Low-rise jeans are cool. The cicada brood is emerging from the ground in the mid-Atlantic. Tim Tebow is being signed. And “Bennifer,” the hottest celebrity portmanteau, is making tabloid headlines. No, the year is not 2004, though you’d be forgiven for assuming so. It’s 2021.
As with any cultural phenomenon — especially a celebrity one — the Bennifer discourse says far more about us than it does about them.
But where low-rise jeans have drawn ire from the majority of the Very Online millennials who came of age during the aughts and lived through its various fashion-based traumas, Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck’s surprise reunion — they hung out at her house in Los Angeles! They went on a weeklong getaway to Montana! — has mostly been met with wry delight.
“Spring is sprung and Bennifer is back baby,” tweeted British author Bolu Babalola.
“If Tebow is back and Bennifer is too, can I be 21 again?” quipped ESPN host Dianna Russini.
Even Matt Damon is on board.
Millennials in particular seem primed to be maximally entertained by the thought experiment of a time loop triggered by Affleck and Lopez. Consider the following tweets:
Nearly two decades later, we have renegotiated our collective relationship with celebrity gossip.
Since Bennifer 1.0, we’ve experienced two devastating financial crises, interminable wars, a resurgence of white nationalism, four years of Donald Trump, and a global pandemic. As we re-emerge from our year of isolation and do the stilted, often painful work of reintegrating into society and surveying the catastrophic losses we’ve all endured, who can blame us for being drawn to the fantasy of turning back the clock?
As with any cultural phenomenon — especially a celebrity one — the Bennifer discourse says far more about us than it does about them. Who cares if their reunion is nothing more than a carefully plotted PR stunt in the wake of the implosion of Lopez’s engagement to Alex Rodriguez, involving DMs and a Bravo star? In the year of our Lord 2021, is there anything we need more than a harmless distraction?
Personally, I’d rather discuss the resurgence of Bennifer (and debate whether we should go with “Jenjamin” this time around) than think about most other topics discussed ad nauseam on the internet. It’s far less fun to absorb the fact that two New York City mayoral candidates think that you can buy a house in Brooklyn for under $100,000, or viciously debate the merits of that Liz Bruenig op-ed about young motherhood, or become enraged (yet again!) that a major publication is shaming women who gained weight during a global pandemic.
Twitter is, by and large, a hellscape where nuance goes to die. If we’re going to make sweeping statements, at least let them be innocuous and about mega-wealthy celebrities who may or may not be engaging in classic rebounding-with-an-ex behavior.
From a publicity perspective, it makes sense that Affleck and Lopez — and their respective teams — might find it mutually beneficial to have stories in the media about their potentially steamy reunion. And they’re far more flattering than stories about A-Rod and a certain “Southern Charm” star sending each other messages, or stories about Affleck’s calculated paparazzi-bait dog walks with ex-girlfriend Ana de Armas.
In the year of our lord 2021, is there anything we need more than a harmless distraction?
After all, in the early aughts, Affleck and Lopez were thriving. (I’d argue that Lopez never stopped thriving, but that’s a stan piece for another day.) This was the “Jenny From the Block” and “The Wedding Planner” era; the golden age in which Affleck was riding the wave of “Pearl Harbor" glory and somehow got named the “Sexiest Man Alive.” After meeting on the set of soon-to-be-panned 2003 film “Gigli,” their coupledom was catnip for the press and public, spawning cover stories with headlines like “J.Lo and Ben Affleck’s Red-Hot Romance.” And those of us who consume tabloid culture rather than create it ate the gossip right up.
Now, nearly two decades later, we have renegotiated our collective relationship with celebrity gossip and are far more attuned to its more racist and sexist elements. We are also no longer beholden to a media landscape that can determine One Big Story.
Instead, for better or worse (probably both), we are inundated with a constant onslaught of news from a dizzying variety of sources — and more often than not, that news seems unbearably depressing. To look back at the Bennifer craze is to wistfully think about a time when a celebrity couple could capture the nation’s imagination and hold onto it for an extended period of time.
How sweet it might be if we could do it all over again — but this time better. Bennifer forever.