Bennifer 2.0 Feels Entirely Staged – But Wasn’t It Always?

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez's reunion has wound back the clock to 2002.

The 2000s are back, baby – and never more powerfully or unexpectedly so than in the resurgence of Bennifer, aka the iconic coupling of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. While the rest of us sit at home and rewatch The Hills and Gossip Girl (or their respective reboots), the superstars who single-handedly popularised the celebrity couple portmanteau have rekindled their romance – and the publicity extravaganza that has always surrounded it.

For months, there’s been speculation about Ben and Jen’s reunion – complete with plenty of paparazzi shots reminiscent of scenes from J.Lo’s 2002 hit “Jenny From the Block” music video. So much so, that some speculated they are actually remaking the music video shot-for-shot in honour of the song’s upcoming 20th anniversary.

Over, the weekend, such theories became more prescient than ever, as not only did J.Lo make the romance Instagram official by posting a pash pic slightly hidden in a photo dump, but more pap photos emerged of Bennifer on what appears to be a yacht, with Ben’s hand on J.Lo’s butt in a pose that is almost exactly the same as the most iconic shot from “Jenny From the Block”.

It’s all so on the nose that it feels like there’s no way it’s not deliberate. Are they actually recreating “Jenny From the Block”? Clearly – but whether it’s for an official video or just one big public in-joke is unclear. Is it all just a publicity stunt? Undoubtedly, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also “real”.

In a way, the very speculation about why they’re doing this is the most nostalgic part of it all, and adds to the meta layers – of which there are many.

Back in 2002, there were also months of rumours about Ben and Jen dating. They were papped in various locations, looking all loved-up and coupley. When “Jenny From the Block” finally dropped, it turned out all those pap shots were actually them shooting the music video, which itself was about the paparazzi following them and taking those photos. Much of the video is shot from the perspective of the paparazzi. There’s one moment where the two of them look at a magazine featuring a pap shot of them kissing, and then recreate the kiss as the camera – the “paparazzi” – captures it all.

The fact that this video was both their official confirmation that they were a couple while simultaneously fuelling speculation that everything was staged helped to turn public interest in them as a couple up to 100 (and then some). They were experts at capturing – and maintaining – our attention. They showed off so much that theories persisted that their relationship was all one big publicity stunt. And we willingly gave them that publicity.

Ben and Jen soon dominated pop culture conversations, doing joint interviews in which they talked about their love story and their engagement, walking every red carpet dressed to perfection and exchanging heart eyes, and generally becoming the force of nature that was the original “Bennifer”.

But when Ben appeared as Jennifer’s devotee and number one arse enthusiast in “Jenny from the Block”, there were a lot of murmurings that he was too good for her, that she was ruining his image, and that he was debasing herself for the sake of publicity. He was an A-list actor, after all, while she was a pop star with a string of less-than-Oscar-worthy acting credits.

While Ben helped “legitimise” Jennifer, she made him more glamorous and popular. Together, Bennifer became something you couldn’t escape. And something that they couldn’t either, apparently – they called off their wedding just before it was due to take place, citing “excessive media attention”.

It makes it all the more fascinating that they’re diving right back into stoking that media attention in their reunion. A lot has changed since 2002, especially in how we perceive and navigate celebrity and celebrity relationships. So while history quite literally repeating itself through the rumours, the relationship, the pap shots, and obvious nods to “Jenny from the Block”, there’s now a sense that they – and we, the audience – are very much in on the joke. Bennifer are doing what they do best – entertaining us while putting themselves front and centre of all our attention.

But the narrative has changed in other ways, too. No longer is Ben “too good” for J.Lo — after what seems to have been a rough time in both his personal and professional life in recent years, there are now shouts that she can do better, and tongue-in-cheek advice on social media to avoid following J.Lo’s lead and forget about texting your ex just because of pandemic-induced loneliness. (Or horniness.)

Like Bennifer 1.0, Bennifer 2.0 is already working its wonders. People are talking about Ben’s glow-up more than his “failures” and transgressions, and crucially, people are talking about both of them more than anyone has in years.

Whether they’re playing us, playing with us, or simply playing with each other, there’s something reassuring in Bennifer 2.0. It could be the idea of second chances and redemption. It could be that it reminds us of a “simpler” time (that wasn’t actually at all – just different).

But really, it could just be that it’s nice to think and talk about a larger-than-life, silly celebrity story that ultimately doesn’t matter, but is a hell of a lot of fun to focus on. The value in that cannot be overstated.

So cheers, Bennifer. Let’s party like it’s 2002.

This is an opinion piece written by Jenna Guillaume, an entertainment journalist and author of YA rom-coms What I Like About Me and You Were Made For Me. Follow her at @jennaguillaume.

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