The pandemic is at its most critical point yet, so why do many of us think celebrity gossip is more important than coronavirus news right now? An expert tells Stylist what’s really going on in our minds.
On the first Monday of this supposedly better and more positive year, Boris Johnson announced a third national lockdown. For an indefinite amount of time, most likely until the spring, the nation needs to stay indoors. We’re basically back to square one of the pandemic. Actually, we’re arguably in an even worse position, thanks to the winter weather and new coronavirus variant.
After Johnson’s statement, I quickly picked up my phone and started messaging friends and colleagues. I was angry with the government’s disastrous handling of the pandemic. The high rise in Covid cases and video clips of overrun hospitals had made me incredibly anxious again. I worried about spending another lockdown on my own, this time in the colder and much darker months.
But that’s not what I said in any of my messages. I had much bigger things to talk about.
“Woah, are Olivia Wilde and Harry Styles a couple?!?!” I excitedly copied and pasted to three separate conversations. The pair, who are working together on Wilde’s new film Don’t Worry Darling, were photographed holding hands while attending a wedding over Christmas. The responses I received showed people were just as invested in this as me. “I was just reading about them,” came the first reply. “They’re both so beautiful,” gushed another. “Hmm, I’m trying to work out if they’re just good friends,” said a level-headed pal.
Nobody, and I mean not a single person, mentioned the lockdown that had just been announced that night.
The following day, Emma Stone was trending on Twitter. Pregnancy rumours were doing the rounds after the actor had been photographed “cradling” her tummy. I hate it when the tabloids do this. If a woman wants the world to know she’s pregnant, she will tell people herself. Reporting pregnancies without confirmation only perpetuates the pressures on women and their bodies. Just look at Hasley, who recently felt compelled to explain she was, in fact, bloated and not pregnant.
Nevertheless, it was the stories about Stone’s supposed “baby bump” that quietly caught my attention that day, even though I knew she hadn’t officially announced a pregnancy (which, let’s be honest, would be a lovely bit of news to hear in these times).
Then, the week’s celebrity juice well and truly frothed over, as Kim and Kanye West divorce rumours started to circulate Twitter. I have never watched an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians and can only name one of West’s songs. So why did I feel shocked? Why the hell did I even care?
I’ve seen the horrors that are happening in America. I’m up to date with the latest coronavirus death toll (the second-highest on record). And I know how helpful any article on looking after mental health is right now. But as soon as I absorb the absolute minimum amount of new information I need on these subjects, I turn away.
All I really want to read or talk about is the unexpected celebrity gossip 2021 has already delivered, but I do feel pretty dirty and guilty admitting that.
“We’re all so sick and tired of the news about the pandemic,” Dr Becky Spelman, a psychologist at Private Therapy Clinic tells Stylist.co.uk. “It’s completely become overwhelming for us and for some people completely monotomous. It’s just too much information.
“Since early last year, we’ve been bombarded with news on this same topic and for a long time it was the only topic making headlines. We didn’t have any other interesting things to stimulate our minds with. But previously, we would have had a lot of variety on all the different things happening.”
Spelman says it’s been complete overkill and we’re no longer interested in engaging with it in the same way we did when the pandemic first started: “It doesn’t stimulate our mind, it often triggers negative emotions and it’s not something that we feel rewarded by.”
So is it any wonder that the type of celebrity gossip and internet rumours that would have once passed me by are the basis of so much of my conversation at the moment?
“We need a distraction to take our mind off the pandemic and just to help us escape from what’s happening in the world,” explains Spelman. “Because, yes, the pandemic is extremely daunting and negative. And that little bit of escapism that we can get from celebrity gossip is actually very relieving and rewarding for us.
“Thinking about the world of Kim Kardashian, what her life must be like and the potential divorce that she’s going through – without you actually being personally affected by it emotionally – is a nice relief compared to reading how many people died of coronavirus this week.
“That’s why celebrity gossip is a guilty pleasure that a lot of us are turning to right now, even if that wouldn’t have interested you much before the pandemic.”
It’s good to know that I’m not a bad person for tuning into the lives of the rich and famous instead of the serious stuff; I’m just a normal human trying to navigate through life after nearly a year of constant pandemic news. Ultimately, it’s about balance and knowing where to draw the line with the type of speculation that comes with celebrity ‘news’ (we all know how toxic it can become).
My mini obsessions will probably subside by the end of the week, but at least they helped me get through this miserable start to the year. And yes, I’ll check up on Styles and Wilde’s Instagram feeds from time to time.