Bennifer Knows What We Want
Hollywood and I have something in common: We both love to root for an underdog. This time, the underdog is the internet's favorite chain-smoking, Dunkin Donuts-chugging, sad dad — Ben Affleck.
From the ashes of memedom he has risen, ascending into the good graces of both the internet and his ex-fiancée, Jennifer Lopez. Nearly 20 years after they invented the genre of celebrity portmanteaus, the two are together again. And just like the good 'ol days, Bennifer is giving us exactly what we want — PDA, throwbacks, and most importantly, the belief in a Hollywood fairytale.
Cynics will say it's not true love (though their relationships with each other's children suggest their love runs deeper than a PR stunt ever could), but regardless of what's real and what's a play for attention, I can't help but eat it all up — from the recreation of that infamous "Jenny from the Block" ass grab to J. Lo's "Ben" necklace to the professional photoshoot that culminated in the couple's Instagram debut. Bennifer, without a doubt, understood the assignment.
Of course, there's more to our obsession than the secondhand joy of seeing two hot people getting a second chance at love. Their reconciliation is all the sweeter because of Ben's comeback arc — a real hero's journey. In the beginning, Affleck was shiny and new, the gloriously hot playboy with Boston street cred and a heart of gold. He was lured into the spotlight as all famous people are, by a combination of ego and ambition — hubris, if you will — but that same spotlight ultimately led to the dissolution of his relationship with Lopez. The two canceled their wedding in 2003 citing invasive press as the reason.
Affleck married Jennifer Garner in 2005, and the couple had three children together. But things reached a low point for the actor when he and Garner began having marital problems in 2015. "What happened was that I started drinking more and more when my marriage was falling apart," he told the New York Times last year of his very public struggle with sobriety. "My drinking, of course, created more marital problems." Coupled with Sad Affleck, Batman's downfall, and the curious case of a "fake" back tattoo, you could say that Ben had reached rock bottom.
And then, a shift. During the pandemic, Affleck gave us humor, stepping in to fill the void left by human interaction. He began dating his Deep Water costar, Ana de Armas, and their puppy love was too cute to be true. I'll never forget checking in for daily Benana updates only to find photos of a cardboard cutout on Ben's lawn and scolding tweets about the couple's failure to quarantine from an Ana de Armas Updates Twitter account. I finally understood what people meant when they said "what a time to be alive." Though Benana didn't last, several of Ben's romantic grand gestures did.
As writer Emily Kirkpatrick pointed out on Twitter, Bennifer 2.0 isn't only playing their own greatest hits, but Benana's, too.
What Ben and Jen are giving most of all, though, is a feeling of comfort. Each PDA pap pic is a little nugget of nostalgia transporting us back in time to the sepia-toned world within the "Jenny from the Block" video — a safe space. There, on that yacht, sandwiched between Ben's white tank top and J.Lo's hot pink bikini, is where I feel most at ease — oblivious to the climate crisis, spirit yet unbroken by a megalomaniac president and a global pandemic. The year 2002 was all famous Jennifers and celebrity portmanteaus; low rise jeans and unironic slogan tees; a (relatively) free Britney.
The world was not a perfect place — not by a long shot. It seems that every day we learn of more disturbing behavior from that era, by the press, by evil and predatory men, by the U.S. government. But nearly 20 years before TikTok became synonymous with youth culture, I was a bright-eyed pre-teen whose idea of injustice was my mom's refusal to set foot in an Abercrombie & Fitch. Like your dad's "beach T-shirt" said, life was good. Many of us spent the last year thinking about places and times we'd want to return to — and Bennifer showed up to take us back.