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Why Ben Affleck Still Can’t Win

52nd New York Film Festival Opening Night Gala Presentation And World Premiere Of "Gone Girl"
Actor/director Ben Affleck attends the 52nd New York Film Festival Opening Night Gala Presentation and World Premiere Of "Gone Girl" at Alice Tully Hall on September 26, 2014 in New York City. Jim Spellman—WireImage

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie.

If we haven’t forgiven Affleck in the almost 15 years since Bennifer, is it ever going to happen?

Everyone’s so worried about spoilers surrounding the big twist in Gone Girl, but there is one twist that David Fincher might not have planned for with his latest blockbuster: how much everyone hates Ben Affleck. It’s even keeping some people from seeing the movie. Yes, with a $38 million opening weekend, plenty of people will continue to see the movie, but many will do so in spite of Affleck, not because of him. I bet no one saw that twist coming!

There are plenty of people with specific reasons to hate Ben Affleck that are superficial and easily dismissed. There are people who don’t like his liberal politics (especially in light of his recent kerfuffle with Bill Maher). Then there is the legion of comic fans who are upset that he’s going to play Batman.

However, there are other people with more vague grievances that are harder to dispute, like his perceived shortcomings as an actor. “I’ve hated Ben Affleck since I saw Good Will Hunting, which is really terrible. And I don’t think he’s ever been good in anything,” says Sam Stecklow, a 19-year-old student from Chicago. Well, at least that’s a little more concrete than people who just hate his chin.

Another common theme of Affleck animosity seems to be his attitude or some sort of implied douchiness. “There are a multitude of reasons why I hate Ben Affleck,” says Alexandra Snyder, a 25-year-old community-relations manager from Washington, D.C. “First is his naturally douchey demeanor … He is so goddamn pretentious … He is like an ugly frat guy.”

It’s funny, because people hate Anne Hathaway because they say she has false humility, but they hate Ben Affleck because he has no humility whatsoever.

But I think all this hatred goes all the way back to 2001, during his Bennifer days. (It was more than a decade ago—don’t you feel old?) He and Jennifer Lopez were canoodling on the cover of every tabloid and giving each other outrageous gifts. Not only did that enter us into the age of the ubiquitous relationship portmanteau, but it also ushered in the current state of the celebrity-gossip-industrial complex, which has included everything from Britney Spears with her shaved head to countless pictures of Kaley Cuoco and her pink chandelier wedding cake.

Affleck and Lopez’s relationship, which was covered more than climate change and Ebola combined, came at a time when Affleck was vying for leading-man status in the wake of his 1998 Oscar win for Good Will Hunting, which he co-starred in and co-wrote with his BFF Matt Damon. His bid for Hollywood A list didn’t go over so well. Affleck fizzled in Reindeer Games, which was followed by the high-profile bombs Pearl Harbor, Changing Lanes, The Sum of All Fears and Paycheck. Then there was his much-hyped and much-hated turns with Lopez, in Jersey Girl and Gigli. Ugh, Gigli. It’s still an easy punch line after all these years.

This combination of attention and failure is what caused so many to sour on Affleck permanently. We were seeing him on the cover of Us Weekly looking like the biggest star in Hollywood, but we all knew that no one wanted to see him in a movie. It was like he was being needlessly foisted on us no matter where we looked, and every time we saw him, he looked rich and smug and horrible. It was almost impossible to escape the feeling that he was being needlessly foisted upon us by Hollywood, a product whose supply far outpaced its demand, a syndrome known in some quarters as the Colin Farrell Paradox.

“He made some horrible film choices while trying to convince the audience he was the One: the actor, writer, action star, humanitarian playboy the world was waiting for,” says Kay Wigs, 31, a government employee who lives in Washington, D.C. “He wasn’t the One. He’s that Dude. That dude you always think would be fun to invite to a party but quickly realize, Nope. Not only did he break into the good booze without asking, he stole your iPod and drove your mom’s car into a lake.”

