Tabloids just eat up a celebrity love triangle

Jen, Angelina, Brad reduced to good girl, bad girl, man that got away

Pop Culture

September 11, 2005|By Joann Klimkiewicz | Joann Klimkiewicz,HARTFORD COURANT

The celebrity tabloids have been running breathless headlines all summer long.

"Brad & Angelina's Electric Sex!" Star pants this week. "What Have I Done?," Life & Style strips across a photo of a distressed-looking Jennifer Aniston.

And via People magazine's fall style issue comes this question: "Sweet or Sexy: What's Your Style? ... Take our quiz to find out if you're a Jen or Angelina."

As the celebrity magazines aim to squeeze every gossipy drop from the Jennifer Aniston-Brad Pitt break-up, they've been peddling a story line as old as Adam and Eve.

It's the tale of the wide-eyed innocent and the evil seductress. The classic female dichotomy stretches back to biblical passages and has threaded its way through fairy tales, literature and pop culture ever since.

It's the two-category system: the virgin and the whore. And, to hear the glossies tell it, you're apparently one or the other.

Cinderella and the evil stepmother. Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor. Betty and Veronica. Mary Ann and Ginger.

And now, introducing: Jen and Angelina.

`Who gets the man?'

"The powerful seductress is a good sell," says Margo Maine, a West Hartford psychologist and author of "The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure To Be Perfect."

"It's an attractive story line."

And it's one that serves to perpetuate myths about women, say experts who study how women are portrayed in the media, one that reduces them to sexual caricatures and pits them against each other in the made-up contest of "who gets the man?"

It's one that sends a dangerous message to young women about what men's expectations are of them and, in that vicious cycle, sets men up for unrealistic expectations of their women, those experts say.

And it's a myth that gets recycled over and over again.

Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds were Aniston and Pitt's Hollywood predecessors, America's Sweethearts of the 1950s. Late in the decade, Fisher left his wife for bombshell Elizabeth Taylor.

"That was a huge scandal," remembers Elayne Rapping, professor of American Studies at the University of Buffalo. Taylor was portrayed as "quite the glamour girl, and Reynolds was pigtails and gingham shorts."

"I was thinking that times have changed," said Rapping, a media critic who's written about women and popular culture. "But actually they haven't. Celebrity culture still thrives on this idea of the scorned woman and the evil seductress."

The age-old story and one-dimensional portrayal endures, Maine says, because it's so easily digested, so familiar. Forget the fact it might have little basis in reality. And, let's face it. Everyone's a sucker for a juicy cat fight and a junk-food diversion from workday stress: so bad for you, but it tastes so good going down.

"We are drawn to easy labels. ... It's a human characteristic to dichotomize things into black and white because it makes things seem so clear," Rapping says. "But if you did the real story about a triangle like this, it wouldn't be as interesting."

The glossies have been in overdrive since the Aniston and Pitt split earlier this year, playing up the story of a jilted, broken Aniston and the victorious vixen Jolie. There's a photo of a sweet, sunny Aniston, with her long, golden tendrils, her girl-next-door charm. And there's Jolie, with her come- hither stare, bad-girl tattoos and impossibly pouty lips.

The two have been boiled down, in essence, to the good girl and the bad girl.

Jolie "is probably a much more complex person than this label of seductress suggests," says Maine. "We've reduced her to this sexual seductress when, obviously, there's more to her."

People's recent fall fashion issue leaves no room for subtlety. Its quiz helps a woman determine whether she's a Jen or an Angelina, an accompanying chart declaring what skirt, jewelry, make-up and bra she would wear (pretty pastel versus black lace, in case you're wondering).

"Good girls," we're told, "will have Tic Tacs in their purses and their cell phones charged in case of emergency. A bad girl doesn't carry a purse. ... she tucks her house key down her cleavage and is good to go."

"Are you one or the other? It's like there's no other alternative," said Cindy Lont, a professor at George Mason University and author of "Women and Media, Content: Careers and Criticism." "The expectation is that you have to fall under a certain category."

And for $30, celebrity gawkers can wear their good-girl, bad-girl support across their chests. The swank Hollywood boutique Kitson is selling baseball-styled T-shirts that read "Team Aniston" or "Team Jolie."

Why does this story have such legs?

Aniston "was the good girl married to the perfect man, and they had the perfect marriage. And the idea they split up has to be because of a bad woman," Lont says. "It falls so perfectly into a media story."

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