Bennifer 2.0 is a banner moment for fans – and a chance to leave behind the toxicity of the Noughties, writes Clémence Michallon
Jennifer Lopez en Ben Affleck are testing us. The couple’s reunion, now all but confirmed by Lopez herself in a sweltering Instagram post, is a banner moment for celebrity culture. It’s a magnifying glass, emphasising the strange ways in which we collectively feast on A-list romances. They kiss. We gawk. Cue a number of tabloid stories, many of them troublesome.
Up until recently, the existence of Bennifer 2.0 was mainly backed up by paparazzi photos of them kissing over dinner and elusive answers to questions about a possible romance. But over the weekend, J-Lo, in an Instagram post marking her own 52nd birthday, shared a photo of herself kissing Ben Affleck. Wel, she didn’t explicitly say it was Ben Affleck. Nor did she tag him. But we have eyes. We know what Ben Affleck looks like. There’s little mystery as to which man has his arms tightly wrapped around J-Lo’s shoulders in that unabashedly sexy, absolutely perfect couple photo.
And with the image came the chatter. Credit where it is due: most of the reactions I’ve seen on social media have been quite lovely. 'Ek is 1000% positive I’m WAY too invested in bennifer 2.0 but I can’t help but LOVE this,” wrote one Twitter user. “BENNIFER [IS] MY RELIGION,”Het nog een geskryf. And my favourite: “Bennifer is IG official. My soul is [string of chaotic but enthusiastic emoji].”
J-Lo and Affleck have given us a perfectly timed gift (not that they owed it to us or that we did anything to deserve it, but they did anyway). Their reunion comes amid a wave of deep cultural nostalgia for the Noughties, the decade of their original romance. (Have you seen the number of halter tops on the street lately? As a middle-aged Millennial, I’ve never felt so blessed.)
This could all have been very fun and sweet, but alas, sexism has reared its ugly head, as it often does whenever women do, wel, anything. Jennifer Lopez isn’t the first woman Ben Affleck has ever been involved with. Shocking, Ek weet, for a 48-year-old Hollywood star. Affleck, in werklikheid, used to be married to fellow Hollywood star Jennifer Garner, with whom he has three children.
Affleck and Garner split in 2015 and finalised their divorce three years later. Affleck has referred to the separation as “the biggest regret of [his life]”. He once told Die New York Times that his drinking created “marital problems” with Garner, toevoeging: “It’s not particularly healthy for me to obsess over the failures – the relapses – and beat myself up. I have certainly made mistakes. I have certainly done things that I regret. But you’ve got to pick yourself up, learn from it, learn some more, try to move forward.”
Kortom, there’s a lot of history here, and some painful memories too. Treading lightly would be appropriate. Remembering that celebrities are people would be the preferred course of action. Ongelukkig, not all the discourse surrounding Affleck, Lopez, and Garner has lived up to that ideal.
Jameela Jamil voiced her concern on Twitter over the weekend, writing she was “ABSOLUTELY not here for the Jennifer Garner comparison to JLo, with paparazzi pics of her working out, put right next to glamorous social media photos of JLo”. “It’s not the Nineties,”Het sy bygevoeg. “We aren’t still pitting women against women over a guy… ESP when only one of them wants him.”
When I first read Jamil’s tweet, I thought she was referring to literal, side-by-side comparisons of Lopez and Garner, with Lopez – based on Jamil’s description – in glamorous outfits and Garner in workout gear. After doing more research, I realised that what Jamil is referring to is slightly more subtle, but perhaps even more insidious.
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Search Jennifer Garner’s name right now and you’ll see the actor… living her life. As far as I can tell, she’s been shopping for flowers and – yes – exercising. Those outings were caught on camera by various paparazzi. In the narrative built around those images, all of Garner’s activities have been examined as a background of sorts to Affleck and Lopez’s romance. She’s not just shopping and working out. She’s doing those things while her famous ex gets back together with his own famous ex, and apparently, there’s a difference.
Suddenly, Jennifer Garner isn’t just Jennifer Garner living her life. She’s viewed first and foremost as her ex’s ex. It’s always a shame to define a woman through the men in her life, and it’s especially a shame when the woman in question happens to be Jennifer Garner, a Golden Globe winner and multi-Emmy-award nominee who gave us a decade-defining performance in 13 Going on 30. She deserves better. Affleck and Lopez do too.
This is a throwback to another defining era in contemporary celebrity culture: the great Team Jen vs Team Angelina debacle of the mid-2000s. Here’s what happened: Brad Pitt was married to Jennifer Aniston, until he wasn’t. They split in 2005 after five years of marriage. Pitt then started dating, and eventually married, his Mr & MrsSmith co-star Angelina Jolie. What ensued was what Jezebel rightfully described as one of the most overblown celebrity “feuds” of the decade, tabloid covers decrying alleged “mind games” and “cruel lies” to boot. For years, we reduced two unbelievably talented, successful and famous women with successful careers in one of the most cutthroat industries in the world, to their rapport with a single man. It was gross then; it’s gross now.
Listen. I love gossip and drama as much as the next person, so far be it from me to cast the first stone here. But celebrity culture is undergoing a (slow, painful) reckoning. We’re taking a second look at the things we said, read, and believed 20 jare terug. Framing Britney Spears, die New York Times’s Emmy-nominated documentary, helped pave the way to a healthy re-examination of the ways we view celebrity. It’s not a shield that protects people from pain – far from it. And since we tend to project onto celebrities the thoughts we hold about ourselves, it might be a good idea to look inwards and avoid repeating past mistakes.
Affleck himself has denounced the past treatment of Lopez during their initial relationship. “People were so f***ing mean about her,” he said in January this year. “Sexist, racist, ugly, vicious s*** was written about her in ways that if you wrote it now, you would literally be fired for saying those things you said. Now she’s lionised and respected for the work she did, where she came from, what she’s accomplished, as well she f***ing should be.”
The man has a point. It’s not 2005 anymore. I want to believe we can do better this time around. And not to brag, but I think Megan Fox agrees with me: when her own ex-husband Brian Austin Green shared a photo of himself with his girlfriend Sharna Burgess on Instagram, saam met die onderskrif: “It’s been a really long time since I’ve been with someone I can truly share life with”, Fox did not rise to the bait. In plaas daarvan, she wrote that she was “grateful for Sharna”, along with a purple heart emoji. Eenvoudig, powerful, en, dare I say, classy. This is the energy I hope we embrace going forward.
It’s 2021. If we’re going to revisit the trends of two decades ago, we get to pick which ones. Yes to halter tops. No to toxicity.