I don’t think I have ever paid for a tabloid. I scoff at people who pay three dollars to read about Angelina Jolie’s babies or Jennifer Aniston’s breakup. Yet for a few days, I was almost caught up in this Summer of Divorce.
All of my local New York papers — not just the tabloids — have screaming headlines every day about A-Rod and Christie Brinkley and their marriage woes. I’m sure I’m not the only non-tabloid reader who was suddenly interested in some has-been music star meddling in a baseball player’s life, or a has-been model’s very public airing of her family woes.
At first, I told myself I’m reading these stories because it’s summer reading. It’s the time of year when one traditionally puts down the heavy-handed tomes and switches to beach reading, mindless paperbacks filled with thin plot lines and unbelievable romances. And why read — and pay for — bad fiction when I have the real thing spread out before me every day in glaring headlines?
Let’s face it. We are a culture obsessed with our stars. Somewhere around the time of OJ Simpson’s fall from grace, the gossip rags went from generally fawning over lifestyles of the rich and famous to excitedly pointing out their flaws. We have made a culture of watching the unraveling of our pop culture idols. From Star to TMZ, it’s all about pointing out the inadequacies of the elite, be it mental or physical. If it’s not Britney Spears’s mental breakdown, it’s Kirstie Alley’s ballooning weight. Behind every story about Angelina Jolie’s expanding brood of children, there’s a story about Brad Pitt’s supposed infidelity. We’ve created an industry devoted to gloating over the downfall of the rich and famous.
It’s not hard to see why we do it. Here’s someone with more money than we could ever imagine. While we’re struggling to make this month’s mortgage, they are spending $7,000 on a handbag. While we contemplate a vacation in our own backyard, they are jetting off to France for a weekend wine tasting.
For some people, there’s a certain satisfaction in seeing their idols brought down to a more human level. Look, they cry just like us! They have feelings! Their lives can fall apart, too! It’s vindication for us that money can’t buy happiness. For others, there’s a smugness that goes with the stories. You may have millions, but at least my marriage is better than yours. At least my kids aren’t in jail.
I started off my summer reading and tsk-tsking at the stories about A-Rod’s supposed romance with Madonna and Peter Cook’s dalliance with a teenage girl. I was, in a way, bemused by the fact that these were such huge scandals.
After all, people get divorced every day. Marriages fall apart at the rate of about one an hour in this country. I’ve worked across the hall from a matrimonial courtroom, where every single day I heard the sobs and accusations of husbands and wives who felt they were wronged. Imagine if all the details of divorces were printed in the local paper every morning for the whole town to see. Would they be as interesting if there wasn’t millions involved or if it didn’t somehow affect the playing abilities of your favorite third baseman? Not really. One would miss that sense of self-righteousness that comes from knowing your life is better than that of a millionaire supermodel.
The more I read, the more my fascination with the Summer of Divorce turned to disgust. There’s something that keeps me — and probably you, if you read a website like this one — from crossing over into the type that actually buys Star instead of glancing at the cover while in line at the supermarket or the headlines on Google News.
At some point, we recognize these are real people. Once we get past the “Oh my god, did you see what she did now?” moments, we step back and think, “there’s a girl who needs some help.” You start to feel more like a voyeur and less like a casual observer. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, watching someone unravel so publicly.
At least for me it is.
I’ve reached my “Britney” moment with Christie Brinkley. The fact that she chose to make these divorce proceedings so public has eliminated sympathy I might have held for her. While her soon-to-be ex is certainly a charmless idiot with a dozen or so character flaws, Brinkley has not done herself any favors by turning this divorce into an attention whore’s fantasy. She has come off like a deranged Stepford Wife, a domestic robotron with OCD tendencies and protectiveness issues that border on outright phobias. She has a classic case of super mom syndrome, someone who is so singularly obsessed with portraying herself as the perfect mother that she puts her emotional need for perfection ahead of her children’s needs.
She pushed for this trial to be public, without considering how it would affect her children to have the proceedings put out for public consumption every single day. Whether it’s her ego that made her want that (so everyone can see what a perfect mother she is or sheer vindictiveness toward her husband), it’s a self-centered decision on her part.
The first rule of a divorce involving children is supposed to be “Don’t’ speak ill of your spouse in front of the kids.” How is pushing for a public divorce trial not flaunting this unwritten, yet important, rule? Whatever Mother of the Year awards Brinkley was gunning for, she lost my vote.
The judge in the Brinkley trial said “open courtrooms, in general and in divorce actions, may provide a basis for societal education.”
Maybe there are lessons to be learned from these stories. Maybe somewhere out there, a housewife is reading the Sun and gaining valuable knowledge from the divorce saga of Christie Brinkley. Come on: do we really need that kind of education? Will the marital failings of a wealthy, narcissistic couple really teach us anything valuable besides how to sell newspapers?
Whatever dubious educational value exists, it is certainly not worth subjecting blameless children to having their private lives turned into public ridicule.
Besides, I think the Beatles already taught us all the lesson anyone is going to get out of this: Money can’t buy you love.