Over the (almost exactly) ten years of their marriage, Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, who announced their divorce Tuesday, found themselves in the press a great deal. This is generally good news for people who make their incomes off of their relationships with their fans, but for the Dallas Buyers Club actress and the Argo director, every bit of good news came with a nasty twist. When Affleck won the Best Picture Oscar in 2013, his speech kicked off a lengthy news cycle over what, exactly, he’d meant when he told Garner that their marriage was “work, but the best kind of work.” And endless paparazzi photos of the growing Garner-Affleck family on family outings around the Los Angeles area gave rise to suspicion, online, that the image the two performers was projecting was meant to cover for discontent.
The Garner-Affleck storyline, in the celebrity press, was one that proved no matter how hard celebrities try to be boring—no matter how close to 100 percent of their time they spent on couples’ trips to Starbucks—celebrities will always exist as templates onto which we can project our darker impulses. The tone of coverage around the stars was, by and large, both suspicious and derisive, willing both to chase down rumors (unsurprising) and to impute at all times the worst possible motives to both partners (surprising, a little). This continued while the couple projected little but either vague positivity or an earnest interest in becoming better partners.
Of course, the image a star projects is just that. And those who suspected that Garner and Affleck were headed for divorce, were proven right, eventually. But the obsessively analytical tone of the coverage the pair was met with was strange in its tone. When, a decade prior, Affleck broke up with Jennifer Lopez, it came at the end of similar public obsession, but Affleck and Lopez made a music video together and made a point of flaunting their rather lavish shared lifestyle. The story of Garner and Affleck’s impending divorce was one told both through anonymous sources (which is par for the course) and through the careful parsing of every trip to Starbucks. The latter aspect, the degree to which the celebrity press was determined to make the “separate lives” narrative work largely on the basis of projection, made it, more than anything, the worst sort of thing a celebrity-gossip story can be: Boring.
Really, who cares as much about Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner as the American public has been made to care over the course of the very long breakup narrative? He’s a reasonably talented, vastly decorated actor-director who’s funny on Morning Joe; she’s a movie actor whose most productive years are definitively behind her. They both seem like perfectly nice people. When, last summer, Beyoncé and Jay Z’s concert tour was the site of a long-running rumor that the pair was about to divorce, with every song choice examined and every declaration of love split finely, that made sense. The divorce of music’s two biggest stars would send shockwaves throughout the industry.
The divorce of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner matters, in a meaningful sense, only to the Garner-Affleck family and those who are close to them. That’s why a conclusive end to the ongoing hyper-focus on how they look at the farmers’ market isn’t unwelcome. But that same close attention to their lives over the past decade is no longer surprising. Now, they’re one of many seemingly boring celebrity couples who are subject to the scrutiny that used to be reserved for the exceptional.