Vogue editor Anna Wintour knows how to sell magazines, which explains the “What Angelina Did Was Very Uncool” line on the cover of the December issue next to Jennifer Aniston’s face. The quote was lifted from an interview in which the former Friends star was asked about Angelina Jolie’s gushing to the magazine in 2007 about falling in love with Brad Pitt while he was still hitched to her. Playing Aniston’s first public comment about Jolie so boldly was a master stroke destined to generate epic buzz.
For Aniston, though, the incident ushered in yet another of the “Poor Jen! Duped again!” moments that have dogged her since her 2005 divorce from Pitt. Not only did Vogue exploit Aniston’s tepid smackdown, making her appear obsessed with the siren who stole her husband, it squared the two women off against one another more subtly. Astute fashionistas were quick to note that the cover image of Aniston posed on a beach in a cleavage-displaying, off-the-shoulder, red Narciso Rodriguez gown echoed the cover shot of Jolie in January 2007 in which she rocked a cleavage-displaying, off-the-shoulder, red Bill Blass against a sandy backdrop. Jolie’s cover line, however, was a more triumphant “Why Her Real Life is More Romantic Than Any Movie.” The disparity continued inside: in 2007, Jolie was shown with Pitt and their numerous children; in the current issue, Aniston is pictured with her dog Norman.
Aniston’s Vogue appearance is part of a publicity blitz for her two new movies, Marley & Me, which opens on Dec. 25, and He’s Just Not That Into You, which arrives in February. Neither role, it’s safe to say, will eclipse the one she currently plays in the cultural imagination—that of the archetypal Wronged Wife subject to an endless loop of “Jen Is Devastated!” “Jen Is Furious!” “Jen Gets Revenge!” bogus theorizing. Since her divorce, America’s Sweetheart has morphed into America’s Spinster. The unmarried, childless Aniston has become the tabloids’ Miss Havisham, portrayed as lonely, needy and locked in the past. The website Dlisted.com recently advertised a US$19.95 “Boyfriend Arm Pillow” thus: “Now, every time the Jennifer Aniston in your life calls you, wanting to whine for hours about how they are so f–king lonely and their cats are even giving them the side-eye, you can simply say, ‘Aniston in my life, go canoodle with the Boyfriend Arm Pillow I got you for Christmas.’ ” Celebrity gossip site PerezHilton.com refers to her cruelly as “Maniston.”
Her alleged tribulations sell big time. “We can’t get enough of her,” says Dina Sansing, entertainment director at US Weekly, where every issue features at least one Aniston photo or story. She’s No. 2 on the “Most Valuable Celebrity Faces” of 2008 list in terms of newsstand sales, according to Forbes. (In a rare case of tabloids imitating life, “Poor Jen!” was knocked off her No. 1 perch this year by Jolie.) Women relate to her, says Sansing, a bond that dates back to 1994 when Aniston entered homes as flaky, likeable Rachel Green. Female fans flocked to copy Aniston’s haircut, known as “The Rachel.” And now they rally to share her pain—as well as a schadenfreude thrill.
Aniston’s position atop the tabloid pantheon was cemented with her union with Pitt, whom she met Hollywood cute in 1998 through their mutual agent. The merger of America’s Sweetheart and the World’s Sexiest Man in 2000 was a lavish event that featured a 40-person gospel choir and fireworks over the Pacific. They were the king and queen of the Hollywood prom, with matching tans and blond streaks. When they split Aniston was poised for post-Friends career breakout; initially she was the one blamed for being unwilling to “have Brad’s babies,” to employ tabloid lexicon. When Jolie’s involvement became known, Aniston became the object of sympathy, and pity. After all, what chance did the Girl Next Door have against the Girl From the Next Galaxy? The New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane summed up perception of Jolie’s snaring of Pitt: “She took one look at the world’s most widely desired man and scooped him up with no more ado than a Parisian grande dame tucking a chihuahua into her clutch bag.”
The scandal was likened to Eddie Fisher leaving Debbie Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor in the ’60s. But back then there wasn’t a celebrity media complex ready to pounce on Reynolds’ every humiliation, real or imagined. For the wounded Aniston, the salt poured down, beginning with an arty 60-page photo spread in the June 2005 W titled “Domestic Bliss,” in which Pitt and Jolie presided over a band of little blond Brads.
Aniston shot back with a tearful Vanity Fair interview in which she admitted to being hurt and lonely and denied rumours that she didn’t want children: “That really pissed me off. I’ve never in my life said I didn’t want to have children. I did and I do and I will!”
