It should come as no surprise that people cheat. They cheat on tests, they cheat on applications, and they cheat on their significant others. In many situations, a lover’s liaison can be dealt with privately; there is either a break up, or a make up, but it is all kept rather secret. The whole business surrounding cheating has become somewhat of a cultural fascination, and if the cheater or the cheatee are public figures (say, Hollywood superstars for instance) it becomes nearly impossible to keep the affair under wraps. There is near-constant speculation, and there is the potential that the affair can be a deal breaker not just for the relationship, but for the cheaters entire career.
Kristen Stewart is the latest sacrifice to our infidelity obsession. She cheated on Robert Pattinson and was almost instantly cast as Hollywood’s worst villain. She was quickly labeled a “homewrecker"; an insult which was piled on top of the heavy slew of media scrutiny that Stewart has received for years. Now, the media focus has turned to her guilt, painting the image of a girl who can barely shower, who is hearbroken, but who is also getting exactly what she deserved.
Stewart has never been a Hollywood darling. From the beginning of her career, she has been considered a solid actress but a sour celebrity. She doesn’t smile on red carpet cue, and she certainly doesn’t pretend to be a role model for her tween based Twilight following. She recently told Vanity Fair, "You can Google my name and one of the first things that comes up is images of me sitting on my front porch smoking a pipe with my ex-boyfriend and my dog. It was [taken] the day the movie came out. I was no one. I was a kid. I had just turned 18. In [the tabloids] the next day it was like I was a delinquent slimy idiot, whereas I’m kind of a weirdo, creative Valley Girl who smokes pot. Big deal. But that changed my daily life instantly. I didn’t go out in my underwear anymore."
The backlash to the photos of Stewart with Rupert Sanders has been infinitely harsher than the backlash to the photos of her smoking pot. What is lost in all of the scrutiny, is the fact that though a prominent figure, Stewart is first and foremost a person. If what MSNBC says is true, and 22% of the population cheats, then why is this one girl taking the fall for nearly a quarter of the population? What is it about Stewart that has so upset American sensibilities? I have serious doubts that all 22% of these infidelities lead to break up, so is it inevitable that Stewart's will?
Stewart is certainly not the first Hollywood woman to stray. LeAnn Rimes had a very public affair with Eddie Cibrian, and even more famously, Angelina Jolie became one half of Brangelina while Brad Pitt was still married to Jennifer Aniston. In large part, Hollywood has forgiven both women, though their situations were somewhat different as both Jolie and Rimes are now in serious relationships with the men they cheated with. Men cheating has become so common in headlines that it is hardly surprising; Tiger Woods and his harem (deal breaker), and Anthony Weiner and his dick-pix (not a deal breaker) ... just to name a few. The public reacts with wild anger whenver a cheating scandal is unearthed, but if we are being honest with ourselves, there is nothing Hollywood-specific about affairs. And there is definitely nothing Hollywood-specific about the aftermath and the weighty decision of whether or not to keep pursuing the relationship that was spoiled.
From a career perspective, what matters for Stewart now is figuring out how to get out of her PR nightmare. As Vulture so eloquently put it, "That sound you hear is a thousand Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2 publicists simultaneously breathing into a paper bag." It will not be an easy task for Stewart to dig herself out of this publicity grave, but harder battles have been won.
We forget that Angelina Jolie's early Hollywood persona was as a goth wild child, who wore Billy Bob Thornton's blood around her neck, and tongue-kissed her brother at the Academy Awards. Her affair with Pitt split up the Hollywood golden couple of the moment, and yet, Jolie came out on top; no public deal breaker ensued for her. As a Fox News article put it, "Angelina was very well prepared in advance for the firestorm of gossip when she got involved with Brad Pitt. Her philanthropy became the topic instead of infidelity. Within weeks she was highly visible, surrounded by children of the world. Jennifer Aniston was outmaneuvered as if by a series of well-calculated chess moves. It is all chess. You’re thinking ahead, in public life, shielding yourself every way you can."
Stewart, for her part, was blindsided by the media. She had no time to build up her PR image and her downward spiral into disfavor only accelerated. Stewart asked for forgiveness but that so far has not been enough; she needs a PR machine that will distract us from her mistakes and overwhelm us with her triumphs. With Breaking Dawn: Part 2 right around the corner, this all needs to happen rather quickly.
As a person, Stewart's choices have been put under a magnifying glass. I imagine that if the details of your love life are covered by every media outlet in the world, the morality of your decisions presents itself in an even harsher light. As Kristen Stewart's mother said, "My daughter is being hounded." The public has certainly decided that Stewart, as a personality, is no longer in their good graces, and we are watching with rapt interest as Pattinson decides whether or not he can forgive.
The fate of Stewart as an actress is not uncertain; she was just cast in a high profile film adaptation of Life in Darkness and with both Breaking Dawn: Part 2 and On the Road coming out this fall her box office successes seem almost predestined. What does remain uncertain is whether or not Robert Pattinson, and the public, will stay on her side. For the public to forgive her Stewart needs excellent PR. For Pattinson to forgive her he must answer the same question that all people who have been cheated on have been forced to ask: Does this change everything?