If it seems like you've been hearing more about celebrities cheating on their spouses, you're right. But it may not be because more celebs are cheating.
Sandra Bullock had reached the top of her profession: an Academy Award for her role in the hit film “The Blind Side.”
For most actresses like Bullock — box office favorites, but not exactly award magnets like Meryl Streep — the glow from earning an Oscar could last for months, turning into endless appearances on television shows and magazine and newspaper articles about her next movie roles.
While Bullock has been in the news for months, much of the most recent coverage has little to do with her acting. It has to do with her impending divorce following accusations her husband cheated on her.
Infidelity dominates the covers of celebrity gossip rags, makes money for authors of books such as “Is It Cheating If I Don’t Get Caught?” and “The Truth about Cheating: Why Men Stray and What You Can Do to Prevent It,” and is the only premise for the popular TV show “Cheaters.”
TMZ.com, a website devoted to intense coverage of celebrities and their personal lives, would likely not exist without the straying eyes of famous folks such as Larry King, David Letterman and Bullock’s (soon-to-be-ex) husband Jesse James.
Tiger Woods made headlines off the golf course with the discovery that the married superstar had more than a dozen mistresses. He made more headlines when he publicly apologized ... during a news conference that several cable news networks carried live.
Infidelity has become a commodity — a story to be covered if its victims are famous enough.
Perception = reality?
About 60 years ago, the gossip magazine Confidential featured a story on its cover with the headline, “The Girl Who Said No To Michael Wilding.”
That sort of chastity seems to be harder to find within the covers of People and Us Weekly — magazines that appeal to readers who want the dirt on celebrities and how the rich and famous handle situations everyday people get to deal with in private. (See information below on dealing with infidelity.)
But the type of dirt has changed over the years.
“This is not ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ time anymore,” said Bonnie Schattschneider, 67, of Springfield, Ill.
Schattschneider, a Lutheran Memorial Church secretary who will celebrate 45 years of marriage with her husband, Craig, this year, said it’s not the fact that media outlets think men and women cheating on each other is a worthy cover story. It’s the fact that infidelity appears to become a common activity.
“Things are a lot looser now,” Schattschneider said. “I wonder what it’s going to be like 10 years from now.”
About a decade ago, the nation got a big dose of what Schattschneider fears is the future when President Bill Clinton faced impeachment charges.
He was accused of providing false testimony to a grand jury regarding an alleged affair he had with 22-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton was acquitted during his impeachment trial.
Before that, politics were stained with corruption and greed, but sex scandals rarely captured the public consciousness. No one knew much about Thomas Jefferson’s apparent affairs with his slaves until centuries later. During his early 1960s term, the public didn’t know about John F. Kennedy’s supposed dalliances.
Things shifted in the late 1980s when a sex scandal altered a presidential race. Rising Democratic star Gary Hart challenged allegations of an extramarital affair with an invitation for the media to follow him around. After Hart was accused of spending the night with a woman who was not his wife — and a photo of aspiring model Donna Rice sitting on Hart’s lap surfaced — he was finished as a presidential candidate.
Since Clinton, the public’s nightly news has been inundated with sex scandals involving politicians at every level: presidential nominee John Edwards, U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey — and the list goes on.
When Charlie Wheeler arrived in Springfield in the 1970s as a statehouse reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, “hanky panky” was around — but it wasn’t in the papers.
Wheeler, now the director of the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois Springfield, said media outlets’ priorities have shifted and what wouldn’t have caught the attention of a news reporter 30 years ago may be a front-page story today.
“Back when I began as a reporter, there were supermarket tabloids that would follow the amateur escapades of celebrities — but it was rock musicians and actors and not so much political figures,” Wheeler said. “The sort of working premise was as long as what someone is doing on their private time does not interfere with their ability to do a public job, it’s really no one’s business but his or hers.”
With the advent of social media, Wheeler said, the viral atmosphere of political gossip turned the tables on what was considered news — and, to him, not for the better.
“With the old-time reporters, what really got our juices flowing was public corruption — someone we could catch in the cookie jar — that’s what made our day, not who was fooling around with whom,” he said.
With more magazines, newspapers, blogs and TV shows covering celebrity infidelity, Springfield marriage and family therapist Ronda Fraser says one may be influencing the other.
“I think some people do tend to follow and take permissions on what celebrities do,” she said. “That can be root with a lot of drug usage (too). It seems like celebrities’ lives are way out there and everything is published about them — I don’t know if that gives people a certain sense of permission (or not).”
Schattschneider said she doesn’t mind that the subject of infidelity pops up on the evening news. She’s more concerned that society seems to accept a betrayal of marital vows.
“It’s just easier now,” Schattschneider said.
Molly Beck can be reached at 217-788-1526.
Dealing with infidelity
Rebuilding a relationship after marital infidelity isn’t easy and doesn’t happen overnight.
But it can happen, says Ronda Fraser, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Springfield.
Reasons for being unfaithful include wanting to take chances, not being able to say no and needing to win. “Sometimes people go for that conquest even though it brings them a lot of sorrow, and even though it’s not necessarily what they want,” Fraser said.
Fraser says time is the only way to rebuild trust after a relationship is ripped apart by wandering eyes. But a realistic attitude toward rebuilding the relationship is key.
“Trust takes time to rebuild, and I think that sometimes when one partner talks about being sorry they believe the trust in the other partner should rebuild instantly,” Fraser said. “No matter how sincere that apology is or the intention is to make things better, it still takes time to rebuild that (trust).
Fraser also advises couples to avoid dwelling on what happened.
“There has to be a period of truth telling and exploration of what did happen: When, where, why and all of those kinds of factual things, but beyond that — in terms of a time period — it doesn’t help to keep going back to details,” Fraser said.
“Take a look at how these trust issues got in the shape that they are in. I’ve seen many people rebuild their relationship in a much stronger kind of way. Some couples look at this as a danger sign — it’s tragic but sometimes in results in an opportunity to rebuild a relationship,” Fraser says.