June 30, 2005
Thy Name Is Too Wrong
Love is a beautiful thing. That is, unless it happens to a couple of excessively famous people whose affair we can no longer stand.
Even if they get married, a decent hyphenated name (as in Jackie Joyner-Kersee) will not do. That's where the "hyphe-mate" comes in, a shorthand way of saying, "No matter how gleeful you are about each other, your union annoys us." Instead of a respectable couple, like say Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, we think of you more as a product, and not a product we'd want. A "skort" comes to mind, that hideous garment that's part skirt, part shorts, all wrong.
I'm talking about Bennifer (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez), Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) and the latest of the hyphemates, TomKat (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes).
When a famous coupling becomes a two-headed beast, flashing its fangs on every red carpet from Burbank to Berlin, we get whipped into a froth, first of fascination, then irritation. With one cleverly fashioned mishmash of first names, we can have a laugh while also taking the couple down a peg, punishing them for their excessive PDA, Public Displays of Affection.
Okay, Brangelina may not have brought this on itself in any obvious way, but it must have done something; The Brangelina Monster stomps on nearly every conversation and magazine cover, eating cars and chewing up every other story on the face of the earth as it gains steam, pausing briefly to pose for a 58-page spread in "W Magazine" or yap with Diane Sawyer.
Bennifer is the most influential of the hyphemates. It was all up in our grills, shiny and slicked back, riding by us in a convertible Bentley, leaving nothing but exhaust fumes and regret. That's the first couple moniker I remember, because necessity is the mother of invention, and someone had to come up with a fast way to demean and discredit that entire fiasco before it winked at us with its real mink false eyelashes and we internally combusted.
Think about it, any couple we respect, we let them have their own first names. We don't call our parents, "Momdy." Eternal lovers Romeo and Juliet are not referred to as "Juleo" or "Romiet," because we perceive them as legit. In Hebrew school, I don't remember learning about "Eve-dam."
Let's talk about TomKat, maybe the most deserving of their demeaning nickname. Not only has the culture come together to mock the couple, 63 percent of People Magazine readers don't even believe they even are a couple. They called a press conference just to announce their engagement.
Now let's say we weren't talking about celebrities, but friends of yours. You know exactly the type.
Back in high school, this was the couple that was always sucking face by the lockers, grossing you out. This is the couple that sent out joint holiday cards -- when they were 19. You've gone on a double date with this couple, only to watch them paw each other and gaze into each other's eyes until you felt horribly uncomfortable. You have known a TomKat. And TomKats don't have nine lives. Or even one-year anniversaries.
About a decade ago, I was an intern at a small newspaper when Valentine's Day hit. The receptionist's boyfriend came waltzing in, a red bicycle in hand, which was decorated with a giant red bow. All I got was a freakin' David Sedaris book, which suddenly seemed to suggest that this receptionist was experiencing a deeper, more meaningful relationship.
I'll never forget this, only because she and bicycle guy broke up a month later, whereas I stayed with the book guy for several years. That was when I realized there may be a correlation, not a perfect one but a good one nonetheless: Couples that have to let you know how happy they are, couples that insist on the spotlight -- whether at a press conference or in your living room -- may be doomed.
Perhaps the real thing is quieter, more private. It's too sacred to be portrayed in a music video or displayed on "Oprah."
Sure, it was probably clever tabloid reporters who coined these hyphemates, but these words have been universally embraced for a reason. PDA was yucky in high school, and I guess we don't like it any better now. It leads to the premature merging of two into one, when two great tastes don't taste great together, when mustard and mayonnaise become one unholy squeeze tube of Dijonnaise, a condiment, I am betting, that will not be celebrating it's golden 50th.Teresa Strasser is an Emmy Award and L.A. Press Club-winning writer. She's on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com