“Selena, ARE YOU OK?” the media asked yesterday with all the sincerity of a cat approaching a mouse to ask about its day. When news broke that man-child Justin Bieber had got engaged to former fling Hailey Baldwin, model/Insta It Girl, after just one month’s reconciliation, the world’s press spun its neck in the opposite direction – straight at Bieber's (other) ex-girlfriend, Selena Gomez.
This, of course, had all the hallmarks of the narrative the media doggedly created for #PoorJen (or Jennifer Aniston, Hollywood actor and business mogul, to you and me). When she and Brad Pitt announced their divorce, in 2005, and four months later he announced his relationship with Angelina Jolie, so began a never-ending tale where Aniston was lonely, forever longing for Pitt, unable to meet anyone or be happy ever again. Earlier this year, when Aniston announced her split from her second husband (see – doomed!), Justin Theroux, 13 YEARS LATER, the media began to report that Aniston had kept love letters from Pitt “all this time”. Like a stalker, with printed photos of their victim’s face plastered over their office walls, the media’s obsessive efforts to suggest Aniston’s eternal broken heart over Pitt is nothing short of perverse, tiresome and sexist.
And now there’s a new love triangle in town – one for the Instagram generation. And, while a whole new generation might have formed and celebrity culture may be a decade older, the media is up to its old tricks. As recently as March, Gomez and Bieber were believed to be back together – and now he’s with someone else. In the grand scheme of the universe – of small Thai boys being rescued; of children in the US being separated from their families and detained to the point they are not recognising their own mothers; of the fact that our government had a meltdown akin to the Titanic sinking this week; or, you know, just the simple reality that these are celebrities who exist in a different orbit and nobody actually knows them – I know you probably have a greater interest in a rat’s arse. However, it’s not the dynamics of the relationships that I’m interested in.
Our celebrity culture is stuck in the mid-noughties, like a scratched CD, a culture where we haven’t had the feminist awakening we like to keep telling ourselves we have
It’s that, I began to worry, as the headlines trickled in, the media had found a new #PoorJen: #PoorSelena. Here we go again, I thought, as if our celebrity culture is stuck in the mid-noughties, like a scratched CD, a culture where we haven’t had the feminist awakening we like to keep telling ourselves we have. Instead, we're where we’ve always been, so let’s cast a ridiculously successful young woman as a failure because some pretty boy is engaged to someone else. Let’s reduce one of the most influential women of her generation to an option that Bieber didn’t take. Or maybe he did. Maybe she saw sense. It doesn't really matter. This is about the way we still only understand women by their “success” with men – regardless of how many millions they’ve stacked up before turning 25. It’s a two-pronged attack, bolstering the importance of a man’s approval and validation, while undermining a women’s achievements. The outcome is showering Gomez in pity – because she didn’t bag the man.
And, sadly and problematically, a lot of those headlines came from women's titles. “Is Selena Gomez OK?” ased The Cut. Vogue ran a piece on Gomez’s new hair extensions, insinuating that they were a direct retaliation to Bieber's engagement. Marie Claire Australia produced a Instagram picture of Gomez looking happy on a boat (a familiar image, if you follow her online) – as if this, again, was a coded message – and dissected a slogan T-shirt as if it was a personal message from Gomez to Bieber. There were even a few pieces with the tone of, “Nope, Selena’s just fine!” but these seemed like a fashionable, “fempowerment” way of dressing up the same story. Why on earth are you talking about Gomez? She is not the story, whatever faux-feminist spin you run on it. Why do women so willingingly cast other women as victims?
Meanwhile, Bieber's gone all “Tom Cruise on Oprah’s sofa gushing over Katie Holmes” about his new fiancée – another indication our celebrity culture is lost somewhere in the early 2000s. I’m not sure what the odds are on Bieber and Baldwin lasting (even he seemed unsure, “WHERE WILL WE BE WHEN WE’RE 70 BABY”, Bieber wrote in his Instagram post), and who I am to judge. I’m all for some reckless romance when you’re young and stupid and famous. But what I really hope is that this isn’t Jen 2.0. Selena Gomez sells millions of records, produces TV shows and breaks social-media records beyond the Kardashians or the Obamas. Her narrative must not be being rejected by Justin Bieber. Selena Gomez is not marrying Justin Bieber. There’s one clear winner in all of this, if you ask me.