The world of entertainment has long been a captivating theatre of love and illusion.
Since the latest season of Dancing with the Stars premiered, TikTok fans have filled comment sections with their suspicions about contestants Harry Jowsey and Rylee Arnold’s budding relationship. Neither Jowsey nor Arnold are strangers to reality TV, and they continue to feed into the rumours, dancing—both figuratively and literally—around interview questions while making flirtatious content for their respective social media pages.
Like many before them, the duo has unwittingly fallen into a trap contemporary media audiences are all too familiar with—the PR relationship.
Aptly named, the PR relationship consists of celebrities pursuing relationships founded more on public image than genuine affection. The allure of celebrity couples lies in their ability to sell not only their talents but also romance—which is a hot commodity in Hollywood.
Since the advent of moving pictures, audiences have been captivated by films starring prominent actors who are romantically involved, both on and off-screen. By seeing actors engage in romance on screen, viewers are attracted to this greater proximity to celebrities through a voyeuristic glimpse into their personal lives.
With intense celebrity worship plaguing society, fandoms are more prevalent than ever before. Celebrities become objects of distraction, and fans often develop parasocial relationships with their favourite stars. Public celebrity relationships allow fans to observe their beloved celebrities in intimate settings, further blurring the lines between reality and performance in the lives of Hollywood’s elite.
PR relationships can raise ethical concerns, however, when they involve deception, emotional exploitation, and the promotion of a culture that doesn’t prioritize honesty or authenticity.
Despite this moral ambiguity, there’s no doubt PR relationships are incredibly advantageous for the celebrities involved, with financial gain, fan interest, and media attention being a few benefits of these relationships. Many dedicated pop culture fans go to great lengths to determine whether their favourite “it” couple is real or fake, which often results in greater attention and resources spent on the celebrities in an alleged relationship.
We can see this when examining how Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift’s relationship captured both fans and the media’s hearts.
After their first public outing, Kelce’s jersey sales spiked 400 per cent. Within a singular appearance, fans flocked to demonstrate their support, literally investing in their relationship at no small cost of $209.99 per jersey. A typically private star, Swift’s public appearances at Kelce’s games have made some fans suspicious: when coupled with the upcoming release of her film Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, it’s highly plausible this relationship is being leveraged to generate more media buzz.
Though the fiscal success associated with this couple meets the criteria of a typical PR relationship, cozy photos leaked on TMZ coupled with sources close to Kelce disclosing his genuine feelings make it difficult to determine whether this relationship is real or just for publicity.
Some celebrity couples opt for an entirely different path, employing silence and artfully crafted responses as their weapon. This is true for Olivia Wilde and Harry Styles—as hype for Wilde’s film Don’t Worry Darling grew, so did public interest in their relationship.
Secrecy around their two-year relationship attracted attention from fans, paparazzi, and the press. While managing awkward controversies from a troubled filming process, Wilde and Styles leaned on their PR teams to carefully deny any wrongdoing, ensuring photographs placed them as far apart as possible.
Perhaps coincidentally, the formal ending of their relationship was announced shortly after Don’t Worry Darling moved from theatres to streaming services, when the relationship was no longer financially beneficial to the couple.
Fans’ emotional investment in celebrity relationships speaks further to the interest in Hollywood “it” couples. From Hollywood’s early days with couples like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, the original “will they or won’t they” off-screen romance, to modern co-stars Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell, celebrities and publicists alike never fail to build excitement and fan the flames of a possible showmance.
While I might be skeptical of the authenticity of some duos, I thrill at watching a supposed real life love story as much as the next pop culture junkie.
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