One of my favorite conspiracy theories has nothing to do with President John F. Kennedy's assassination, 9-11 or the moon landing. It deals with a far more consequential matter -- the love lives of certain Hollywood celebrities.
It goes something like this: A small, secretive coterie of elite Hollywood flaks exists for the sole purpose of helping certain celebrities maintain fake public love lives for publicity's sake. These workers are young, driven and viciously overcaffeinated as they feverishly dial and text their way through the ranks of Hollywood's PR firms, manufacturing adorable new "it" couples (just in time for their new movies!) or resolving stars' romantic "issues."
What do you mean Joseph Gordon-Levitt's taking his aunt to the Oscars?! That's only cute when Justin Bieber does it. Find Gordon-Levitt a woman, for heaven's sakes. Can't we trot out Zooey Deschanel again? She's free, right?
The notion, of course, seems ludicrous. Why would some of the richest and most beautiful people on Earth need a fake public romantic life? And why should anyone care?
Oh, but we do care. I have been editing and writing celebrity news items for years, and I have come across lots of folks who love to entertain this theory, even if none of us really buys into it. The thing is, Hollywood knows only too well that we pop culture fans, celebrity gossip junkies and entertainment lovers want at least some of Hollywood's beautiful people to have beautiful, titillating love lives.
Hooked on hookups
Sure, we coo and sigh at the avalanche of photos of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner playing with their kids in the park. But if every celebrity settled down to such a peaceful domestic existence, believe me, there would be angry mobs in the streets with pitchforks and burning stakes. We want a steady stream of celebrity hookups, breakups and makeups. We want to vicariously absorb all the hedonistic recklessness that would be frowned upon in our own lives. We sleep better knowing that Leonardo DiCaprio is on a yacht somewhere off the coast of Australia accompanied by several models employing an extremely casual dress code.
And when a celebrity's PR flak releases a statement that so and so are "just friends" on the same day that website TMZ gleefully posts photos of one of the so's leaving the other so's pad at 4 a.m. looking like they spent the night in a cement mixer, the game becomes that much sweeter.
That brings me to another reason why the theory of fake Hollywood romances persists: because some celebrities seem to need them.
The poster boy for this would seem to be Tom Cruise. I could write reams about all of the crazy and oft-circulated rumors out there about Cruise and his relationships and Scientology beliefs. I don't believe any of them, any more than I believe that he's just a normal guy with a string of hard-luck love stories in his wake. The thing about Cruise is, nothing you could write or say about him would surprise me anymore. You claim he's secretly married to a 22-century-old Egyptian goddess who's being kept alive in the same cryogenics lab where they're training Hitler's brain to solve Sudoku puzzles? Works for me.
I suppose if I were one of Cruise's PR flaks, I'd look at the pastiche of wackiness that is Cruise's public persona and feel a sense of freedom. You can pretty much put whatever you want out there, and it won't really matter.
Then there's Rob Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. Has there ever been such an agonized public romance, and one so perfectly timed and suited to promote a movie franchise about angst-fueled young love? Yes, the photos of Stewart making out with that other guy definitely looked authentic, and her public mea culpa and apology to Pattinson was actually rather touching (especially if she wrote it herself). But, how could you not roll your eyes when the trajectory of their painstakingly slow reconciliation matched the release of the last "Twilight" film. If all that was indeed fake, all I can say is: well played.
The new champ
But lately, the celebrity that has me more puzzled than any other is Taylor Swift, she of the string of short-lived A-list romances and the resulting impossibly catchy breakup songs.
Yes, I realize I'm casting aspersions on the Sweet Polly Purebred of the entertainment world. She's talented, cute, generous and possesses a seemingly unprecedented connection to her fans (some of them already are tweeting me death threats). But, come on, isn't this whole routine of hers getting a little ridiculous?
Since 2008, she has dated or been linked to at least a dozen men. The most recent was boy bander Harry Styles. He was preceded by Conor Kennedy (2012), Eddie Redmayne (2011), Garrett Hedlund (2011), Zac Efron (2011), Jake Gyllenhaal (2010), Toby Hemingway (2010), Corey Monteith (2010), the dreaded John Mayer (2009), Lucas Till (2009), Taylor Lautner (2009) and Joe Jonas (2008).
Each of these so-called affairs lasted about two to four months, and reportedly, each resulted in a song that explores new ways the heart can be ripped to shreds by the cruelty of fickle love.
I don't know about you, but when I think back on the relationships I had that lasted just a couple of months, I'm lucky if I can rustle up a couple of lines of what it was all about, let alone a tortured expose of romantic cruelty like her latest hit "Trouble" (which is actually a pretty cool song).
Yet Swift keeps at it, at a pace that is uncanny, if not a little suspicious.
Shortly after her breakup with Styles, Swift tweeted, "Back in the studio. Uh oh&". Look out, Harry.
Of course, I'm not seriously suggesting that Swift has been faking a series of two-month romances over the past four years to pad her credentials as the Queen of Heartbreak, any more than I am suggesting that Stewart and Pattinson staged a romantic war and peace to spike interest in their "Twilight" movies or that such A-list stars as Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz and Katie Holmes engaged in contractually defined romances with Cruise to support a manufactured image of him as a desirable leading man.
On the other hand, does anyone have a better explanation?