What if the most important tabloid story of the last decade finally climaxed and nobody cared? That’s what happened on August 23, when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie legally sealed their partnership of nine-ish years with a Saturday wedding in France. Maybe it’s not that surprising that Pitt and Jolie decided to get married, since they have six children together and are clearly both in it for the long haul. But somehow I was very surprised? I thought the “will they or won’t they?” tease had more years left in it, and Jolie had clung so fiercely to her image as a rebellious antitraditionalist. It’s funny to think that nearly a decade after the implosion of Pitt’s marriage to Jennifer Aniston, Jolie and Pitt are the boring married couple and Aniston is the one living the bohemian life, eternally shacking up with her boyfriend, Justin Theroux.
I always speculated that Jolie not giving in to marrying Pitt was a huge part of her appeal for him, since it meant he was always in the process of wooing her and, I don’t know, he seems like he’d be into that. Their 2012 engagement seemed like a concession on her part, not an actual statement of intent. It was refreshing to see the traditional tabloid narrative — she’s desperate for a ring! He’s commitment-averse! — genderqueered. Maybe Jolie, who is 39, and Pitt, who is 50 (!), really were succumbing to what they said was a lot of pressure from their children to make it legal.
Maybe I’m projecting. I have a lot of thoughts about the tabloid narrative of Aniston, Jolie, and Pitt, three people I don’t know personally but have seen onscreen and read about in magazines for decades now. Theirs is an ur–love triangle, as eternal as the one connecting the fully fictitious Betty, Veronica, and Archie, and representing Jungian archetypes any average American finds relatable. Jen was the fair-haired girl next door, whose own inability to play dirty became her Achilles’ heel in a battle with the charmingly evil brunette over their cute crush, whose weakness was a Hamlet-like inability to make final decisions. When the story of Pitt leaving Aniston for Jolie first broke in 2005, I remember spending a lot of time thinking about how crazy it was that someone like Aniston, who seemingly had everything, still had no special defenses against getting blindsided and heartbroken — that stars were indeed Just Like Us.
I always balked at the idea that the Jolie-Pitt wedding was inevitable, even after the engagement, because I didn’t like the way it fed into a larger heteronormative argument that the only true goals are the commonly socially prescribed ones: marriage, children, money. Jolie always projected such a nonconformist image; maybe she was covering up for a secret wish to be normcore? Or maybe she’s aged from a person who thought knife play in the bedroom was cool into a person with six kids and a husband who … thinks knife play in the bedroom is cool. Pitt grew up in a conservative Midwestern home, and Jolie’s parents had a contentious relationship and divorce. Maybe she equates marriage with stability, but they’ve had a stable partnership for nine years already. It’s not like they suddenly realized they’d enjoy the legal benefits.
So I guess we’ll go with the official reason: The kids made them do it. It’s just surreal to read People’s description of the children serving as ring-bearers and see the pictures of Jolie’s totally basic Versace white dress, whose one nontraditional touch — a veil decorated with drawings by the children — is exactly the sort of thing you could see being recommended on Blake Lively’s lifestyle website. What happened to Jolie, the blood vial–wearing black-latex princess of the night? She had a princess wedding? You could say she’s just embodying duality, like all women. Or embracing the fact that a wedding can never really be alternative by going full throttle into the established tropes of the genre. Maybe she let her kids plan the wedding? Who knows. Mazel tov.
It’s more interesting to realize that Aniston, who at 45 is unmarried without children, has become the rebel. Having weathered a decade of “poor Jen” stories, Aniston seems happier than ever. She’s been making better film choices of late and is clearly as accustomed as one can be to the media’s constant invasive speculation about what’s going on in a public woman’s private life, a supposed price of fame that Jennifer Lawrence must be thinking a lot about right now. But again, stars — they’re just like us! And no person is immune to the social conditioning that tells human beings how they must behave to be considered acceptable and successful. Spoiler: You can’t win.
Jolie and Aniston are both hugely successful in their own right, and 10 years down the line, their paths have diverged, just not in the way we necessarily expected. The Jolie-Pitt nuptials are like a TV show that waited too long to end. Their plan to pull off a secretive wedding went off without a hitch, but mostly because they got overshadowed by another A-list movie star scoop, a scandal so big it involved the FBI. And in the traditional manner of Hollywood, a younger star stole the spotlight — not that she wanted to — and these two fully minted A-listers got pushed aside in favor of the bigger cloud-hacking story. Pitt and Jolie would have to put out a sex tape (directed by Lars von Trier?) to recapture the narrative. And if they do, I will consider Angelina edgy again.