Warning, this blog post contains references to both Cricket, and Pretty Woman, and thus is about as divisive as things can get.
I believe the Venn diagram of people who like both is two circles miles apart. [The Venn diagram of people who like Cricket, Pretty Woman and maths is three circles four thousand miles apart, and me saying "what? What's not to like?"]
I have been kindly pointed towards the report prepared by the Marriage Foundation, about marriage. (by the co-author of the report, Rehna Azim, of 42 Bedford Row. Rehna is an excellent barrister, and a damn fine specimen of humanity, so I hope that I can be impartial when discussing the report. I’ve put the possible bias up front, so you know)
I am going to be a bit curmudgeonly about the research, because I am The Grinch. None of my winges stop the issues the report raises being interesting. And there is more to it than the Press reports, so I urge you to read it for yourself. It is fairly short, and there is a great deal of elegance and thought in it.
The report has hit a lot of the mainstream Press, because of its analysis about the media perception of marriage and the lack of longevity of the ‘fairytale’ celebrity marriages that fill so much newsprint at present.
[And the mainstream Press take on it seems to be ‘Celebrities, you suck, you are rubbish!” - here’s some photographs of Emma Watson. If you have some time by the way, Private Eye do a very good ongoing feature comparing the Daily Mail public take on paedophiles with the very unsavoury way that they describe 14 and 15 year old female celebrities “looking all grown up”]
I suspect that there’s more to the report than the soundbites, so I will take a closer look.
If you’re going to do a soundbite this one from Coleridge LJ is top, top stuff.
He broadly says, don’t compare marriage to fairytales and Hello magazines portrayal of love and romance, and instead compare it to a Test Match.
‘Most of the time not very much happens,’ he said. ‘The beauty of the match is that it is played out over a long time and at the end there have been ebbs and flows, happy times and sad, exciting times and more mundane times, all going to make up the whole memorable experience.’
I wish I’d written that. It has something of the Master, PG Wodehouse about it.
Anyway, here is the report
You have to download it, but it was free, and pretty instant. [The author of the blog takes no responsibility for any harm that might befall you from downloading stuff on the internet.]
The headline of the research is obviously that tracking the rate of divorce amongst celebrities over a 20 year period, it is about twice that of what Liz Hurley once described as ‘civilians’
The authors suggest that
Despite all the comforts and advantages of fame and wealth, these celebrities divorce at twice the rate of the UK population. After ten years of marriage, the divorce rate for celebrities is 40%, compared to 20% for the rest of us.
If the statistics are robust, that is a shocking figure.
My initial thought here is that it is pretty hard to strip one of the essential factors of modern celebrity out of the equation – the average celebrity is, by the nature of modern celebrity, more physically attractive than the average person in the street, and therefore superficially more able than the average person in the street to be able to attract another partner should their relationship end.
Of course, there’s far more to life than just basic physical attractiveness, and I don’t suggest that celebrities are superior beings to anyone else.
But, if Brad Pitt is weighing up whether to leave Angelina, he probably spends less time worrying about whether he will ever meet anyone else or whether he will die alone as a mad lonely cat-guy than Terry from Stoke might, in a similar position.
Another possibly influential factor from celebrity is the entourage – we just don’t know how being surrounded by people whose job is to massage your ego and tell you that you are great really prepares you for another human being telling you that you can’t watch the football because I’m a Celebrity is on.
[Or indeed whether there’s a Yoko-Ono effect, with that entourage or crowd of hangers-on, not terribly wanting the marriage to work]
The other problem with the research, from a geeky scientific point of view, is that given that celebrities don’t always marry someone as equally famous and publicly desirable as them (for every Richard Burton and Liz Taylor there are ten Britney and K-Fed or Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett) and thus it is not entirely unpredictable or unexpected that scales might fall from the eyes of the party with greater social cachet that they could ‘trade up’
You might need to have some stats on
Divorce rates of people who are subjectively in the top ten per cent of average attractiveness
Divorce rates of people who have married someone who would appear at face value to be in a different quantum of subjective physical attractiveness/and or success to them
Both of which would be insanely hard, if not impossible to gather. But without them, I’m not certain from a statistical point of view that you’re measuring “celebrity” versus “non-celebrity” so much as the other factors that go alongside celebrity.
Also, continuing to be a bit Ben Goldacre-y – if you measure fluctuations in a relatively small population, it may be that things appear more statistically significant than they actually are.
