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Why Pinoys Felt Invested And Heartsick About The LJ Reyes, Paolo Contis Breakup
PHOTO BY @niceprintphoto/Instagram
  • When the breakup of actors Paolo Contis and LJ Reyes came out, Alyssa (not her real name) was, in her own words, "devastated."

    As a 25-year-old single mom, Paolo and LJ's story — particularly how he became a father figure to LJ's son from a previous relationship — gave Alyssa hope that she would find herself a love like theirs one day, too.

    "I used to always tell myself how I will find a man like Paolo Contis. Their relationship on social media for me, as a single mom, is the dream," she said.

    How Alyssa relates to the couple mirrors what thousands of other Filipinos also glued to the issue feel, solo parent or not.

    Celebrity gossip as a distraction

    Ever since LJ broke her silence on the breakup, her exclusive interview with host Boy Abunda generated 5 million views and counting. So when Paolo spoke up via Instagram on September 8, 2021, media outlets quickly covered his statement.

    Why this much attention over something so personal?

    "Generally, it's a form of diversion. Instead of facing pressing personal matters in their personal lives na dapat pinagtutuunan talaga ng pansin, they'd rather concern themselves with the lives of celebrities. They somehow feel like they're entitled to have an opinion about," Joseph Marquez, a clinical psychologist, told reportr.

    Still deep into the COVID-19 pandemic a year and a half later, Filipinos are grappling with so much loss that a controversy-filled celebrity breakup does a lot as a distraction.

    A 'parasocial' relationship

    News of LJ and Paolo's breakup started when the actor unfollowed everyone on his Instagram account, including her then-partner, whose photos he also removed. So naturally, speculations immediately began, and even as the actress came forward pleading for assumptions to stop for her children's sake, netizens were relentless in their sleuthing.

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    "The relationship between Paolo and LJ is so relatable. A lot of people go through this kind of situation, hence their tendency to develop their own theories. The couple also grew up, kumbaga, sa mata ng mga tao," Marquez explained.

    The lives of celebrities have always been, to some extent, at the mercy of the public, whose sustained attention keeps them relevant. However, social media culture made it more complicated, he said.

    "This isn't to blame them. But as public figures, the way they've been interacting with fans on social media — posting pictures, creating vlogs, and other content sharing their otherwise personal lives — they've become even more relatable for people," he said.

    There's a psychological phenomenon behind this. Fans tend to develop a so-called "parasocial relationship" with famous people. So media consumers end up considering celebrities as if they're real-life friends, even though they don't have actual social interactions with them.

    Marquez explains how people start feeling like they're entitled to the personal lives of celebrities. "We look up to them as higher form of beings initially. But once they start sharing things about their everyday lives — naglilinis sila ng bahay, naghuhugas ng pinggan — nagiging illusion experience siya na, 'Okay these artistas pala are actually humans, too."

    LJ and Paolo's relationship was not what society deems an ideal Filipino family (both have children from previous relationships and are unwed). But their love story reflected the reality faced by millions of Filipinos who bear children out of wedlock or those in blended families.

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    So when it failed, the thousands rooting for them may have felt like they failed too.

    "We know them on a personal level. We know their back stories, lalo na ngayon na they vlog about everything. Kaya nagkakaroon ng parasocial relationship because of that repeated exposure.," Marquez said.

    He notes it is a give-and-take relationship because every time celebrities share something, they get "rewarded" by fans' views, comments, and likes.

    Celebrities are humans, too

    Since the pandemic started, Filipinos on the internet have done all sorts of things to keep themselves busy in quarantine, including giving more time to Facebook communities.

    There's one particular group dedicated to celebrity gossip called "Mga Chismosang Kapitbahay." In the 36,000-strong Facebook group, members exchange scoops (largely unproven) about celebrities.

    Posters cloak celebrity identities in name initials, which is fun for many more than the satisfaction of solving a blind item. The guesswork keeps one occupied under quarantine.

    "It's really a form of diversion from the heated political landscape we have right now. Instead of dealing with personally concerning things, people instead are using celebrity stories as an escape, to distract themselves from what is happening," Marquez said.

    For the longest time, news about public figures has been cash cows for media outlets that are always on the lookout for stories that get people clicking. This isn't to say that media is without fault. But so long as there's an audience hungry for it, the cycle will keep going.

    For celebrities, however, their struggles help maintain their clout. But, at the end of it all, they are humans, and like regular beings, they suffer.

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    It's the ultimate curse of the celebrity culture. Celebrities share as much of their lives to remain popular, but once they hit a rough patch, needing as much space and quiet they can possibly afford, they still end up feeling accountable to the public's judgment.

    So they explain themselves, even if it's at the cost of their personal dignity or their family's. Even when they don't have to at all in the first place.

    "Like regular, celebrities go through difficulties, and as viewers, the most we can do is to give them our empathy, so spare them the judgment they don't need," Marquez said.

    Marquez warns of engaging one's self in celebrity gossip as a means of problem avoidance.

    "Instead of living our own lives, we're living theirs. These celebrities are going through a difficult time, but so are we. So instead of focusing on them, why not focus on ourselves?"

    Clinical psychologist  Joseph Marquez, RPsy, is based in Taytay, Rizal. His services can be accessed online. You may contact him through his page.

    This story originally appeared on Reportr.World. Minor edits have been made by the SmartParenting.com.ph editors.

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