If there’s one thing we can count on, it’s celebrity drama. But the other thing we can count on is the inevitable “stepping out” follow-up story.
The cycle routinely plays itself out as follows: A celebrity drama of some sort hits the news. Speculation about said drama is covered ad nauseam. Then the celebrity emerges — whether from imposed exile or not — and does something in public like going for a hike, shopping, or even simply walking to their car. Cue the celebrity “stepping out” story, in all its bizarre glory.
In the past week, we’ve seen a lot of celebs “stepping out.” Josh Duhamel stepped out — notably, “without his wedding ring” — after news of his split with Fergie, who also stepped out post-split. Rachel Bilson stepped out to go shopping at a children’s clothing store post-Hayden Christensen breakup. And then there’s Kevin Hart, who stepped out with pregnant wife Eniko Parrish for lunch after the news surrounding his infidelities and extortion case hit a fever pitch.
It is inevitable that a celebrity is going to leave his or her home on either side of a personal drama. So then why is the celebrity “stepping out” story such a big deal?
“A celebrity’s fan base is glued into the drama of everything they’re doing, and celebrities want to show they’re still relatable and life continues,” says Stacy Jones, founder and CEO of entertainment marketing firm Hollywood Branded. “The reason why celebrities make a point of stepping out post-drama is to bring back their power, and bring a humility to what’s happening.”
And part of that is because of the media narrative surrounding the event. When a story breaks, whether it’s a split or something more sinister, Jones notes, the media winds up in control of the coverage at first — and they’re also in control of how much that coverage turns into a runaway train. When celebrities “step out,” it’s their way of changing the narrative of the content that has come before their post-event public appearance.
But there’s more to it than that. Jones says it’s also a way for celebrities to reconnect with fans and prepare for the next phase of their career, post-drama.
“They’re reclaiming their life, they’re not cowering in fear, and they’re no longer worried that the media is trampling their future — they’re showing they have a future and it’s more than what happened to them,” she explains. “We’re the society that puts them on a pedestal — that’s the whole role of the social world, and the press is the extension of the social world we’re drawn into. We’ve made them into such a level of celebrity that they live a life that’s unattainable for mass mainstream because of their artistry.
“But when they have a setback and fall off the pedestal, the celebrity is either trying to scramble back up on it or reverse it to become more relatable,” Jones continues. “Yes, we all have dramas and breakups, whatever it might be. But hey, look — life goes on. They’re still ticking. They’re still here. So they offer more exposure and open up the privacy they may have been holding on to in order to re-bond with the fan base.”
Which brings the celeb to the next phase of their public stepping out: creating a sense of normalcy to separate from the drama and to prepare for their next steps. The celebrity must rebound from the drama narrative, Jones says, so the public can not only re-bond with their favorite celebrity but also feel closer to them by getting behind previously closed doors.
It’s possible that this was part of the narrative Hart was aiming for when he “stepped out” for lunch with Parrish this week — which, Jones notes, was probably not a chance encounter with the paparazzi.
“Paparazzi don’t just magically show up somewhere — they either stake out locations, or someone drops them a line and lets them know where a celebrity is going to show up,” says Jones. “It’s not magic. There’s not paparazzi hiding out at every corner — there’s not enough paps and not enough corners. Usually there’s a publicist or manager making sure their client is getting a little extra exposure.”
Note, too, that in the news of Bilson’s stepping out, there was a direct mention of the children’s store she visited, which could signal a partnership with the store or that the store was behind the news of her outing.
Still, Jones thinks Hart made a smart move on several levels — not just so that he can shift the focus a little on his own story, but also for managing how it now affects Parrish going forward. “Everyone wants to know what the deal is with his wife, so he showed his wife — it says, we’re together,” Jones explains. “It’s hard on her, but he’s using that to help his reputation to stay strong. And ultimately, if she goes for a divorce, she will still want him to be doing well because she’s going to get a share of that dollar.”
Whether or not we think we know the whole story, Jones insists that we don’t — and that the celebrity “stepping out” is another way to drive that point home. It’s also a way to signal to the media that it’s time to move on.
“We have a very small part of the story,” Jones says. “And what we glom onto is the most salacious, the most dramatic, the most incendiary … we look for that. And that’s our society. When we see a car accident, traffic stops on the opposite side of the road so everyone can better see the accident. So the celebrities are really stepping out to keep that road jam moving and to keep things moving ahead. It’s their way of saying, ‘Let’s move forward.’”
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