This is part of a weekly series called “Pop Opinions” where The Lantern offers its take on the week’s pop culture news.
It’s always a sad day when the couple you thought would last forever decides to call it quits. For me, that couple was Jill and Patrick Dempsey. OK, not really. I didn’t even know Mrs. Dempsey’s first name until last week, and I’ve never even seen “Grey’s Anatomy.” But when you realize that not even Dr. McDreamy is immune to the heartbreak of divorce, it’s hard to believe in the reality of “happily ever after.”
Relationships are hard. The world doesn’t make lifelong monogamy easy, and the sad truth is that in our present society, marriage is no longer a promise of forever.
And that, my friends, is a real bummer. We hear about divorce almost every day, whether it’s a celebrity couple, a pair of close friends or even our very own mom and dad. People get divorced, and it sucks. It’s easy to get caught up in the sadness, it’s easy to lose hope and it’s easy to feel like we’re all alone, drowning in the fallout of legal separation.
But pop culture can remind us we aren’t alone. Look at the Dempseys. Look at Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. Although people often attack news outlets for publicizing these private matters, I’m all for it. When we see real-life examples of divorce, it reminds us anyone can share this struggle.
I grew up attending a religious private school in the conservative Midwest. Now, I don’t know how much experience you all have with religious private schools in the conservative Midwest, but divorce most definitely is not “the norm.” None of my classmates’ parents were divorced, and that led to a lot of insecurities for me. Every time my mom and stepdad dropped me off at school, the other kids would laugh. Little did I know they were actually laughing at my Lizzie McGuire lunchbox and NOT my divorced parents, but I didn’t know that at the time and it only made matters worse.
I spent years hiding the fact that my parents had long-since stopped loving each other. But one day, I learned that Justin Timberlake also had divorced parents, and this led to two very important discoveries:
1. It’s totally normal and perfectly OK to have divorced parents.
2. Timberlake was infinitely cuter than every single girl in my fourth-grade class.
The latter suddenly made my desire to possess a Lizzie McGuire lunchbox make sense.
It’s easy to internalize our problems. It’s easy to believe that we are the only ones who are going through what we’re going through. But celebrities fix that. The media fix that. Hollywood reporters are often portrayed as these flocks of heartless and intrusive vultures. And in all fairness, some of them are. Ariana Grande could probably get mauled by a saltwater crocodile, and Perez Hilton would stand by with a camera and a cream cheese Danish watching it all go down.
It isn’t a perfect system, but pop culture has its silver lining. It isn’t all mindless drivel, and lying deep beneath E! News’ catty pregnancy pictures of Sara Gilbert and its incessant “who wore it better” articles, there is a heart.
And it doesn’t end with divorce. When stars like Sam Smith and Frank Ocean come out of the closet, it helps normalize the idea of being gay. When stars like Emma Stone admit to struggling with acne, and when stars like Rebel Wilson talk openly about their weight, it teaches audience just how wide the scope of imperfection can be.
The burden of fame is a great one. And though many celebrities feel the need to explain that they don’t want to be role models, the truth of the matter is that they are, inescapably, role models. You cannot choose the people you inspire. You cannot paint the perceptions of others.
If you put yourself in the spotlight, then you will develop an audience. It’s a tough burden to bear, but perhaps it’s part of the reason celebrities make so much money.
Justin Timberlake never asked to be a role model, and he certainly didn’t ask to be the object of my sexually confused attractions, but he was, and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful to Taylor Swift for teaching me how to mend a broken heart. I’m grateful to Ellen DeGeneres for teaching me how to laugh at myself. I’m grateful for all of it, because I grew up in an environment that favors the status quo and pop culture taught me that it’s OK to challenge that.
This is pop culture’s saving grace. When you look past all of the heartless gossip, the bad-mouthing and the lies, you realize that there is a heart behind it all. There is a reason we watch, and there is a reason that we care so deeply about the lives of these people whom we’ve never even met.