Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's marriage of two years—and in turn their relationship of almost 12 years—was over affected people in different ways.

There was the "love is dead" camp as people wondered who—who?!—can make it work if Brangelina couldn't. There were the lemonade makers, who took the opportunity to take stock of the still-chugging couples in Hollywood, as a reassurance that the Will-and-Jadas and Channing-and-Jennas of the world were still going strong.

There were the karma police, who relished the breakup as years-in-the-making retribution for the couple's sin of falling in love in the first place while Pitt was still married. Then there was the New York Post, with its tongue-in-cheek yet ultimately insulting front page reporting the couple's demise as an entity and punctuating it with a close-up of Jennifer Aniston's laughing face—useful only as a reminder of just how irrational we can be about personal matters we really know next-to-nothing about.

And so the bells toll for "Brangelina." 

But the death knell you're hearing isn't only for them. Nor did the ringing just begin.

Because what's proving to be the end of an era—for not just a romance, but for a romantic ideal, for the illusion of untouchable glamour—didn't just occur overnight. This one has been years in the making, but with the aftermath of Jolie's decision to file for divorce already turning ugly, it's now safe to call it: The era of celebrity-idol worship, as we once knew it, is over.

Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

To be sure, celebrities have been disappointing their fans for years. From the most extreme cases of law-breaking or abhorrent behavior, to the encyclopedia's worth of stars who've been dinged for screw-ups of varying magnitude, to those who just simply turned out to not be very nice, entertainers proving to be less than what we've built them up to be in our heads is a tale as old as people.

But some celebs just breathed rarefied air, no matter how tumultuous their actual lives were. Despite being in the public eye, it was still possible to create an aura of mystery—not least because studios often stepped in to manage (and thereby protect) a star's image. And long before there was the option of letting fans in via social media expressly in order to seem more normal and not less, that image remained carefully cultivated. Audiences could only get so close.

There's been a tricky dance going on for decades now between celebrities and those who talk about them, the two sides propping each other up while also feeding off of each other. And perhaps even more than we love a juicy scandal, we've savored crowd-pleasing lists of the best, of the funniest, of the richest, of the most eligible, the most beautiful, the sexiest. Win-wins for everyone involved.

It wasn't too long ago when we would look forward to pop culture "events" such as the release—in print!—of People's annual Sexiest Man Alive issue as some sort of gospel text, as a glossy guide to the guys out there who were the be-all and end-all of...well, guys. We as a society fawned over the likes of Brad Pitt (twice), Johnny Depp(twice), Ben Affleckand Tom Cruise.

What more did we need to know? Hot, check. Charming, check. Seems nice, check. Sexy? Well, yeah, the magazine said so!

Sexiest Man Alive Cover

Then the Internet came along and started to chip away at the gloss. Well, the celebrities were always doing that themselves—the Internet just brought a camera to record it for posterity.

In 2005, Cruise flipped his lid on Oprah Winfrey's couch, quibbled with Matt Lauer and insulted Brooke Shields. Then in 2006, the inaugural Sexiest Man Alive, Mel Gibson laid waste to so much of the good will he had built up over 30 years in showbiz in one under-the-influence swoop.

But even those unfortunate instances (we're not equating them, just noting them) predated the way in which topics of the day now get chewed up and spit out on social media.

Tom Cruise, Oprah Winfrey


Fast-forward to last year, when, not that long after he completed an unprecedented career-180 by directing Best Picture Oscar winner Argo and starring in the hit Gone Girl, Ben Affleck's 10-year marriage to Jennifer Garner fell apart.

A month later, he was linked to the family's nanny (or, by then, former nanny). Affleck's camp denied rumors of any impropriety with the ex-employee, stating in response to the publication that got the ball rolling: "It's tabloid journalism hiding behind blind sources. It's a shameful ploy to stay relevant for the magazine. All allegations of a romantic relationship are baseless and untrue."

