Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston have been apart for five years; Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have been together for nearly as long. Judging from recent photos of Jolie and Pitt at the Super Bowl in Miami and Aniston celebrating her 41st birthday in Mexico, they’re all getting on just fine.
So why the constant coverage on so many covers of celebrity weeklies, claiming illicit trysts, imminent splits and secret texts?
Since 2009, Jolie, Pitt and Aniston have appeared on the cover in some iteration of 23 issues of In Touch Weekly, 13 issues of Life & Style, two issues of Us Weekly and two issues of People magazine. While some of this coverage has been of the positive ilk, most has not.
The explanation for the exposure ad nauseam is fairly simple. If magazines featuring Jolie, Pitt and to some extent, Aniston, didn’t sell, they wouldn’t be on the newsstand. But the fact is, no matter how outlandish some of the claims may seem, people want to read about these three, and they pay to do so.
“Even the more reputable magazines have started to take the Brad and Angelina fighting stories further and further as they know that’s what works,” said a rep for one of the magazines.
Everyone is happy
But depending on whom you listen to, you probably shouldn’t believe everything you read. For starters, sources in both the Aniston and Jolie-Pitt camps insist that all parties are happy.
“Jen got over Brad a long time ago,” said a source who has known Aniston since the actress and Pitt were married. “She doesn’t wake up thinking she’s made some huge mistake, she doesn’t worry about running into him at events, she has her own life and it’s a great one.”
“Brad and Angie are just fine. Most of this doesn’t even phase them,” said a source close to the couple. “It’s not like they’re out scanning newsstands. They’ve got better things to do.”
That said, the magazines use copious amounts of ink speculating on new romances, especially in the case of Aniston. If she’s not secretly texting Pitt, is she dating Gerard Butler? Well they did do a movie together and he showed up in Mexico to celebrate her 41st birthday ... or maybe they're just friends.
These celebrities do take their dating lives seriously since they will be so publicly documented. Even Aniston’s ex John Mayer, who can posses a frightening lack of self-awareness, was made aware of this fact. He told Playboy, “I had a conversation about fame with Jen before we really stepped out in public. She said, ‘Do you understand what this entails?’ Two weeks later I had people outside my house. ... I knew I’d have to move to a home that had a gate.”
The Jolie-Pitts, in many ways, do live behind a gate. Their house in Los Angeles is exceedingly private. In public, they go to great lengths to blend in, often traveling by cab instead of the standard-issue black SUV.
More eyes on celebs
So if there’s little visual proof to be had of strife, where do the stories come from? There are two schools of thought. One is that the business has become a big game of telephone. There’s no longer one spy per magazine on every A-list couple — there’s an entire army of tipsters that come by way of paparazzi, tweeters and party crashers. These tipsters might make one innocuous observation that, once spread along the grapevine, is entirely blown out of proportion. An expression that might just fall under the category of “tired” or “momentarily not engaged in anything exciting,” becomes something like, “Angelina is bored with Brad!”
The other way of thinking on the issue is much simpler. “They just make up stuff to sell these issues,” said one person with close ties to the tabloid magazine business.
When a magazine spends half the year contending you’ve split, why not fight back? For the most part, the constant chatter is just that, and it’s not really fazing anyone. Where the game changes and you get to a breaking point like Brangelina is when the rumors become destructive.
Reached the breaking point
It was confirmed Feb. 8 that Pitt and Jolie had begun legal proceedings against the News of the World, a Sunday tabloid and Britain’s highest selling newspaper.
An attorney for the couple said the newspaper had made “false and intrusive allegations” when it reported Jan. 24 that Pitt and Jolie had agreed to separate, to divide assets worth $320 million and had made arrangements regarding the custody of their six children.
“Once you cross a line where you’re hurting the family, and the rumors are no longer just speculation about two adults who are in a committed relationship, that’s when a big A-lister like Brad and Angie will take action,” said one publicist.
In the case of the News of the World report, it was the straw that broke Brangelina’s back, because it’s what set off a new round of speculation that even staid news outlets took seriously and reported. It’s one thing when another tabloid alleges an affair with a dialect coach.
But there is another way to look at the ceaseless attention, at least when it is mostly of the innocuous variety. Constantly being the subject of a headline or the face on a magazine cover goes a long way in maintaining relevance.
As they say, all press is good press.
Courteny Hazlett delivers the Scoop Monday through Friday on msnbc.com. Follow Scoop on Twitter @courtneyatmsnbc.