Saturday 22 October 2016

Why do we rake through Brad and Angelina's dirty laundry? It makes us feel better about ourselves

Judith Woods

Published 24/09/2016 | 02:30

US film stars Brad Pitt (right) and Angelina Jolie (centre), accompanied by their children, as they arrive at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo in 2013. Photo: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images
US film stars Brad Pitt (right) and Angelina Jolie (centre), accompanied by their children, as they arrive at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo in 2013. Photo: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

Day five of the Brangelina Wars, and there are claims involving booze and bad parenting, anger issues and affairs, international homes and international children. It's terrific stuff.

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Admittedly, allegations of abuse against the kids did put us on a downer because said reports reminded us for a poignant moment that there are living, breathing children at the centre of this extravagant soap opera.

But then it's back to the glorious fray, as every hour brings a fresh and highly irrelevant revelation: an Instagram picture of Brad with Selena Gomez, both fully clothed, all four feet on the floor and, judging by her facial expression, she's bored rigid by his old-timer talk because she was, like, seven when he made 'Fight Club'?

French actress Marion Cotillard has been forced to tell the world she's not carrying Brad's baby, which was uncomfortable but probably easier than assuring her husband.

And Barack Obama has not been implicated in the Brangelina split. I repeat, Barack Obama has not been mentioned in any court papers.

See? On the no-smoke-without-fire principle, almost anyone can be implicated by not being implicated.

Rihanna, Robert Peston, Mr Tumble…- all of them have Refused To Comment.

There's more. Apparently, box-office catnip Brad is upset at UN envoy Angelina for becoming a po-faced humanitarian and letting the children run feral.

She, in turn, hates his consumption of weed and loathes their chateau in France, although I think she'll be glad of it after the divorce, because she could do quite well renting it out on Airbnb.

Everyone has an opinion. My husband is on Team Angelina, even though he doesn't fancy her because "she is too thin, too long and too scary".

My daughter is confident she's nailed the truth: everybody knows Brad had an affair. Everybody turns out to be the whole of Year Ten.

As an intelligent, educated and informed reader, it stands to reason that you must be sick of the tawdry saga by now. Me neither!

But that's all right. In fact, it's more than all right: it's nature, not Nietzsche.

To better explain (excuse) why we are so helplessly fascinated by what appears to be frivolous gossip, we need an evolutionary biologist.

Every species is hardwired to watch closely and emulate its most successful individuals. Chimps show one another how to use tools; crows, ravens and rooks copy one another using rocks to smash open hard seed cases.

In the modern world, we equate success with money and, to a greater or lesser extent, fame or reputation. It's a crude measure, but one that more or less holds true in every field of endeavour.

That's why we are more impressed by and interested in Premier League footballers than League Two players, or catwalk models than their catalogue counterparts.

If our interest in success is legitimate, so too is our close and, yes, prurient scrutiny of failure and the mechanics of why a "perfect couple" who "had it all" can split up so acrimoniously.

Of course, nobody is perfect, nor does anyone have it all, but we project these onto the wealthy and the glamorous.

Hence, when news of the Brex-Pitt broke, I (and how many million others) made the staggeringly unoriginal observation "see, money can't buy you happiness", and were collectively met with a sage nod of agreement at our own pseudo-profundity.

Here we are, on our John Lewis sofas and at our scrubbed pine kitchen tables, not as rich as Brangelina but (certainly at this precise point in time) happier. More content. All the better for not flying by private jet and collecting children like fridge magnets and being lumbered with a hateful 35-room French chateau.

I am buoyed, too, by my husband's remarks, and happy to conclude with a twist of schadenfreude that, actually, it is possible to be too rich and too thin.

Is it true that Brad's ex Jennifer Aniston, whom he notoriously threw over for Angelina, has declared the split to be "karma"? Who cares, but it adds to the sideshow.

I've long been preoccupied by the fact Angelina's brother is the children's main nanny-manny, and there are reports she has "always" paid him a tenth of her income, like he was L Ron Hubbard.

Maybe that's a load of cobblers, too - but it's just weird enough to stay somewhere in the furthest recesses of my memory until the day I die.

In this survival-of-the-fittest frenzy, no factoid is too insignificant, no shred of dignity too private, no assertion too toxic to be believed.

Because when we rake through Brad and Angelina's dirty laundry, we are searching not for the verities of a marriage breakdown, but for self-serving evidence that it was never that great to begin with.

When those we idolised slip below the impossible standard we have set them, they are diminished - and we, by comparison, are ever so slightly elevated.

We can trace it all back to evolutionary biology, but the truth is that we could look away if we wanted. We just choose not to. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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