The trendy L.A. store Kitson capitalized on the conflict, selling “Team Aniston” and “Team Jolie” T-shirts. “Team Aniston” outsold 25-to-one in the beginning, reports owner Fraser Ross. Elaine Lui, founder of the popular celebrity gossip blog Laineygossip.com and an eTalk reporter, believes Aniston’s plight taps into female anxiety. “There’s a fear among many women that their husband is going to work one day and hook up with the hot colleague,” she says. “So every time they see Jennifer Aniston’s face they can’t help but feel for her or support her, not because they like her but because they feel a vote for her is a vote for themselves.”
As part of the most mused-upon triangle since Euclid, Aniston’s now intractably tethered to Pitt and Jolie in a perverse geometry: for every “Brangelina’s Baby Joy” headline, there’s the inevitable “Jen Alone in Malibu!” sidebar. In the gravitas sweepstakes, she’s the lesser, a sun lamp eclipsed by a supernova. As Pitt and Jolie tour refugee camps and rebuild New Orleans, she’s photographed bagging rays in Cabo and dating a series of child-men, most lately the singer John Mayer, which sparked the recent Life & Style cover line: “Having More Surgery for John?”
Aniston’s post-Pitt hookups, which include Vince Vaughn, her co-star in The Break-Up, have the whiff of publicity stunt. Lui views Aniston’s relationship with Mayer, whose conquests include Jessica Simpson and who’s nine years her junior, as an attempted “Screw you” to Jolie: “She’s saying, ‘I’m 40 but I can still bag a younger man and change him.’ I almost feel sorry for her talking about her like this, it’s so misguided.”
Aniston’s uterine status is the subject of constant speculation as she approaches the big 4-0. “She’s Having John’s Babies,” announced Star magazine in mid-November, which claimed Aniston was undergoing “secret fertility treatments” to have twins. That same week, In Touch falsely reported it was a fait accompli: “Jen’s Bump Gets Bigger.”
Of course, obsession with celebrity baby bumps drive newsstand sales. “Her fans are interested in her having a traditional husband and house,” says Sansing. “They’re very eager for her to have this life that we all think she’s wanted for some time.”
Aniston’s inability—or unwillingness—to fulfill her perceived maternal destiny is magnified exponentially by Jolie’s and Pitt’s relentless child acquisition; they’ve added an average of 1.6 children per year to their family. Yet Jolie’s Earth Mother status hasn’t interfered with her stellar career. Since 2005, she has made nine movies, two of which generated Oscar buzz.
Aniston has made seven, two with cringe-inducing, too-close-to-life titles. As Fug Girls, New York magazine’s fashion blog, observed: “The Break-Up was bad enough, but He’s Just Not That Into You? Honey, no. There’s self-awareness, and then there’s masochism.”
It’s as if the lens trained on Aniston is fated to dredge up the past. She’s photographed often with former Friends co-star Courteney Cox, reminding the public of Rachel; in a Smart Water ad, she’s surrounded by children of various ethnicities, summoning inevitable comparison to Jolie; her recent guest appearance on 30 Rock as a stalker sent up her real-life victim persona.
Lui believes the focus on Aniston as victim is misbegotten. “I think we need to examine ourselves as a society,” she says. “For some reason we love the soap opera aspect of a weak victim like Jennifer Aniston and the mobilization to rally around her.” She sees Aniston as hostage to her own publicity: “She sold this image of herself and now she can’t shake it. She has become the poster girl for crying yourself to sleep at night.”
It’s a label Aniston tries to shake: “This whole ‘Poor lonely Jen’ thing, this idea that I’m so unlucky in love? I actually feel I’ve been unbelievably lucky in love,” she told Vogue. “Just because at this stage my life doesn’t have the traditional framework to it—the husband and the two kids and the house in Connecticut—it’s mine. It’s my experience. And if you don’t like the way it looks, then stop looking at it!”
That’s not going to happen, especially now that Pitt’s promoting The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which also opens on Dec. 25. Brangelina domestic bliss will be displayed large, as in the “private” photographs Pitt took of Jolie displayed in the November issue of W.
Appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show in mid-November, Aniston tried to distance herself from the breakup: “I don’t go there,” she said. “It’s a hundred years old for Chrissakes.” Still, Winfrey stoked the embers, asking Aniston if she wanted to beat Pitt at the box office. “What am I going to say?” she replied, “Can we do a tie?” No chance of that. The next week, she was “Devastated Jen” once again on the cover of Star, once again the proxy for the real world of broken dreams.