underline their need for privacy: “We are parents first and foremost, to two incredibly wonderful children, and we ask for their and our space and privacy to be respected at this difficult time," reads Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s 2014 letter on Goop, which introduced the phrase “consciously uncouple” to the English lexicon.
In the past, break-up statements had been part public announcement, part plea for privacy. Can we hit “pause” on the bargain of us getting fame and private jets, and you getting to ogle? The notes seem to say, "Can you just not ogle for a bit?"
Recently, celebrity break-up statements have incorporated another element into the typical template: The state of news as it stands, that troubling blend of fact and falsity pronounced as if it were fact. Celebrities had always been weathering the storm of “fake news” in the tabloids (in 2010, a Gawker study concluded that, with 59% of its unconfirmed reports published over a 20-month period turning out to be true, Us Weekly was the most accurate tabloid. That still leaves 41% inaccurate). But now, the blatant disregard for accuracy once reserved to the tabloids has extended to the mainstream news, especially regarding politics. Each set of the President of the United States’ tweets require separate fact-checks.
Celebrities who announced breakups in 2018 have been addressing this reality in their statements, and are actually using it to their own advantage. “We’re living in an incredible moment in time, but it’s also a time where truth can easily get distorted into ‘alternative facts ;).’ So we want to share the truth so you know that if you didn’t read it here then it’s most certainly fiction,” Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan Tatum’s break-up statement, published on their social media accounts Monday night, reads.
It’s a clever move. By cheekily mentioning the existence of alternative facts (with a wink emoji, no less!), Tatum and Dewan Tatum position themselves as the only people who can tell their story. Anything else — anything in the gossip sites people would turn to for the “juice,” that is — is automatically put in the camp of fake news.
Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux’s divorce statement, published in February 2018, took on a similar rhythm to the Tatums’ statement. Like the Tatums’ statement, which began with the almost endearingly honest line, “First off, it feels off that we have to share this thing with everyone,” Theroux and Aniston addressed the perversity of having to publish a statement at all. "Normally we would do this privately, but given that the gossip industry cannot resist an opportunity to speculate and invent, we wanted to convey the truth directly,” the statement, an E! News exclusive, reads. We don’t want to do this, their statement implies, but we have to, so can put out the fire of gossip and speculation preemptively.
“Whatever else is printed about us that is not directly from us, is someone else’s fictional narrative," the Aniston and Theroux statement continues. In these honest – almost bitterly so — words, Aniston and Theroux imagine themselves as heroes battling attacks to their character from every angle. We can trust them, and only them.
But what happens when celebrities can't break their own story? Rumours about the crumbling state of Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid’s relationship were already swirling by the time they got around to making their statements in tweets in March 2018. “We wish this news could have come from us first,” Malik wrote in a heartfelt tweet. With a sentence, Malik expresses his and Hadid’s desire to manage the story of their breakup — a desire clearly shared by Aniston, Theroux, and the Tatums.
In their statements, these three high-profile celebrity couples all mention something that hadn't existed in previous break-up statements: the desire for control over the narrative. The celebrities are asking that we, hungry spectators, be above the gossip wheel. They're asking us to listen to their statements, and then to ignore the rumours about their relationships that will, inevitably, crop up in tomorrow's magazines.
Maybe they're right to ask this of us. This "incredible moment in time," as Tatum wrote, is also time in which the proliferation of fake news sways elections. It's a time in which cable news spews falsities, and the president retweets those falsities. Somehow, in light of all this, slurping up potentially untrue rumours about celebrities in tabloids seems like an unsavoury, almost irresponsible, hobby.