Affleck's still a huge star, one who's going to play Batman in who knows how many DC Comics movies, but the shine is off the comeback. Such is how it goes when the worship and tear-down machines are operating at full speed, side-by-side, all day, every day. The comments section may not ultimately have much effect on the business side of things (see: Batman), but when it comes to likability, there are no sacred cows.

And just as the era of the unimpeachable movie star has been in decline for some time now, so has our ability—if not our desire—to disconnect from what's "real" and blindly adore whoever strikes our fancy. When we do choose to blindly adore, we're feigning blindness.

Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Ben Affleck

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images; Mike Marsland/Karwai Tang/WireImage

The reaction to  Amber Heard 's domestic abuse allegations when she filed for divorce from Johnny Depp was a stark example of just how off the rails our devotion to "our" celebrities can be. Their divorce now settled and a confidentiality agreement preventing either from commenting on what really happened behind closed doors (or on leaked videos and photos that served as purported evidence of their issues), we'll never know the whole truth.

"Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love. Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm. Amber wishes the best for Johnny in the future," the exes said in a joint statement when the settlement was announced.

Whatever any of that means.

With a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie on the horizon and at least five other projects on his to-do list, we'll know soon enough whether his ugly divorce affects public opinion in the long run—if it even affected public opinion that much in the short run.

Best Summer Movies of All Time, Pirates of the Caribbean

Courtesy Disney

It became very apparent this summer that the cult of celebrity remains a balm that soothes any inconvenient misgivings we may have about someone who was always a favorite. As Twitter keeps showing us, it has become really easy to show irrational disdain for a complete stranger. On the flip side, it's always been easy to develop irrationally protective feelings for a stranger too.

Ironically, the level of fame that stars such as Depp or Brad Pitt have achieved may make us feel as though we know them, but the option of not having to really think about what kind of men they are is only available to us because we don't know them.

Quite the paradox, because why do they cast such a spell in the first place then? The magic is real. Millions of people aren't hallucinating.

Now, however, news that Brad Pitt is being investigated after he was reported for allegedly yelling at his kids or otherwise acting out around them while aboard a private jet—coupled with Jolie's request, however temporary she means it to be, for full physical custody of their six children—has pricked a hole in the Brad balloon, too.

Not only were he and Jolie two of the last celebrities who still had that aura of carefully orchestrated mystery about them, we're talking about Brad Pitt—as in everyday phrases like, "He's no Brad Pitt." He's more than a man—he's an idiom.

But yup, him too. Movie star down.

No matter how off base the more salacious headlines may turn out to be about Pitt and what led to the end of his marriage, the idols continue to be knocked off their pedestals, one by one.

Ben, Johnny, Brad: They'll always be considered some of the biggest stars of their time, guys who don't require a last name. But these stars—and the ones who are following in their wake—no longer operate in a time that allows them to be mindlessly celebrated as they might have been in the past.

And that's probably better for the non-famous. Grass isn't always greener and all that. Most people would never live up to the intimate yet comfortably arm's-length view we've created in our minds, anyway. Best leave them to their movies, their shows, their music.

Brad Pitt


That's nothing new, but it's a little sad as well, when you can't even daydream about what life with your teen crush might be like because you actually have an inkling of what it's like and…no, thank you.

And that's why celebrity worship is a gamble—it can be the easiest, most undemanding relationship you'll ever have (the one-sidedness helps), or it could end up being a series of disappointments if you invest too much in the wrong individuals, or in the wrong couple.

Yet so goes the modern cycle of celebrity. It isn't exactly a wasteland out there. We have plenty of actors and artists, et al., to hitch our wagons to, celebs who are perfectly perfect until we hear otherwise.

In fact, there are more stars in the sky than ever—as well as, thanks to the current climate, more of a chance that one may plummet right back down to earth at any time. Not necessarily for any huge reason, but because the gravitational pull of being human doesn't allow someone to stay above it all forever.

Once the dust has settled, the likes of Brad and Angelina will move on and we'll go back to following their careers and knowing as much as they want us to know—but at least we'll know we're not missing out on anything.

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