For example, from the small pool here, I can diagnose that marrying a celebrity golfer has at least a 50% chance of heartbreak, whereas marrying a celebrity tennis player will result in marital harmony. There’s just not enough data to draw those conclusions, but from what there is, I could legitimately form that impression. [I also note that a few of the couples on the ‘still married’ list are… how shall I say this? Well, one of the husband’s is Vernon Kaye and another is Ryan Giggs]
The thrust of the report, that we may as a society, have become fixated on the ‘whirlwind romance’ and an expectation of non-stop romance and drama and that the wedding day has to be spectacular, and as a result, the actuality of romance once all the hormones have subsided a bit, is less roller-coastery and more Test-Matchy. And that peeking behind the curtains at these ‘fairytale romances’ perhaps they are not actually all that fairytale – it appears that their unhappy endings come around a bit more often than everyone elses.
There is also a more interesting, to me at least, angle which has not made it to the mainstream media reports. It is the extent to which the mainstream media reports of celebrity marriages actually has its fingerprints on the break-ups.
The trajectory of the tabloid money-spinner goes something like this: celebrity couple meet, announce the pregnancy, announce the engagement, split before the wedding, ‘open their heart’ about the agonising breakup to the tabloid in return for a cover story and eight page inside spread and then start all over again with a new partner before you can say ‘commitment’.
The tabloids love nothing better than a good ‘celeb’ wedding. The build-up to the special day and the nuptials themselves are big sellers. It’s just the ‘happy ever after’ that makes tabloid eyes glaze over. It’s so, well, boring.
They appear to have an aversion to famous people remaining in long-term relationships, particularly marriages. They prefer, instead, the six month, (maximum one-year) headline grabbing celebrity relationship.
An American tabloid recently ran a story claiming that the one-year marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton was ‘on the rocks’. As ever, the magazine relied on information from the ubiquitous ‘a source.’ The latter is a prolific contributor to tabloid stories about the famous. He seems to have unprecedented access to the most private moments of celebrities
and is trusted by them to remain in the inner circle despite it being obvious that he has betrayed that trust.
The main message of ‘the source’ is usually that monogamy and marriage are boring
Mrs Suesspicious Minds sometimes reads a magazine called Grazia, and this magazine has been, to my eyes, waging an outright war on Angelina Jolie for about three years, trying to engineer a breakup of her relationship with Brad Pitt and for some unearthly and inexplicable reason a reconciliation between Brad and Jennifer Aniston.
Almost every article is based on non-attributed quotes from ‘a close source’ or ‘a close friend’ every one of which reads to me as being utter… well, fabrication is such an ugly word – let me instead say ‘marvellous fortuitious insights that overlap entirely with the magazine’s editorial view of the story’.
I could, of course, be utterly wrong, and that Brad and Angelina do have close friends who routinely rat them out to the Press about the most intimate details of their life and yet who remain close friends trusted with their innermost confidences. I could of course, be utterly wrong and this is merely my own minor and personal opinion. The magazine is extremely sound on handbags I am told, to give these scurrilous and inaccurate opinions of mine some balance.
I thought that aspect of the report was probably more interesting and useful – the suggestion that the mainstream media (and to an extent society) is happy to revel in the thrill of the chase and the seduction, but finds the actual bit of love (the give and take, the getting to know someone, the day to day life) bit boring, and is metaphorically reaching for the Sky-Plus remote to fast forward through to some good bits (sex, arguments, sex with someone else, discovery, break-up!)
After all, every single rom-com ends with the kiss, or at most the wedding, and the “happy ever after” bit is glossed over.
Because, frankly, the tiny little acts of caring and kindness that make a relationship work are not that exciting to watch or read about, compared to climbing up a fire escape in Los Angeles and telling the hooker that you bought and paid for that you love her after all….
On re-reading this, I’m even more The Grinch than I thought I was. For all of my grumbling about whether the statistics tell us as much as the authors think, I think that the report says a lot of things that are worthy of a proper public debate, and it says them well.
[I think the report is accompanied very well by the recent-ish episode of South Park on the issues of celebrity sex addiction, posing the question “just why is it that men who are rich and powerful choose to have sex with a variety of different partners rather than remaining faithful?” and answering it “because of alien toxins spread on banknotes which cause the sex addiction illness” . Obviously.]