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Bennifer wedding a blend of love, branding


Why are we fascinated by the wedding of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez?

Last Saturday, the two married in Las Vegas, where they lined up just like regular folks to get their license, got hitched at a drive-thru chapel and then went out for pizza. And somehow those cheap and cheerful nuptials grabbed more attention than one of those crazy quadrillion-dollar Kardashian extravaganzas ever could have.

If you’re feeling sentimental, you could say it feels like a nice story. Affleck and Lopez met in 2002 on the set of Gigli. The romance sparked — leading to the nickname Bennifer, the original celebrity-couple mashup moniker — but like the disastrous movie that brought them together, their love flamed out within two years, with a wedding announced and then dramatically canceled at the last moment.

After that crash-and-burn beginning two decades ago — and other relationships and five children between them — they seem to have found each other again, older and (possibly?) wiser.

If you’re feeling cynical, you could say the wedding of Bennifer 2.0 is a case study in celebrity image-making. It feels fresh but also has an old-school vibe. (Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward got married at a Vegas wedding chapel, as did Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow.)

It comes off as casual and intimate — just the two of them and their kids — but was strategically shared on social media with millions. It plays as authentic and spontaneous and down-to-earth, but in a carefully calibrated way.

And that might be another kind of happy ending for the couple. In their first go-round in 2002, they were harassed and hounded by the press. Now they seem to be setting the narrative.

This is something Affleck has struggled with. An intermittently interesting actor and director, he has more recently become known for embodying a certain kind of middle-aged male despondency. The paparazzi will catch him vaping in a car or standing on the beach wrapped in a towel with that tragic, massive midlife-crisis tattoo on his back. These are the kind of pics that generate “Sad Affleck” memes.

Lopez, on the other hand, knows exactly what she’s doing, and this wedding, such a brilliant, faceted diamond of paradox, is proof.

J. Lo knows how to craft an image defined by glamour, money and fame, while at the same time declaring she’s “still Jenny from the block.” Blasting through the binary oppositions of public and private, artificial and real, she understands spectacle, she gets how to make an entrance, she knows how to be relatable. She’s a musician and actor and a beauty entrepreneur, but her full-time gig is performing herself, and she’s fabulous at it.

Finally, the Bennifer wedding appeals to simple human curiosity. Other people’s marriages are fascinating. The marriages of celebs — so over-exposed yet so enigmatic — are the most fascinating of all. And Affleck and Lopez’s celebrity allows us to speculate endlessly without much evidence: That’s the basic contract between the fans and the famous, after all.

So, you might believe this comeback wedding was an impulsive expression of overflowing love. You might see it as a tactical bit of brand management. You might think the resulting marriage will fall into the Paul Newman-Joanne Woodward category (long and happy) or fear it’s headed for Frank Sinatra-Mia Farrow territory (brief and doomed).

Who knows? Let’s wish the newlyweds well, and keep an eye out for a reported second celebration, in Georgia, some time next month.

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Alison Gillmore

Alison Gillmore

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.


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