Kristen Stewart and the Crumbling Fourth Wall

(Marie Lambert)– Although I am not generally the most informed consumer of pop culture, the recent controversy over Kristen Stewart and her illicit affair with director Rupert Sanders has caught my eye. Such was the scandal that Stewart and boyfriend/co-star Robert Pattinson ended their relationship (although a Google search tells me that they are now back together, interestingly enough).

The cultural fallout over this news was expected, although I was surprised by its intensity. Support for Robert Pattinson and distain for Stewart has been overwhelming, and quite frankly frightening. The ever-eloquent and well-reasoned members of the Twitterverse have labeled her a “hoe,” “dumb whore,” and “homewrecking slut.” Not content to express your opinion that way? Well you can even buy shirts that display your opinion in a more nuanced manner, with subtle text such as “Robert Pattinson Can Do Better,” and “Kristen Stewart Fucking Sucks.”

One agonized fan even filmed an emotional reaction video to the news, ironically telling viewers to “leave them alone” and “give them space” before launching into a tirade about Stewart’s stupidity for daring to cheat on Pattinson. The fan in question breaks into seemingly genuine tears by the end of the video, repeatedly asking how Kristen could do such a thing.

Here’s the real question: why do we care so much? Celebrity relationships are so tenuous in my mind that I don’t even bother trying to remember who is dating/married to whom, because they never seem to last. And Kristen Stewart, although Hollywood’s highest paid actress, has never been one to pander for the love of the viewers or smile sweetly for the camera shoved in her face. Instead, she’s made a name for herself looking sullen and bored on the red carpet, not seeming to care what people think.

With that in mind, I think the strength of the public outcry over the situation stems to some degree from an illusory relationship that society has perpetuated. Stewart and Pattinson are co-stars in the films of the popular Twilight franchise. On screen, they portray the couple that stays together against all odds (even, unfortunately, despite the abusive aspects of the relationship). Does society demand that all fictional couples continue their romances in reality as well? Of course not. But when two attractive people in their most well known roles display a seemingly “perfect” relationship in a fictional arena, it’s not a far jump for fans to break the fourth wall and expect similar behavior in their real lives.

I’d like to believe that I’m above such illogical thinking, but I’m not. I felt the same sinking feeling of disappointment when I heard the rumor earlier this year that Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe were barely friends since the ending of the Harry Potter series. But Harry and Ron are supposed to be best friends forever! After all they’ve been through, and ten years of filming…

This is the magic of the screen, be it good or evil: these actors captivate us to such a degree that we want them to remain in our fantasy world, the little box where it’s so easy to define their relationships and understand their lives. They are no longer people who live as we do, who eat too much pasta and cry when they’re sad and make stupid mistakes like kissing their bosses. First we set them up as idols, and then we tear down all boundaries to try to make them our friends. But they are not gods, and they are certainly not our friends, and when they fail in both respects and are demonized and threatened and insulted, well then it’s their fault, because they chose this life, right?