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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Make-believe or real, it's a different world

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Between make-believe and real life there is celebrity culture, the bridge that connects the stars to the star-struck while keeping them at arm's length, a roped off space where the famous meet the anonymous almost halfway, waving from the red carpet or recycling anecdotes on chat shows.

Ironically the pervasiveness of celebrity culture has spawned a profession that exists solely to prey on celebrities, the paparazzi.

Star-struck we may be, but we savour those unscripted, un-made-up moments when stars give us a glimpse of the ordinary human beings they were before the transformative power of celebrity kicked in.

Most paparazzi photos simply remind us that Hollywood is a fantasy factory - John Travolta on the beach with a paunch and without his hairpiece, Tom Cruise without his platform shoes encountering the vertically unchallenged, the sex symbol wallowing in the surf in an ill-advised swimsuit that reveals how much her scene-stealing breasts owe to the wardrobe department.

The Kristen Stewart drama is something else altogether. The paparazzi shots of her cheating on her screen and real-life lover expose the distance between make believe and reality which many fans prefer to ignore or deny.

A quick update for those who have spent the last few years living in a subterranean honeycomb of cells in the oil-rich Russian province of Tatarstan: the Twilight series consists of four novels about teenage vampires; the Twilight Saga is a series of films based on those novels, the fifth and final of which will be released in November. The movies have grossed $2.4 billion.

Stewart plays Bella, an all-American girl who's in love with a werewolf, but even more in love with a vampire. (I know teenage girls are supposed to have a weakness for bad boys, but a werewolf and a vampire? What's wrong with graffiti artists and boy racers?) The vampire is played by Robert Pattinson, Stewart's real-life partner.

On July 17, a photographer followed Stewart, 22, from their house to a rendezvous with Rupert Sanders, 41, the married father of two who directed her latest film. They proceeded to pash furiously while the photographer clicked away, no doubt ecstatically because in paparazzi terms this was like the Holy Grail and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow rolled into one.

The photos appeared in a US magazine, and all concerned found themselves in a world of pain. Stewart was dubbed a "trampire", and barely a day passes without some new development, usually at odds with the previous day's news flash.

Pattinson is either heartbroken or whooping it up in a California bar in the company of what an onlooker described as "panty droppers."

He's either in seclusion, whereabouts unknown, or hanging out at Reese Witherspoon's ranch.

He's either refusing to pick up the phone when Stewart rings, or drunk-dialling her.

While neither party is talking, unnamed "sources" have plenty to say on their behalf.

Thus Pattinson's drunken calls are apparently punctuated by long silences because "there's not a lot to talk about". Either that or he'd popped out for another bottle of vodka.

With exquisite timing, celebrity culture's house magazine Vanity Fair rolled out a Kristen Stewart cover story in which sycophantic drivel - "so rarely do we witness a young actor who wants to burn, burn, burn" - jostles with unintentional hilarity.

We learn that Stewart is "definitely a director's actress; she loves them and vice versa."

The director of the most recent Twilight movie says she has "that sense of danger, and the sense that you'll always be surprised".

Strange that Pattinson, whose stock in trade is brooding sensitivity, didn't pick that up.

Writer and subject are besieged by paparazzi at a Parisian restaurant. "Hours later, when we finally made our respective getaways, the paparazzi were still waiting for their $50,000 candids. (Make that $75,000 if they get her angry, and $100,000 if they get the prize: a shot of her and Pattinson.)"

While the PR machines spin away like rival political campaigns, the entertainment industry waits to see what effect this will have on the Twilight franchise.

Can Robert find it in his heart to forgive and forget so they can promote the last instalment as a couple, or is this, like, for real?

Celebrity culture is also the entertainment industry's marketing arm and has traditionally operated on the principle that there's no such thing as bad publicity. We're about to find out if that's true.

For fans who feel they have a stake in this relationship, Stewart's casual repudiation of both it and the Twilight narrative will be hard to swallow. Instead of bridging the gap between make-believe and real life, in this instance celebrity culture has emphasised it.

- NZ Herald

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