NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 01: Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness attend The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 01, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue)

NEWS THAT HUGH Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness have split dropped in the kiddie pool that is the world wide web like a bomb from a four-year-old on Saturday morning, proceeding to ripple across cyberspace and the mainstream media for the rest of the weekend.

The news was accompanied by a statement from the couple, saying they have decided to “pursue individual growth”.

“We have been blessed to share almost three decades together as husband and wife in a wonderful, loving marriage,” they said. “Our journey now is shifting and we have decided to separate to pursue our individual growth.”

Their last public appearance together was at Wimbledon in July. Jackman met Furness on the set of Australian TV series Corelli in 1995, and they married the following year. They have two children: 23-year-old Oscar and 18-year-old Ava. In April, Jackman celebrated their 27th anniversary with a tribute on Instagram. “I love you so much,” he wrote. “Together we have created a beautiful family. And life. Your laughter, your spirit, generosity, humour, cheekiness, courage and loyalty is an incredible gift to me.”

So far, so par for the course. The news will likely continue to be a topic for discussion on chat shows, generate speculative op-eds and, if we’re going to get meta about it, wider-ranging pseudo-analytical think-pieces about why we care about this (yes, like this one), for the rest of this week. If it follows the script, and there’s no reason to be believe it won’t, the celeb gossip mags will dredge up unnamed sources and ‘insiders’, who will breathlessly report that the marriage has been on shaky ground for some time now. Out-of-context shots of Hugh and Deb looking miserable will follow, forming the basis for shadowy, mostly specualtive stories that won’t shed much light on anything.

The next step will be for Jackman to take his shirt off at the beach, an explosive development that will send news and gossip sites, (and possibly Esquire!) into a tizzy as we speculate on whether the severe topography of Jackman’s torso indicates the unveiling of a revenge body. Most of us, even those who have previously had no interest in Jackman or his relationship, will have a reaction to this. Some will shrug their shoulders—that’s still a reaction. Others will cynically speculate that the much-commented on age gap between the two—13 years—has finally wrought its ‘logical’ outcome. And some of us will experience something akin to genuine grief. The couple lasted an astonishing 27 years, which is several lifetimes in celeb couple years*.

Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage I Getty Images.

Of course, Hugh and Deb’s bust-up, while obviously big news here in Australia, is actually a weekly news and gossip trope. Last week news that Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner were calling it quits set the internet ablaze. In the coming weeks another couple’s demise will compete for space alongside a scandal (see Russell Brand).

So, why do we care? Well, there are many potential reasons. There is almost certainly a degree of voyeurism at work here. Celebs are closer to digital avatars than real people to us. A break-up is a distressing event for anyone to go through; we can all relate, so it’s fun to speculate on the causes, pretend to empathise and dissect from a safe distance. You probably do something similar in your own life when a couple within the friendship circle breaks up—“did you notice the way she always rolled her eyes whenever he brought up his taekwondo injuries?”  

That’s understandable; you know these people. But that doesn’t mean you can’t experience similar reactions in the digital age with the rise of so-called ‘parasocial’ relationships. Through social media we have access to a curated version of someone’s life. It’s tough not to get invested, even on an unconscious level. If the couple were active on social you have likely been witness to reams of loved-up couple shots, particularly ones that mark an anniversary, like Hugh’s stellar effort to celebrate he and Deb’s 27 years together.

One of the grubbier, but nevertheless compulsive forms of social media blood sport these days is to immediately look at a busted-up couples’ social feeds for mushy shots from just two weeks earlier and wonder in a concerned troll inner voice: how did they go from that to this? That might send a metaphorical shiver down your spine, as you wonder whether your own relationship could crumble so precipitously—answer: yes, it could, because as we all know, your social output bares very little resemblance to your actual life or who you are as a person. If your social media snoop reveals a conspicuous absence of cute couple shots in exotic locales, you will naturally conclude that this is evidence that the relationship has been on shaky ground for some time–do Hugh and Deb look distant in that Wimbledon shot or are they just bored by another forehand down-the-line winner from Djokovic?

As the defacto gods and gladiators of our time, it is comforting to know that celebs too, are not impervious to pain, grief and misfortune. This humanises them (read: brings them down a peg) and possibly, elevates us. We’re not so dissimilar. You could be them. Maybe I should finish my screenplay…

Obviously, the bigger the fan you are of a star, the more the news will impact you. Your investment is greater; thus the loss is deeper. I’m personally more interested in the Jackman/Furness’ bust-up than Jonas/Turner, simply because they’re Aussies and I’m more familiar with Jackman’s work than I am of Jonas’. Between you and me, the news that the sublime Turner is on the market was cause for celebration somewhere in the deep, thoroughly deluded recesses of my cerebral cortex.

We also care about celebrity bust-ups because we are conditioned to care. If content is put in front of you, you’re going to participate, possibly despite yourself. You might harbour a self-image of yourself as someone who cares more about famine victims in Eritrea than a celeb bust-up but your eyeballs’ behaviour often doesn’t bear much resemblance to that self-image. Your social feed’s algorithm, which is intwined in an incestuous alliance with your eyeballs, knows you’re more likely to click on the celeb bust-up and continues to feed this stuff to you.

Of course, most of us are cynical about celeb relationships, hence my previous snide remark* about the astonishing length of Jackman/Furness’ relationship. Theirs is truly an outlier. They have defied the odds for so long many might have begun to put them on the same level as the iconic Paul Newman and Joanna Woodward, who lasted 50 years, and led to Newman’s legendary quote about why he didn’t cheat: “Why go out for a hamburger when you have steak at home?” Bless.

Jackman and Furness perhaps occupied a similar standing for many Australians. If it were to now emerge that Jackman is a serial philanderer, some of us would lose faith in love, others in humanity itself. And again, as we grieve the relationship’s demise, we may then look on our own relationships with a renewed sense of doom. What hope is there for the rest of us if such a lovely, wholesome couple divorces after 27 years? Shit, we may as well call it quits now. I’ll call my lawyer in the morning.

I personally won’t be doing that but there is one celeb couple that, should they ever call it quits, will shake me to my very core: Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively. These two have managed to cheekily subvert expectations of how celeb couples should behave in the digital age with their adorably ironic tweets and posts in which they mercilessly eviscerate each other. I will cop to scrolling through gallery posts of their withering tweets and cut-out photos, even though I’ve barely seen anything Reynolds has done outside of Deadpool and only caught Lively in the odd episode of Gossip Girl and in The Age of Adaline. If these two were to break up it would be genuinely shocking, as there is the sense that their ironic mutual disparagement has seemingly insulated their relationship from the problems and pitfalls that beset the rest of us. It hasn’t, of course. Their relationship is as flawed as everyone else’s. Their social media output, while probably genuine, is still performative. It is not truly representative of who they are behind closed doors. But still, a split would be a shock and a shame.

The only potential solace in that event, might be that given the couple’s appetite for subversion and addiction/commitment to entertaining us, you could perhaps expect them to announce news of their break-up with the same wit and irony they have always deployed. Rather than a ‘conscious uncoupling’ or release of a limply worded statement, could we perhaps get a series of winking social posts in which they tear each other to shreds? That, I think, would ease the pain for all of us. Which is, of course, the most important concern here. It would be the least they could do.


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