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The Guardian

A mask of unadorned misery: how Ben Affleck became the world’s biggest meme

By Stuart Heritage,


Ben Affleck has a life that many of us would kill for. He is rich. He is handsome. He has reached the peak of his career behind the camera (winning two Oscars as a writer and director) and in front of it ( the guy was literally Batman ). He has been romantically involved with some of the most beautiful women on the planet, and is currently married to Jennifer Lopez . Whichever way you look at it, everything about Affleck’s life is wildly aspirational in almost every single way.

And yet, look at him at this weekend’s Grammys. In picture after picture, Affleck seems utterly dejected. He is staring off into space, unmoved by his proximity to glamour. He doesn’t smile; he doesn’t even try. He looks like someone who has successfully disassociated from everything surrounding him, like someone who would rather retreat to the comforting vortex of his own mind than indulge in any of the revelry.
Affleck with (from left) Jennifer Lopez, Lauren Hashian and Dwayne Johnson at the Grammys. Photograph: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Sadly for Affleck, the internet also saw these photographs and responded accordingly. That’s right, it pains me to inform you that Affleck has become a meme again.

This isn’t the first time he has been down this road. Almost as soon as Affleck ventures out into public these days, he unwittingly turns into a meme. Remember the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice junket, where he kept glazing over in a death mask of unadorned misery ? Remember the photo of him smoking outside, exhaling with all the dejected energy of someone who has unquestionably Been Through Something? Remember the shot of him standing alone on a beach , a towel wrapped around his waist, glumly surveying the horizon with the world’s worst phoenix tattoo scratched deep into his back? All of them memes. All of them perfect.
Affleck and Lopez. Photograph: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

It is this disconnect, you suspect, that makes Affleck so meme-able. He has everything, and yet he appears to enjoy none of it. Remember the Affleck of old, young and handsome and so cocky that you couldn’t help but take against the guy? That Affleck is gone. In his place is a man weighed down by the sheer punishing, relentless burden of life on Earth. And that, as you no doubt realise for yourself, is much more our speed.

Because aren’t we all, deep down, looking for someone who looks how we feel? Don’t we all want to see ourselves within the deep, miserable crags of a superstar’s face? Don’t we want someone to come along, hold our hand and say: “Hey, me too”? That is the service that Affleck provides. Don’t mistake that face for boredom. For a man of his stature to simply be bored with the spoils that surround him would be plainly obnoxious. No, instead Affleck looks exhausted and overwhelmed. His life is asking too much of him, and it is taking a heavy toll. Now answer me this: isn’t that exactly how you feel all the time?
With Lopez and the ceremony’s host, Trevor Noah. Photograph: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Of course, it helps that all of the Affleck memes are, situationally speaking, absolutely correct. It makes perfect sense that he looked miserable at the Batman junket. Junkets are unspeakably miserable for every single person who takes part in them, from star to journalist to press person. They are torture. Similarly, although I have never smoked, that picture of Affleck smoking – just taking a moment for himself away from all the crap – has somehow tapped into the darkest recesses of my spirit.

And, of course, Affleck looked like that at the Grammys. The Grammys seem like a terrible way to spend an evening. They are bad enough to watch on TV. But imagine being there, surrounded by those crowds of preening, self-absorbed celebrities. If you went to the Grammys, you would 100% look like Affleck did this weekend, silently counting down the clock until you were finally allowed to go home.

Affleck is a fine actor and wonderful screenwriter whose work deserves to be remembered for generations to come. But all that fades to nothing next to his work as a meme. Nobody alive can touch Affleck for his meme work. It is everything: touching, hilarious and relatable. Whenever Affleck becomes a meme, he temporarily becomes all of us and we should cherish him for that.

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