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Why the celebrity couples ruling summer have been just the escape we needed

By Sandra Gonzalez, CNN

As poet Jennifer Lopez once wrote, love don’t cost a thing. But this summer, her love life has been everything.

Following a breakup with former baseball player Alex Rodriguez, Lopez has displayed a masterful grasp of the art of rebounding, being captured by paparazzi with former boyfriend Ben Affleck. Along with much-pictured pairs like Olivia Wilde and Harry Styles and Tom Holland and Zendaya, Ben and Jen 2.0 are the celebrity story of the summer, making the pages of People and the popping into the Instagram stories of beloved gossip account Deux Moi. (It’s worth noting that none of the aforementioned duos have made official comments on their status.)

The media and public’s interest in celebrity couples is nothing new. Before there was Olivia and Harry, there was Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Before Jay-Z and Beyonc√©, there was Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The fascination is as old as fame itself. Arguably, however, we’ve never needed the breath of trivial air more than now.

“I think a lot of it is people are so desperate to feel like everything’s back to normal and what’s more back to normal than caring about celebrity,” said Cooper Lawrence, host of pop culture podcast the Cooper And Anthony Show and author of “The Cult of Celebrity.

“For the past 18 months or so, we’ve had to focus on our health, our families, the CDC, vaccinations, who’s getting them/who’s not — life has been really serious. It felt really indulgent — and almost irresponsible on some level — to focus on celebrities and who they’re dating.”

Now, Lawrence said, “I think for the first time, a lot of us are vaccinated, people are getting out, it’s the summer and people are ready to move on on many levels.”

At the start of the pandemic last year, The New York Times pointed out that the world order had complicated our relationship to celebrities.

“Among the social impacts of the coronavirus is its swift dismantling of the cult of celebrity,” Amanda Hess wrote. “The famous are ambassadors of the meritocracy; they represent the American pursuit of wealth through talent, charm and hard work. But the dream of class mobility dissipates when society locks down, the economy stalls, the death count mounts and everyone’s future is frozen inside their own crowded apartment or palatial mansion.”

But as weeks of isolation turned into a year-plus of navigating life through screens, we sought out connection where we could, including on celebrity’s social media accounts.

“That bonded us to them a little bit more…we now really have a more pronounced relationship with celebrity couples,” Lawrence said.

Particularly, she said, the ones that are both aspirational and inspirational.

“It makes us feel like there’s hope, you know. If I get divorced or break up with somebody, maybe there’s somebody in my past that’s right for me and he’s worth taking a look,” she said.

She added: “I think that’s the important thing and the most important message here — that it’s not about celebrities, it’s about us.”

In other words, it’s perfect, it’s passion, it’s setting us free.

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