Culture At Large

Kristen Stewart and public confessions

Paul Vander Klay

Why did Kristen Stewart offer a public confession and apology for her fling?

In case you’re behind on the chatter: earlier this week, the actress issued a public apology for being unfaithful to her boyfriend, Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson. She admitted to a tryst with Rupert Sanders, the director of her latest film, Snow White and the Huntsman.

What public trust was violated? She wasn't married. Did she betray Rob or Edward, the character he plays in Twilight? Could this be a case of mistaken identity, one especially common among actors?

James K.A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College, recently drew a line between playwright Tony Kushner and St. Augustine on his blog. According to Smith, Augustine and Kushner identify a similar sort of identity crisis, one that might apply here.

“The actor so regularly divests the self of a center and identity - so regularly fragments and dissipates the self (the chief effect of sin, for Augustine) - that Augustine worries there's no return,” Smith wrote, reflecting on a recent interview with Kushner. “This is the great danger for actors. And Kushner recognizes the danger. He's not willing to go there himself, but also thinks that actors are those brave souls who have the courage to risk themselves in this way.”

The betrayal of Rob is an unscripted betrayal of the Twilight narrative, into which millions have partially invested their own selves.

The Colorado theater shooting testified to, among other things, the power of movie franchises over those with weak or defective senses of self. Most of us live into these movies for brief moments of time, but others invest considerably more of their selves. The actors are the first to partake of this sort of identity adoption.

The off-screen romance between Kristen and Rob strengthens the power of the story between their Twilight characters, Bella and Edward. The betrayal of Rob is an unscripted betrayal of the Twilight narrative, into which millions have partially invested their own selves. For serious fans of the franchise, who follow the actors in the limbo between life and story, this may be a betrayal of a public, sacred trust. The confession and apology is public because the sacred trust of Bella and Edward has been violated. The damage to the real-world marriage of the director’s family is a side note for the tabloids.

I don’t know if Twilight’s financial backers have morality clauses in their stars’ contracts (think Michael Phelps, pot and Kellogg), but if this hurts the Twilight series at the box office, they may start insisting on them.

All of this raises the question: what story do we live within?

The worlds we inhabit and the identities we behave from are shaped and formed subtly and beneath the conscious level. This story is a full-blown liturgy of troth and confession in a limbo world created by powerful stories backed by enormous business interests.

Postmodernity asserted that traditional meta-narratives (religions, often) are bankrupt and unjustifiable. In the absence of strong meta-narratives, new smaller narratives provide stories within which to live. Actors first take up residence within them. The audience follows.

Kristen/Bella and Rob/Edward now push TomKat off the tabloid covers. Tom Cruise was, of course, a serial groom only to find a stronger meta-narrative in Scientology.

Augustine was right. Our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in Thee.

What Do You Think?

  • Why did this tabloid tale involve public confession and apology?
  • Why do we feel we have a stake in this story?
  • What stories do you write yourself into aside from that of the Gospel?


Topics: Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Entertainment, Theology & The Church, Theology