It didn’t help that Matt Damon, Affleck’s constant foil, seemed to take the opposite track. His bet on franchise success, the Bourne movies, was a runaway critical and commercial smash, and even his smaller movies were praised and well seen. He also decided to shun the spotlight and marry a woman no one had heard of instead of getting engaged to the world’s biggest pop star.

But Affleck didn’t marry Jenny from the Block; he ended up marrying another Jennifer, and Ms. Garner is just as famous as the last one. The thing about Affleck is that people don’t see that he’s changed. He still married someone who can easily secure the cover of People. He is making better movies now, but mostly as a director. He appears to regard himself so highly that he thinks he should be the one helming the film.

His switch to the director’s chair has given his haters even more ammunition, since he apparently can find only one actor good enough to cast in the lead role in his films: himself. His movie Argo won Best Picture at the Oscars but has the dubious distinction of being only the fourth movie to win that award without its director being nominated and the first since Driving Miss Daisy in 1990. His career seemed to be back on track, but he still couldn’t get any love from the Academy. Because people don’t think Affleck has changed or been humbled at all, they will never forgive him for his past.

Even with all the praise he’s getting for Gone Girl, many of Affleck’s detractors say he does so well in the role because the not-as-good-as-he-thinks character he plays is really just Affleck in disguise. After all, Fincher even cops to casting the actor after seeing countless photos of his insincere lopsided grin. Actors never get credit for playing a role that is close to who they really are. Just look at Courtney Love’s underappreciated turn as a destructive druggie in The People vs. Larry Flynt.

If we haven’t forgiven Affleck in the almost 15 years since Bennifer, is it ever going to happen? It’s doubtful, but there could be an erosion over time. If he keeps making enough good movies, eventually people might start to hate him less, or see the hate as futile and let it go, moving on to a new target. It wouldn’t hurt, though, if he pulled a Woody Allen and started getting some other leading men in front of his camera. Or maybe he could borrow some of Angelina Jolie’s juju and dedicate himself to humanitarian efforts for a bit. After all, she pulled off the great magic trick of making the public forget that she is a former bisexual who wore Billy Bob Thornton’s blood around her neck and made out with her brother on the red carpet at the Oscars. (Fun fact: that sibling kiss happened in 2000, the year before Bennifer was born, so complete image turnaround was possible in that time span if Affleck had dedicated himself to it.)

Maybe his turnaround could start with Gone Girl. Kay, one of the Affleck afflicted who talked to me for this story, says the movie changed her mind about him. “He was spot-on—indifferent, uncomfortable to watch, yet funny,” she says. “Maybe he is the One. Oh God, maybe we are all wrong about Ryan Reynolds too. Ryan Reynolds, future Oscar winner for The Benazir Bhutto Story.”

Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie who lives in New York. His work has appeared in Gawker, VICE, New York magazine and a few other safe-for-work publications.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.


Brad and Angelina Getting Married Is a Slap in the Face to Gay Americans

Global Summit To End Sexual Violence In Conflict
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie attend the Global Summit to end Sexual Violence in Conflict at ExCel on June 13, 2014 in London, England. Danny Martindale—FilmMagic

I’m sorry, Brangelina, but real fighters for civil rights don’t buckle under pressure when it gets hard

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt got married last weekend at their magical fairy castle in France. Mazel tov! I would hate to deny anyone their happiness and tell them they can’t get married when they’re in love. Oh wait, except that is exactly what the federal government tells countless gay couples every day by refusing to recognize their rights to get married. Angie and Brad spoke out in support of gay marriage many times and even vowed they wouldn’t say their marriage vows until everyone could. Guess what, Mr. and Mrs. Pitt, not everyone can get married, so how good is your promise?

Back in a 2006 Esquire article, Brad said that he and Angie “will consider tying the knot when everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able.” I can’t tell you how much this meant to gays and lesbians all over the country. They were two of the first celebrities to draw attention to the fight for marriage equality and did it before marriage was legal in states like New York, Connecticut, Iowa, California and a growing number every year. This brought international attention to the cause and showed that they were principled people who were willing to put their beliefs before their convenience.

