October 17, 2018, 2:22

The Great Sadness of Ben Affleck |

The Great Sadness of Ben Affleck |

In March of 2016, Jennifer Garner had recently separated from her
husband of ten years, the actor and director Ben Affleck, when she was asked by Vanity Fair to comment on what the magazine referred to as her ex’s
“midlife-crisis tattoo”—a large, multicolored back piece of a phoenix
rising from the ashes. “You know what we would say in my hometown about
that? ‘Bless his heart,’ ” Garner said dryly, then added, “Am I the
ashes in this scenario? . . . I refuse to be the ashes.” When he was
approached about the tattoo that same month, Affleck insisted that it
was temporary. “It’s fake, for a movie,” he told Mario Lopez, a host of
the syndicated TV show “Extra.”

Affleck had been one of Hollywood’s marquee male celebrities for almost
two decades. We’d seen him as the up-and-coming Boston Ben, who won a
Best Original Screenplay Oscar, in 1997, alongside his friend Matt Damon,
for “Good Will Hunting”; as the slick, faux-Latin lover of the
early-aughts era, with Jennifer Lopez as his fiancée; as the
domesticated husband to Garner and the father to their three children;
and as the shaggy-bearded Best Picture Academy Award winner, for “Argo,”
in 2013. But in the wake of the split from Garner, a recalibration
appeared to be taking place. Affleck was older, suddenly flailing; and
his enormous, garish tattoo—whether real or not—was the least of it. It
was rumored that he had been unfaithful during the marriage. (His camp
denied this.) For a brief time, in a clichéd celebrity-breakup move, he
dated his and Garner’s kids’ onetime nanny. In late 2017, at the height
of the #MeToo movement, the actor was made to apologize for two
separate instances in which he groped women on-camera in the early
aughts. He also publicly distanced himself from Harvey Weinstein—a major
force behind his and Damon’s early success—though the actress and
activist Rose McGowan suggested that, contrary to Affleck’s denials, he
had known about Weinstein’s crimes and had protected him by remaining

Since the split, Affleck has been photographed more than once by the
paparazzi, looking despondent. The resulting pictures have become
reliable meme-fodder. A series of images of Affleck vaping in his car, his eyes shut in seeming resignation, made the rounds; so
did another picture,
of the actor smoking a cigarette, his face a mask of exhaustion. One
prankster overlaid an interview he gave alongside the actor Henry Cavill
about their movie, “Batman v Superman,” in which he sat silently as
Cavill spoke animatedly beside him, with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of
Silence,” and this became “Sad Affleck,” a popular YouTube video. Affleck’s was
the kind of middle-aged-white-male sadness that the Internet loves to
mock—a mocking that depends, simultaneously, on a complete rejection of
this sadness, as well as a hedging identification with it. These
depressed-Affleck images can arouse both amusement and a sense of
poignancy, a touch of Schadenfreude as well as something like sympathy.
“Same,” we might post on our social-media feeds, alongside a sad Ben
picture, with the quick meanness of the Internet that tends to flatten a
person’s story to a caricature, even if it is motivated by all the right
reasons in the world.

Last Saturday, almost exactly two years after Affleck denied its
existence, the back tattoo returned to haunt the headlines, itself a
phoenix rising from the ashes of gossip rags past. Affleck was on the beach in Honolulu, shooting the Netflix action movie
“Triple Frontier.” As his younger co-stars, the actors Garrett Hedlund
and Charlie Hunnam, wrestled in the surf like purebred puppies, Affleck,
who is forty-five, was photographed wading into the ocean carrying a
small red life preserver, running in the shallow waters, and towelling
off on the beach. The tattoo—so gargantuan that the bird’s tail found
itself dipping below the waistband of Affleck’s blue swim trunks—was
plainly visible. In one image, the actor stands alone, looking off into
the middle distance. His gut is pooching outward in a way that, in a
more enlightened country like, say, France, would perhaps be considered
virile, not unlike the lusty Gérard Depardieu in his prime but, in
fitness-fascist America, tends to read as Homer Simpsonesque. A blue-gray
towel is wrapped protectively around his midsection—recalling a shy teen
at the local pool. Staring at the water before him, his gaze obscure and
empty, Affleck is a defeated Roman senator, or, perhaps, the most
anti-Romantic version imaginable of Caspar David Friedrich’s 1818 “Wanderer in the Sea of Fog.”
The image suggests not just the fall of Affleck but the coming fall of
man. There is something about this exhausted father that
reflexively induces panic. We’ve been living in a world run by Afflecks
for so long, will we even know ourselves when they’re gone?

Sourse: newyorker.com

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