PSA: You Don’t Have To Pick A Side In Celebrity Culture

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A few weeks ago, the world took a collective gasp when news broke that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were splitting. A strange thing happened right away: Everyone took a side. Meme after meme appeared with Jennifer Aniston doing hair tosses, offering smirks, and glowing in victory after years of Team Jen vs. Team Angelina fighting. Team Angie may have won the battle, but now the war was over and the victor was clear: Team Jen. When Kim Kardashian was robbed in a Parisian hotel, were you Team Kimye or Team "STOP With The Kardashians?" Because if you were Team Kimye, you tweeted about how awful it was and how much you hated her haters for their, well, hating. If you were Team Taylor, or Team Paris, or Team Fashion, then you tweeted gleefully about how Kim always had it coming — and you publicly doubted whether the whole thing was real. Clearly, she had fabricated the entire event just to seek more fame. I'm sorry, but this is bullshit.
Look, I'm not claiming to know what happened in the homes or hotel rooms of famous people. I wasn't there when Brad and Jen called it quits. I wasn't in the room with Kim Kardashian in Paris after she finished Facetiming and Snapchatting for the night. But I'm still calling bullshit on this cultural need to pit people against each other. Tell me something: Why do we have to pick a team? Life is all about preferences. But since when did preferences and opinions on celebrities merit the same ride-or-die fan treatment of a baseball team during the playoffs? Apparently, since forever — at least according to Moya Luckett, a New York University professor specializing in film, mass media, and celebrity culture. "Picking sides allows some members of the public to feel closer to certain celebrities, to attempt to restore justice and rewrite wrongs," says Luckett in an email interview. She noted that while social media and hashtag outcries are new, there's nothing new about fans choosing sides during a feud. Just go back to the 1950s, when the public was divided after Eddie Fisher left Debbie Reynolds for her BFF Elizabeth Taylor. Whose side were you on: Team Debbie or Team Liz? "I think people pick sides because we are saturated with coverage and it is difficult to remain impartial," says Luckett. "Celebrity culture constitutes so much of the shared gossip around us, and audiences often have strong feelings about celebrities (think: Justin Bieber, Kanye West, Jolie, and the Kardashians) before a feud emerges. Therefore it's inevitable that there will be debate and partisan allegiances emerging, including ways for the public to justify their own gut feelings about a celebrity and their evaluation of their character and ethics."

We don't just root for a character anymore. Now, we root for people. Worse yet, we also root for the opposing team to have their lives destroyed.

Luckett adds that the reason fans buy into this "us vs. them" mentality about celebrities is because "they seek to know the secrets of these individual's lives and feuds promise privileged and unmediated access to their behind the scenes existence." Basically, a feud is the moment when we see a celebrity go off script and get a good look at their flaws. For the fan, that can be both fascinating and validating. But this isn't The Hunger Games or Gilmore Girls, where you choose to rep Team Peeta or Team Logan, the other side be damned. These are real people. Yet, somehow, the same side-choosing that we once reserved for characters in TV shows, books, and movies has extended to reality. We don't just root for a character anymore. Now, we root for people. Worse yet, we also root for the opposing team to have their lives destroyed.
Victory for Team Angie cannot be real without Jennifer Aniston reduced to a lonely, abandoned woman who will never find love; and victory for Team Jen cannot be real without Angelina Jolie getting a divorce and falsifying serious abuse allegations simply because she's the devil incarnate. "There's the game of rooting for destruction because it's fun — seen in death pools and the like, or in the transformation of some celebrities into public hate figures, like Lindsay Lohan, who are seen to have wasted opportunities and violated the public's trust and interest," says Luckett. That hate is what fuels people to tear down celebrities online. And that part seems crazy to me. Because while I may not be a Selena Gomez fan, I have never in my life felt the need to tear down a young woman just because of who she dated and how their relationship ended. I don't like Justin Bieber either, but once again, you won't find me rooting for Selena to finally drag him like so many think he deserves. Instead, I'm glad to see she's checking into rehab because self-care is important. And I hope they both have happy lives — yes, really.
I don't want to wish anyone — no matter how famous—ill-will. I don't want to have arguments with friends about which celebrity (who I've never met in my life) is better. I don't think that anyone needs to trash people simply because you prefer someone else over them. Life is more complicated than us vs. them — even when it comes to celebrities. It's silly to think that you can judge based on a few tidbits from Page Six. Maybe it's all a reflection of the political world, where we seem to be more divided than ever. Maybe it's just the natural progression of a celebrity culture that once made people choose between Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Reynolds. Or maybe it's just us. "We are encouraged to see celebrities' lives as a marker of our own, one where key events mirror and help us to measure our own existence. From sharing the experience of pregnancy, marriage, and breakup with stars, to seeing them as 'just like us' in the pages of tabloids... I think helps people project personal grievances, losses or triumphs back onto celebrities' own feuds while finding some validation for their own experiences," says Luckett.
In other words, we're not rooting for Jen or Angie because we like them — we're rooting for them because we see ourselves in them. But these are people we'll never know. And shaming one or the other won't make our lives better. Here's what I know: There will be a new scandal or some new story very soon because that's simply the cycle. There will be two parties involved and their teams will be at war. But guess what? You have more than two choices. Choose wisely.

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