Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez attend the 75th Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater on March 23, 2003 in Hollywood, California.
©KEVIN WINTER / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP
The love story craze of summer 2021 tells a lot about our relationship with fame, media and social networks.
Atlantico: The couple Bennifer, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, very prominent in the early 2000s, have reformed, causing great excitement. Why does it react so much?
Jamil Dakhlia: The answer is quite dense from a celebrity culture standpoint. Already, there is an aspect of relaunching their respective careers. This does not mean that their careers were declining but when two celebrities form a couple, it has a multiplier effect on their notoriety and it can boost their careers.
The fact that there is an interest or a curiosity comes to my mind because it brings the myth of the famous couple up to date. We see a reunion after 20 years, which is not so common. What we see in the photos that have circulated, calculated, is that time does not pass. There is the feeling of a time loop. It sends the message that they haven’t aged, that they are replaying the exact same story. So that anchors the story in something mythological. Mythical time is suspended or circular and they are part of this Hollywood mythology which plays out in full force. Behind that, what pleases is undoubtedly related to this stainless character which constitutes, in a certain way, the coronation of generation X. These individuals are currently around 50 years old and see that they can rebuild their lives, including with their former lovers, which opens up incredible prospects. Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck are also around 50 years old, their image is almost intact, they can fall in love again as on the first day, it’s almost the fountain of youth. There may also be a nostalgia for what happened 20 years ago.
What strikes me is that it works so much and so quickly all over the world. This means their stardom capital has not dulled too much and begged to be reactivated. I really think starting over surprises everyone. If Jennifer Lopez had started a relationship with a celebrity it would have interested but this is the same as 20 years ago and it is rarer. We knew the couples who make and break each other routinely. There, the temporality is different.
To have the feeling that they have not changed while the world has drastically changed for them, why does that not create a shift rather than a fascination?
Because it is a reassuring feeling in reality. Celebrities are like symbolic landmarks. There, they give us to see that nothing is moving or that everything can start again. This is a very positive signal. This shows that life is not a decline, that we can have several lives, since everyone got married on their own, etc. before becoming a couple again. And they become young people again.
Can the gloom of the Covid pandemic explain why this story, worthy of a romantic comedy, arouses so much interest?
The nostalgia I was talking about is very clearly that of the world before. We all actually went through the pandemic, a difficult period, so there is of course an element of escape in this type of romantic image. But it is thanks to this nostalgic aspect. They themselves play it deliberately. Jennifer Lopez publishes photos on her Instagram account that exactly reflect those that appeared in the press at the time. However, this time, it is she who leads the dance. Although, in my opinion, it will not reduce the media pressure.
In 20 years, have celebrities regained control of their image?
What has changed is that now stars can stage their own lives and speak directly to consumers. Via social networks, they can make their own propaganda or counter propaganda. What remains the same, however, is the Hollywood pattern, the artistic-commercial dimension. The cultural industries are in the perfect continuity of private life. Privacy is a performance. In 2002, the images that had talked about a romance were those of the clip [Jenny from the Block] staged for Jennifer Lopez, so it was still controlled, even if there was a media boom afterwards. This time, she circulated the images herself.
Has our relationship to celebrities changed over the past twenty years?
It has evolved to the extent that celebrity has become much democratized. It is in theory easier to have a piece of fame with social media, with the prophecy attributed to Warhol of the “quarter of an hour of fame”. The fame that can be called superlative, that is to say international and which crosses all media borders, remains however given to few people. It is for this reason that the Hollywood model still serves as a matrix, which sets the tone and the methods to try to manage the celebrity. From this perspective, beyond the sincerity of what can bring them together, we see that it is immediately material to increase notoriety.
You were talking about pairing as a notoriety multiplier, there were supercouples in the 2000s. Is fashion still like that?
Yes their story goes back to that period. We compared the couples to each other and we merged the names. Brangelina, Bennifer, etc. Later there was Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Couples always make people dream so when they symbolically seem to function well because there is a contrast, a complementarity, it pleases. I think our societies will always be looking for the ideal couple. Bennifer embodies it a bit: the perfect Hollywood actor and the Latina singer.
Will all of this not once again create pressure and even anticipation of a rupture, which is also cyclical?
There is obviously going to be pressure. There will be paparazzi and a real expectation of the public regarding the evolution of this couple. Several questions arise: will this last? Is it sincere or advertising? But pressure is part of the game, of the job itself. It might be hard for them, but that’s the price to pay.