The XX Factor

The Uncomfortable Narrative of Sandra Bullock’s Marriage

When Sandra Bullock first married Jesse James in an intimate ceremony in Solvang, Calif., back in 2005, the tabloid narrative for their relationship was “good girl reformed bad boy.” An article published in People about their nuptials said of James, “despite his born-to-be-wild past, the father of three young children comes across as ‘very low key, very quiet, almost shy.’ ” Bullock and James are painted as publicity-averse, salt-of-the-earth folks who frequent pancake houses and whose wedding was hoedown-themed.

Flash forward five years, and the narrative is now “good girl failed at reforming bad boy.” Jessica Coen has a smart post on Jezebel about how the photo that surfaced this week of Jesse James wearing a Nazi hat and doing a Third Reich salute was ultimately satisfying for the Us Weekly reader. It is incontrovertible proof, Coen says, that James is “guilty” according to the tabloid justice system. In the context of that justice system, Sandra Bullock is now officially a saint. A few hours later, Kate Harding posted a follow-up to Coen’s article, wondering how much Sandra knew about the “Nazi stuff.” Not unreasonably, Harding says, “Is it just me, or have we reached the point where it’s reasonable to wonder if Sandra Bullock kinda digs the Nazi scene herself?”

For the record, I don’t think Sandra Bullock digs the Nazi scene, nor do I think that she knew that James had a thing for white power chicks . What is clear, though, is that sexual and romantic attraction can’t be shoved into tidy narratives about who is good and who is evil. Clearly something about James’ edginess attracted Bullock, and the fact that they got married does not mean that the edginess was magically transformed into neutered pancake eating. That her husband is deplorable-and that maybe she liked some of his less-than-savory qualities-doesn’t negate the fact that Bullock gave a million dollars to help rebuild Haiti or make her a Nazi. It just means her life is more complicated than can be intelligently parsed in a People magazine article.