Jennifer Lopez is now single, having split with fiancé Alex Rodriguez in a typically Lopez-esque act of narrative control. So is Ben Affleck, following a paparazzi-friendly relationship with Ana de Armas. Fans and foes of both celebrities immediately started scheming a reunion for the pair who helped to define the 21st-century celebrity power couple. Little did we know that it would actually happen. OK, it hasn’t been confirmed. All we have seen so far are images that reveal a meeting of sorts. On the surface, it seems to be a casual encounter between old friends, but it’s hard not to dive straight into star studies 101 whenever these two are in close proximity of one another. These are seasoned celebrities who have both played the fame game to prime level, together and separately. Lopez is the diva who sang for the President, pole-danced at the Super Bowl, and has her fingers in countless pies across the spectrum of the entertainment industry. Affleck is the Oscar-winning actor-director with the torrid public life who’s currently on his second major comeback with a slew of projects on the horizon. A glamorous reunion doesn’t seem all that unfeasible. Stranger things have happened this past year.
There was always something about Lopez and Affleck that just made sense in pure Hollywood terms. They were hot, successful, ambitious, enthusiastic with public affection, and always doing something worth talking about. The most interesting celebrity couples are typically those where both individuals are on equal levels of power. There are exceptions - hello, TomKat - but generally speaking, fans like to see that balance, whether it’s sullen indie power-players, hilarious comedy favorites, or earth-shaking mega-forces. Bennifer Part One were always that last one, with that appealing mix of glamor and fantasy that never felt too out of this world. There’s nothing remotely relatable about either, even as both played up their humble roots, but the pairing lined up with a lot of our expectations about both celebrities as well as their images. Lopez marrying one of her no-name dancers never made sense. Ben Affleck? A genius choice.
A lot of the nostalgia for this coupling, however, relies on a simplified memory of their era. It’s easy to forget now but for a while, Bennifer were loathed, the ultimate stuck-up public joke who everyone seemed to be rooting against. Moreover, it was Lopez who often faced the brunt of the media’s ire. She was heavily exoticized in tabloid headlines that positioned her as the ‘Latina babe’ who dated rappers and broke multiple men’s hearts before snagging herself a nice all-American (read: white) boy. She was mocked for writing ‘sickening’ songs about Affleck and his appearance in the video for ‘Jenny from the Block’, an obvious play on their dual statuses as media magnets, was slammed as self-indulgent. For a while, she was blamed for Affleck’s sinking career, facing much of the same misogyny and racism that Yoko Ono dealt with while with John Lennon. She was seen as the frivolous diva singer dragging the poor Oscar-winner into the depths of movie mediocrity (never mind that he was earning tens of millions with every role, and she had her own share of acclaimed acting roles under her belt.) When the pair split, mere days before their scheduled wedding, there was almost a sense of relief among the tabloids. Even Affleck made the subject into a gag when he hosted SNL. Lopez, meanwhile, just got on with things, committing herself to lots of jobs and staying in the A-List circle that she’s inhabited well into the 2020s. Really, the one-two-three punch of Gigli, Jersey Girl, and the split seemed to hurt him more than Lopez.
Bennifer Part Two, Affleck’s marriage to Jennifer Garner, was positioned as a more stabilizing force than what he had with Lopez, another fraught assumption rooted in some nasty ideas about her gender and race. Garner was seen as the girl you could take home to your mother in a way Lopez never was when engaged to Affleck. That’s not to say that this relationship was somehow devoid of the media machinations of a power couple. Au contraire. Garner may have been as good at it as Lopez, albeit with very different aims. Affleck and Garner may have been a power couple, but the dynamics were more skewed. Garner deliberately took a step away from her career to be a mother while Affleck mounted his comeback as an acclaimed director. Garner seemed more like the wife than the other side of the coin. I don’t say this to knock her choices or claim she’s somehow lesser than what Lopez was doing. It’s more to highlight how much the second Bennifer highlighted the media’s often ludicrous demands for the first pairing, and how often their criticisms were reliant on sniping at a Latina woman who played up her glamor and never once considered being a plus one to any man. Despite our penchant for power couples, the societal preference for demure women prevails.
So, why are people so excited about the mere possibility of an original flavor Bennifer reunion? Do they even make sense together in 2021? Lopez is at levels of popularity and legitimacy that she hasn’t scaled in years, thanks to the success of Hustlers and multiple other ventures. Affleck’s back to worth behind and in front of the camera, as well as a future return to the part of Batman. They’re also both coming off of very different relationships. With de Armas, a younger rising star whose jump into the mainstream was delayed by COVID but didn’t stop either of them from some delightfully cheesy paparazzi pandering. For Lopez, her engagement to Alex Rodriguez was positioned as the beginning of a new era of power couple ability. They weren’t just hugely famous people in love: they were business partners with lofty long-term plans dependent on their combined forces. This shift is partly due to the change in celebrity we’ve experienced over the past decade or so, post-Goop, wherein every major star seems keen to refashion themselves as a side-hustle juggling entrepreneur, but it’s also par for the course for Lopez. Her longevity is driven by her ability to do and try everything, along with her celebrated workaholic tendencies. One of the reasons she weathered the Bennifer split more effectively than Affleck, despite bearing the brunt of so much ire, is that she refused to stop.
I think people like the idea of a Bennifer rematch more than the reality. It reminds me of those Titanic fans who not so secretly hope that Leonardo Di Caprio will eventually stop habitually dating 21-year-old models when he’s an old man and settle down with Kate Winslet. There’s a neatness to these narratives that’s easily consumed in times of precarity and media strife. We’re nostalgic for everything else so why not Bennifer? As most celebrity couples either shy away from the press or maintain strict control over their images via social media, gossip nerds crave the unfettered access and performativity of old-school celebrity, or, at least, pre-MySpace changes.
Celebrity has changed so much over the course of this brief century, to the point where we think of Bennifer as a phenomenon of another time. Theirs was a pairing for the tabloid age, for a time when the A-List prevailed and magazines were the go-to source for all things fame. It seemed almost novel to many when Affleck appeared in Lopez’s music video, playing up and parodying public ideas of their romance. They obviously weren’t the first to do this but they were famous enough, savvy enough, and there at the right time for these antics to wholly saturate the media. You couldn’t do that now, not when our attentions are so divided.
I’m not sure that a reunion would be all we dreamed of. Both are older and have worked hard to keep a tight grip on the reins of their images. They’ve got kids and exes and the game is just different now. For all of the giddiness that Bennifer would bring, it’s hard to deny that the scrutiny would be just as harsh as it was all those years ago, and maybe even more. The stakes are higher now, as are the expectations, and frankly, neither of them needs that kind of crap. But never fear, gossip hounds. We shall always have ‘Jenny from the Block.’ And, uh, Gigli.
Header Image Source: Getty Images (via Chris Weeks // FilmMagic)