Now they got married in France and it just all seems like a ruse. Maybe they just meant that they would get married somewhere, like France, where marriage is legal for all couples and has been since 2013? It’s like their trans-Atlantic knot tying is some sort of logistical and semantic alley-oop around the vow that they already took to the gay community. “Oh, well, if we do it in France maybe the gays won’t notice.” Sadly, when it comes to same-sex marriage, what happens in France stays in France. In fact, if I went to France and married a Frenchman (let’s call him Pierre), it wouldn’t even be recognized in a majority of states in this great nation of ours. That shows you how good getting married in France is. (Remember when we were changing “French” to “freedom?” Not when it comes to same-sex marriage!)

Still it seems like what Brad and Angie said the first time around doesn’t matter to them at all. It’s as if they didn’t want to get married in 2006 and said, “What if we say it’s because gay people can’t get married? Then people will stop bothering us about getting hitched and we’ll look so noble.” Now that they’ve had their ceremony and the wedding cake is in the freezer, it looks like their declaration was mercenary rather than thoughtful. In 2012, shortly before their engagement became national news, Pitt told The Hollywood Reporter, “We made this declaration some time ago that we weren’t going to do it till everyone can. But I don’t think we’ll be able to hold out.” They even knew they were breaking their word but didn’t seem to care anymore.

I’m sorry, Brangelina, but real fighters for civil rights don’t buckle under pressure when it gets hard. The couple says that their legal union means a lot to the children and that’s why they did it. What about teaching their children about standing up for what you believe in, even when it’s tough and unpopular? What if one of their children grows up to be gay and still can’t get legally hitched? What about all the gay and lesbian couples out there they inspired? What about all the straight mothers and fathers and siblings they enlisted to fight for marriage equality with their once-selfless act? What about the other celebs like Charlize Theron and Kristen Bell who have taken a similar pledge? Well, they don’t have to stick by their word either anymore. In 2013, a year after Brad and Angelina announced their engagement, Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard got hitched too. Now that the biggest celebrities in the Hollywood firmament aren’t keeping their pledge, looks like no one else has to either.

I’m sure their choice to walk down the aisle was a difficult decision that required plenty of discussion, but, to the masses not able to penetrate their very closed doors, it appears as though the couple suddenly thought, “Hey, what they heck, let’s get married.” Well, there are still millions of people who don’t even have that option. What are they supposed to do? Are their rights not worth fighting for anymore? Apparently not. Gay Americans won’t have full equality until we can get married on a whim too, like a drunk Britney Spears in Las Vegas.

Maybe they thought that we’ve come far enough in our fight for marriage equality that they don’t need to be spokespeople anymore. After all, gay marriage is legal in 19 states in the country and the constitutional bans on same-sex marriage have been struck down in Utah, Michigan, Arkansas, Wisconsin,and Indiana. Heck, the Supreme Court even said the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. It’s only a matter of time before Neil Patrick Harris and his partner will have the same status as Angelina and Brad from the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters. And when that day comes, we’ll remember who stood with us not just when it was convenient or trendy, but for the entire fight to secure full marriage rights for all Americans.

Now, I recognize that with these two we’re talking about a couple of literal good-doers. Brangelina has always put their money where their beautiful mouths are, even donating $100,000 to fight Proposition 8, the California law that blocked gay marriage in the state. If they’re going to break their pledge and get married, the least they can do is make a sizable donation to the cause. What do you get the couple that literally has everything, including a chateau in France where they can get married anytime they feel like? Better yet, take the $529 million that the tabloids are sure to offer for exclusive wedding pictures and donate that to help fight for gay marriage. Leading by example is what gay and lesbian Americans really need, but since they’ve failed at that, we’ll at least take their money.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie who lives in New York. His work has appeared in Gawker, VICE, New York magazine, and a few other safe-for-work publications. His boyfriend does not want to get married…yet.

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