America is captivated by the recent recoupling of Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, whose tabloid romance crashed and burned in the early days of this century. After splitting up with other high-profile celebrities, most recently Alex Rodriguez and Ana de Armas, they’re back together, almost 20 years later, having weathered the highs and lows of adult life.
Emily Jashinsky: Madeline, is nostalgia alone responsible for the level of excitement here? Affleck is sort of famously troubled and Jennifer just got out of an engagement with A-Rod. It seems on paper like they might not be making the best decision but I honestly can’t get enough of it.
Madeline Osburn: In light of this news, I just revisited J.Lo’s “Jenny from the Block” music video featuring Ben Affleck and it not only holds up, but makes me long for the simpler times of the early 2000s. In the same way that people freak out any time Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt are even in the same room, there is something we love about Bennifer and the relationships that kicked off an era of paparazzi and celebrity culture.
EJ: What an iconic video. I think there’s always been something amusingly strange about this pairing, which fueled the tabloid intrigue. It wasn’t just that both of them were A-listers. They seem so different, she’s a put-together queen of pop and he’s brooding and troubled and cinematic. To your point, now that they’re together, it’s interesting to take stock of how they’ve grown separately and how we’ve grown as a culture. J-Lo is like one half of the country who’s done really well, and Ben is like the other half that’s had a really tough millennium. She’s been through some stuff, but is ageless as ever. He’s weathered.
Our collective intrigue seems kinder now, but it’s like we had to go through the jungle of the Perez Hilton era to get there. I don’t know if that’s better or worse.
MO: The overall tone does seem kinder, even though we are getting the exact same kind of intrusive paparazzi shots of Ben ripping cigs that we were 20 years ago. But I don’t think it’s actually kinder as much as it is that we are just better at framing our celebrities as heroes and villains. This is 100 percent thanks to our fawning entertainment media industry, which I know we both always blame for all of our pop culture media problems, but’s true here too.
— Page Six (@PageSix) May 26, 2021
The media loves J-Lo and so collectively, we love J-Lo. In a ranking of untouchable or uncancelable celebrities, I would put her up there with Beyonce. The same is true for Ben Affleck. His horrible and very public divorce with Jennifer Garner, who is also beloved, solidified his casting in the media as a brooding and troubled antagonist. It’s why he’s such a great meme. Now that they are an item, it will be interesting to watch the media coverage that follows.
I like your metaphor that half the country is J-Lo and the other half is Ben, but they are back together, and I don’t see the same happening for the two very different Americas that have emerged from the last 20 years.
EJ: I feel like people actually don’t like Ben? His relationship with Ana de Armas was the subject of endless mockery. It really annoyed some people. He also seems to have badly hurt Jennifer Garner, which was tragic to watch unfold in public. But, then again, everyone loves his back tattoo. Maybe America is Ben Affleck’s back phoenix.
We’re torturing the metaphor. I guess it’s just been interesting to watch these two capitalize on the internet’s ability to facilitate collective nostalgia. People love to do the “back when I was young” thing, but now millennials get to do it together on social media, enjoying their new status as the grizzled veterans of pop culture while Gen Z charts its own, weird path. I’d probably rather go back to the days when these two were first together than keep slogging through the smartphone era, but for them, it’s probably wonderful to rekindle their romance through the lens of a much gentler press.
MO: Yeah, I didn’t mean to say the same is true that Ben is universally loved, but that the same is true that the media doesn’t like Ben and so we don’t like Ben. I think that’s all I have to say. Except I can’t believe he kept the blingy watch she gave him 20 years ago and IMMEDIATELY busted that thing out for his Miami sleepover.
EJ: We should get back to work.