It is within the realm of possibility that Jennifer Aniston is married. At the very least, she had a party at her house this weekend that maybe a pastor attended with the Bible. Before we find out for certain, it is important for us to gather as a society to figure out what this -- Jennifer Aniston maybe but not definitely being married -- means for us.
Over the years, the way the likes of InTouch and Life & Style have rallied around Aniston becoming a wife and mother resembles the efforts of a rabid dog trying to make soufflé for a competition on "Iron Chef." Once she reached the marrying-and-baby-carrying age of her late 20s, Jennifer Aniston's happiness was an automatic addition to supermarket checkout lines. By her mid 30s it had entered the zeitgeist.
"How often do you get to reunite soul mates? What if I told you that you could reunite Romeo and Juliet? Or Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston?," Leslie Knope says toward the end of a 2009 episode of "Parks and Recreation." "Oh, Jen, I really want you to be happy. Stay away from John Mayer."
Aniston's life choices have become the automatic filler cover for slow weeks in celebrity news, a go-to that has become so obvious and enduring, it is almost impressive in its longevity. The tabloids are generally hot garbage, but why did they become so fixated on cramming Aniston into the conformist narrative of female happiness?
The rise of tabloid culture in the early aughts meant that the realm of celebrity was no longer relegated to an actor's work, but the minutiae of her daily life. What emerged was a culture of pulpy surveillance, a Hollywood ruled by Big Brother (except if Big Brother was mostly only interested in gossip and women not wearing undergarments).
Anyway, you know that story -- Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and the year 2007, etc. The coverage became a mix of "news" and rumors provided by unnamed sources, who either didn't exist or were just some random old ladies doing acid under a bridge. Either way, Internet journalism and the 24-hour news cycle have only made things worse. Our conceptions of celebrities are now based, in large part, on a warped perception of their private life peddled by entertainment media.
Usually, the stories that manage to break out of the tabloid pocket of hell into the mainstream range from the sadistic and scandalous to fluffier tales of two celebrities in the early stages of dating and/or being deliberately photographed holding hands on their way out of 1 Oak.
But it seems like none of the fan fiction has been as consistently fixated on marital and maternal status than the Jennifer Aniston narrative. (Consider the fact that a search for "Jennifer Aniston pregnant" yields 4.5 million Google results, a little less than double the return for "Zooey Deschanel pregnant," despite the fact that Zooey Deschanel is actually pregnant right now).
Several factors have merged into the perfect storm behind our specific obsession with Aniston.
It was bad enough one of America's sweethearts was refusing to validate the belief that a woman's main purpose in life is to be a wife and mother. (How could her decades-long career, multi-million dollar net worth and various mansions ever be enough?!) But that combined with the perceived failed marriage with Brad Pitt and the legend of Brangelina it spawned, allowed Aniston's singledom to transcend the common tabloid fare of nanny infidelity scandals and homophobic sexuality speculation. It became a wrong to be righted, if not in real life then by endless guesswork on the covers of trashy magazines.
The aspect of Aniston's success seemed to only further tragedize her singleness. As she transitioned from sit-com to rom-coms to acting so serious she was considered an Oscars snub, the faux concern was only heightened. The sinister message underlying the frenzied theorizing about her private life seemed to infer something was wrong with Jen. The lingering question, rhetorically and misogynistically asking, "She can't really be that great, if she can't find a man, right?"
In recent years, Aniston had become almost defiant, unwilling to play into the hands of the tabloids. As she moved into her 40s, there was something subversive about her interviews, even after she got engaged. She became a powerful symbol for modern womanhood, refuting the idea that happiness required some pre-fab, pre-feminism checklist.
So, now that she's (possibly) married, what if everything is actually worse? What if, as Jen Uffalussy wrote for The Guardian, "the masses [are] reluctant to let go of their desire to see a successful and independent woman like Aniston as anything but suffering in silence"? Will all successful and independent women be forced to get married or risk being put into the eternal washer-dryer cycle of getting engaged or pregnant then dumped? (Who will marry Kristen Stewart?)
What if -- and this is purely hypothetical, as hypothetical as, say, Jen engaging in polygamy and marrying Brad and Angelina in addition to Justin and then offering to adopt you -- we just valued women for their work?
What if we celebrated Jen for her success and her talent, instead of endlessly poking at the satisfaction of her private life with the determination of your little brother trying to annoy you in the backseat of a 17-hour road trip? What if we didn't need her to get married (and have a child literally tomorrow, because, let's be real the clock is ticking) to prove that she's great?
Alas, these are all pointless questions. By next week, the tabloids will find a series of Sad Singles to mourn in Jen's place. It won't be with the intensity or complexity of the decade-long Anistonian epic, but it will continue to convince us that women need to be wives and mothers to be great.
For now, at least, we know for certain that Jennifer Aniston is great. A man who played at least one of Carrie's boyfriends on "Sex and the City" has proven that. Now, if she can just give birth, we will all finally be able to get some rest.
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