You’ve surely seen the viral photo from Sunday’s Golden Globes featuring Dakota Johnson watching Angelina Jolie fidget and look down while Jennifer Aniston presents onstage. Social media declared the moment juicy, relatable, and “perfect,” but our collective reaction actually transcends entertainment.
First, let’s backtrack with some dusty facts: In 2005 (for context, George W. Bush was president and Mariah Carey had two “Hot 100” singles), Brad Pitt divorced Jennifer Aniston after five years of marriage and started dating Angelina Jolie, in a union dubbed “Brangelina.”
The news kicked off one of the longest-running tabloid stories in history, throughout the birth and adoption of Pitt and Jolie’s seven children, their marriage and 2016 divorce, and Aniston’s remarriage to Justin Theroux. Public interest in the story funded the retail industry, which gave us Team Aniston and Team Jolie T-shirts and fed the tabloids with never-ending story angles. For example, in 2011, when Aniston’s dog Norman died, the Daily Mail connected the tragedy to the actress’s “love issues.”
Both women have undergone massive career and personal growth, and neither is now in a relationship with Pitt. Yet, here we are. Why do we still care?
“The Brad-Angelina-Jennifer story is a modern-day fairy tale, and all great fables reflect our inner conflict and struggles,” Bethany Marshall, a Beverly Hills-based marriage and family therapist, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “In this case, it’s America’s Sweetheart losing her love to a beautiful interloper. It reflects our most primitive anxiety of being unlovable.”
The storyline is also an easy way to simplify women: Aniston was an innocent victim, Jolie an evil temptress. To suggest that the situation was more complex (maybe Pitt and Aniston just weren’t that happy?) would demand that we reckon with how women are devalued in the media.
We also have a personal stake in maintaining the dialogue. If we can point to concrete reasons for Aniston and Pitt’s breakup — Aniston wouldn’t have children, Jolie was the antidote to a “dull” marriage — it’s easier to feel safer in our own relationships.
“There’s a process in psychology called identification, where people identify with certain story characters in the hopes of creating a better outcome,” says Marshall. “For example, someone who lost love might relate to Aniston and continue rooting for her even years later.”
No one except Jolie knows why she looked away during Aniston’s speech. Maybe something caught her eye. Or maybe, as with any two people who share a complicated romantic history, it was awkward AF.
“There have been years where major stars may be together for the first time since a high-profile split, and we go to great lengths to put them on opposite sides of the ballroom,” Jenny Cooney of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who was in charge of seating at the Golden Globes, told Vogue. “It was always stressful to have Jennifer Aniston in the same room with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and this year we were wondering if Brad Pitt showed up, how that would be received by Angelina Jolie. It’s good for the audience but maybe not for the exes.”
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