Brangelexit Is the Tabloid Industry’s Greatest Triumph

Gossip rags have been feverishly sounding Brangelina’s death knell for years. How did they know?


Just a sampling of the tabloids’ coverage over the years.

Photo illustration by Slate. Images via In Touch, People, OK!, Star, and Life & Style.

Today, more than a decade of desperate tabloid predictions came true: Angelina Jolie is filing for divorce from Brad Pitt. Brangelina has been every tabloid’s dream couple since the deliciously secretive start of their relationship. Rumors ran rampant that the actors were hooking up while filming the 2005 movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith together, but for months no one could prove it. Then in April, they were photographed vacationing at a Kenyan resort with Jolie’s son, Maddox. The grainy photos showed Pitt bending over to hand sand toys to the 3-year-old, and an anonymous source told Us Weekly that “when Brad would talk to him, his face would light up and he’d giggle.” Swoon. Pitt looked like a doting father figure instead of a cad, and Jolie was a barefoot beach mama instead of a vixen. The timing was impeccable, too: Mr. and Mrs. Smith came out two months later.

In the decade since then, the couple and their 21st-century “rainbow tribe” has continued to provide reliable grist for the tabloid mill. In 2006, Jolie gave birth to the couple’s first biological child. Two years later, their three-week-old twins appeared on the cover of People. The family travels the world together, walks the red carpet together, goes shopping together in complementary neutrals.

But great photos don’t always make great copy. “Photogenic Family Continues to Look Great” is not a cover line that sells magazine. And so, since almost as soon as the couple became official, the less reputable tabloids have been willing a Pitt-Jolie divorce into existence. “Brad says: I’m DONE with Angie,” Life & Style announced in 2007. “Angelina Humiliates Brad,” “Jen & Brad Caught Kissing,” “Brad Wants Jen Back,” and so on. Every passing event was prone to tragedy: “ANGELINA’S BIRTHDAY ENDS IN TEARS” read a 2009 In Touch cover that teased “their plans to live apart.” Literally hundreds of similar headlines have touted different versions of the same theme over the years.

After 10 years of crying wolf on Jolie and Pitt, the tabloids deserve no credit for stumbling on the truth this year. Yes, Life & Style put “THE BREAKUP” on a cover in April, and OK! teased the couple’s “$400 million divorce” in May. Just a few weeks ago, In Touch said Pitt “dumped” Jolie after a “jealous explosion.” But who in their right mind would be paying attention? As Gossip Cop put it today, “It’s now true Jolie and Pitt are getting divorced, but the years of tabloid cover stories, filled with guesswork, remain false.”

What’s striking about today’s divorce news is how surprising it was, despite all the tabloid foreshadowing. Astute readers were not shocked by the end of Bennifer, or the other Bennifer. There’s a pattern to these things: A couple seems to spend a lot of time apart, the husband is photographed out late at night, maybe the wife starts talking in interviews about how relationships are hard work. By the time they announce their separation and request privacy during this difficult time, the whole thing has come to seem inevitable. Not so with Brangelina. We’d been so buffeted by blaring, red-herring headlines about the Brangelina divorce over the years that we’d grown almost numb to them. And somehow that seemed to make the real Brangelexit all the more startling.

Proved right at long last, the tabloids will move on to occupy themselves with the many new storylines today’s news has provided them with: Did Pitt have an affair with Marion Cotillard? Or did they really split over parenting styles? Who will get custody? And is Jennifer Aniston, who has been pregnant since approximately 1998, behind this somehow? If that headline comes true this year, too, we can’t say they didn’t warn us.

Read more in Slate about #Brangelexit.