Here are the facts: Taylor Swift, the famous pop singer, and Tom Hiddleston, the famous actor, recently spent some time together upon some oceanside rocks in Rhode Island. The pair (it is as yet unclear whether they are, indeed, a couple) climbed those rocks—she in a chunky sweater, a short skirt, and oxfords; he in black jeans, a button-down, and a quilted jacket. At one point, he gave her the jacket to wear, perhaps because of the sea-chilled air or perhaps for another reason. Together, the two also: sat on the rocks, kissed on the rocks, cuddled on the rocks, held hands on the rocks, and took at least one selfie on the rocks.
We—the small but significant slice of humanity who follow the comings and goings of celebrity’s artificial aristocracy—know all of these things because the seaside frolic was captured by another camera besides the smartphone’s: A paparazzo, or perhaps multiple paparazzi, documented the beach-rock frolic. And they did so so thoroughly that the U.K.’s Sun tabloid was able to include, in a story headlined “TINKER TAYLOR SNOGS A SPY,” 15 separate images of Tay and Tom, captioned with dreamy descriptions like “Tom Hiddleston looks reflects [sic] on the special moment leaning his head on new girlfriend Taylor Swift’s shoulder” and “Taylor Swift can’t let go of her new man Tom Hiddleston who has been strongly tipped to be the new Bond.”
But what, actually, was “revealed” with all this? Assertions of “romance” and “girlfriend” aside, all that is known for sure is that Tay and Tom once made out on some rocks. (And even that might be in doubt.) The paps might have captured an intimate moment shared between a new couple, as they learn about each other and delight in each other; they might have participated, on the other hand, in one of Hollywood’s oldest institutions: the staged romance. That discrepancy, coupled with the fact that pretty much all consumers of celebrity journalism understand the cynical mechanics of celebrity journalism, is perhaps why so many people’s initial reactions to the Sun’s new-couple news (Hiddleswift! The latest celebrity centaur!) was not surprise, or joy, or even horror, but rather ... skepticism. “‘Can we talk about those staged photos?’” the Daily Mail asked, simultaneously acknowledging and dismissing its rival’s scoop.