Once in a while we watch a Broadway musical for entertainment. Other times, we rely on a Netflix show to feed our escapism. And sometimes, on occasion, we indulge in celebrity relationship breakdown stories on the Internet.
We secretly justify this practice by telling ourselves that it’s the media’s fault for turning divorce stories into spectacles, or that famous people should accept that their life is under a microscope – they chose to be famous after all. I am not here to debate the righteousness of these habits. I, for one, admit to Googling “Gwyneth Paltrow Chris Martin conscious uncoupling”. I would instead like to dissect where these behaviours may stem from. Why are we so amused with the love life of celebrities? And do the press sometimes go too far with what they publish?
Mr Justice Mostyn, who recently dealt with the high-profile split of pop singers Liam Gallagher and Nicole Appleton, sums it up: “Without access to court documents the press can hardly be expected to be able to report the case intelligibly or even-handedly”. Although there are regulations in place regarding coverage of court proceedings – the general rule is that journalists may attend, but may not publicise certain documents and details – they are not so clear-cut as to dictate which testimonies may be revealed or which financial figures may be disclosed. In an industry of sensationalism, it would be futile to regulate with that much precision anyway. It is the reader’s job to be discriminate enough to keep in mind that the full picture will always be out of reach.
Standard criticism of the press aside, however, the 2009 Rules of Court amendment that enabled accredited media representatives to attend private family hearings did serve a sound purpose – to improve public confidence in the family justice system by virtue of balancing individual privacy with increased court transparency. Historically, news reporters were not permitted to witness family court hearings at all. So although as audience members we are typically exposed to intriguing information like, say, the £5m legal bill that arose from the dispute between Laura Ashley chairman Khoo Kay Peng and ex-wife Pauline Chai, there is a policy rationale behind media presence after all… Prohibitions mostly just cover the publication of the identity of children involved and attendance in conciliation meetings where parties seek resolution via negotiation. As for the judicial power to exclude journalists, this is only limited to circumstances that necessitate the protection of a child’s interests, the safety of a witness, or the fair administration of justice. Other than that, antics and expenditures do not seem to be off limits.
Who let the press in, then? The courts themselves did. Now that we can manage to cut them some slack, as it would be unfair to portray every journalist as an intrusive paparazzo, let’s turn the video camera in our own direction. We get to safely hide behind our laptop screens amidst dim lights in a bubble of anonymity – it’s time we reflect on our own inclinations. I suppose one reason we are so attracted to cases with high-profile people is because they remind us that nobody is immune from separation. Celebrities and other public figures are so glorified that we forget that they are also susceptible to the same troubles and the same obstacles as your next-door neighbour. It turns out no amount of stardom, talent, good looks, bulging bank accounts, luxury properties and Emmy awards can overcome the intrinsically human phenomenon of relationship disintegration. And we find some comfort in this, not because misery loves company, but out of pure solidarity. Everyone is subject to the struggle of parting ways. It’s relatable.
According to Chris Rojek, sociology professor at City University, discussion of the celebrity cult is incomplete without reference to social media, which reinforces “people’s perceived emotional proximity and intimacy with the stars, who, in turn, share details of their personal lives with fans directly, just like their real friends do.” The speed of information dissemination is a key factor in the psychology of this culture.
We can play pretend jury all we want – harmlessly forming opinions about court rulings as outsiders. But in the real setting of criminal and civil cases, phones are not allowed!
Isabel is a guest blogger for Grayfords. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with a minor in Economics from Barnard College of Columbia University in New York City. She is currently pursuing the Graduate Diploma in Law at The University of Law in London.