Florence Pugh and Zach Braff’s breakup sparks huge social media celebration

This week, the actress Florence Poug revealed in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar that she had recently broken up with her companion of four years, Scrubs star Zach Braff. The couple had kept their relationship reasonably low-key, aside from a few Instagram photos, largely thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown. They seem to have ended on good terms without drama and the couple will be promoting the film they made together, A good personwhen it comes out next year.

By the standards of celebrity romance scandals, the Braff/Pugh pairing was never exactly Kimye, and yet it drew intense and alarming responses from the media and from Pugh’s own fans.

To put it bluntly, the apparent majority of Florence Pugh fans didn’t like her with Zach Braff. They found the 21 year age gap between them troubling or even problematic. He was constantly portrayed as being out of his league or a drag on his flourishing career. Many victory gifs were shared on Twitter as the news broke, with the prevailing tone being one of giddy relief at the split. It was a curiously rare case where the internet lambasted the male side of a celebrity romance rather than the female (think of the likes of Olivia WildeAngelina Jolie and Zawe Ashton.)

This all came despite Pugh directly noting how invasive and often cruel coverage of their romance, both in the press and on the internet, has proven difficult to handle. In the Harper’s profile, she said they kept their breakup as private as possible because “it’s a relationship everyone has an opinion on. […] I don’t think people, just because they [celebrities] have this job, that every aspect of their life should be monitored and written down. We didn’t sign up for a reality TV show.”

Pugh is truly a celebrity of the moment, a public figure who seems comfortably straddling the line between high-profile actor acclaim and online buzz in a decidedly modern mold. She’s popular in Marvel movies as much as spiky indie dramas, and she’s extremely likable in interviews as well as on social media.

Her Instagram account, where she frequently films herself cooking, is very charming but also downright candid when needed. She spoke out against misogynists who shamed her for wearing a see-through dress to a fashion event, noting “how easy it is for men to totally destroy a woman’s body, publicly, proudly, for everyone to see.” She even used her page to respond to the almost dizzying theory that she broke up with Braff to date her friend, fellow actor and mid summer co-star Will Poulter.

In a instagram storyshe said, “Man. It’s getting kinda silly now […] I get that the nature of this job is that sometimes you get your privacy completely destroyed by the paparazzi, but making this stuff actually does more harm than good. Pugh’s latest comments regarding the invasive coverage, both from the media and from online viewers, mirror that open frustration. She has told us many times how much this kind of biased, cruel and sometimes conspiratorial reporting hurts her, and yet it never stops.

After calling “gossip channels that encourage members of the public to share private moments of famous people walking down the street” in the Harper’s interview, the somewhat infamous blind gossip account Deuxmoi responded via an Instagram story that “the ‘street’ is not a private place” and that “if you don’t want people to talk about your relationship, get a finsta”. It’s a predictable cold response to the conflicts of another human being, but it indicates the general attitude towards the way we talk about celebrities.

Fame demands an audience and an entire ecosystem is at stake to sustain it, from publicists to the press to social media. Celebrities, willingly or not, must operate by the rule that their immense privilege is rooted in others’ interest in them and that they must offer something in return. Many famous people offer details about their private lives as part of this, but it shouldn’t be mandatory. Pugh and Braff certainly didn’t spend their four-year relationship courting the press or using their partnership as a way to sell something. Such things don’t stop speculation, unfortunately. Surely, if someone openly and repeatedly says that the way her supposed fans are talking about her is upsetting, surely a little decorum is the least we can offer?

We’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss the main reason the Braff/Pugh romance seemed to annoy so many: the age gap. More than two decades separate the pair, and it has been read by many as a manifestation of power imbalance. Age-gap novels have always inspired a fervent level of discourse, sometimes for reasons of bad faith, but not always. It is true that young women are largely fetishized by older men. We’re all too used to seeing stories of guys in their 40s and 50s in Hollywood marrying women young enough to be their daughters. Now it’s an amazing shot more than anything. Some noted that Braff dated younger women, including Mandy Moore and Taylor Bagley, both of whom were under 22 when they met him.

Pugh took instagram in a video post in April 2020 to speak out about how her comment sections were inundated with harassment and abuse towards herself and Braff due to their age gap. Many comments called Braff a predator and accused him of somehow getting Pugh to be his girlfriend. “I’m 24. I don’t need you to tell me who I should and shouldn’t love, and I’ll never tell anyone in my life that they can and can’t love,” he said. she declared.

No one is forced to like a certain celebrity. You’re free to be a hater if you want to, though the intensity with which Pugh’s self-proclaimed fans denied his own personality, in terms of relationship choices, was deeply telling. Unfortunately, we can never stop the spread of misinformation or conspiratorial gossip, but we can note how it hurts those in its crossfire.

Much of the hatred for Florence Pugh’s relationship choices is not rooted in any real concern or celebration of Pugh, but in an active denial of her ability to make her own choices. Disliking a celebrity’s partner is not the same as bulldozing her own pleas to be left alone in favor of continued attacks and accusations that she is the victim of a predator. We’ve seen how this line of thinking ends, as evidenced by the macabre conspiracies that plagued Olivia Wilde and Harry Styles, and Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

In the Harper’s piece, Pugh said, “I feel like I’m getting into that rhythm of my career now where I know what I can take, what I give, and what I won’t take anymore.” She’s clearly a celebrity with a keen awareness of what she wants, both professionally and personally, and she’s not afraid to call out what she finds intrusive or unpleasant. Let’s hope the internet follows suit. Alas, that sounds a little too optimistic. After all, if people were this vicious with her last relationship, what’s stopping them from continuing the pattern when she’s dating someone else?

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