The Washington Post

Bennifer gets a happy ending, now that tabloids have lost their bite

- BY SONIA RAO

Reflecting on her early-aughts romance with Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez told a magazine reporter that the times have changed. It was “worse then,” she noted, referring to the intense media scrutiny said to have contribute­d to their initial breakup. “You just believed anything you read on the cover of a tabloid.”

Lopez gave the interview to Instyle magazine in late 2018, when she was dating former baseball star Alex Rodriguez. Nearly four years later, she’s back with Affleck — and as of this past weekend, they’re married. The couple’s comeback grabbed hold of celebrity news outlets, but with a much looser grip this time around. Affleck and Lopez got their happy ending in the absence of frenzied tabloid culture.

The original run of stories began after the actors met on the set of the film “Gigli” in 2001, just months after Lopez married choreograp­her Cris Judd. Within a year, Lopez had divorced Judd and moved onto a “hot new love” with Affleck, as Us Weekly put it in August 2002. They were given the portmantea­u “Bennifer” — potentiall­y by director Kevin Smith, who later claimed he coined it during preproduct­ion for the couple’s film “Jersey Girl” — and were engaged by November 2002. The Bennifer fever grew.

Then suddenly, it was over. “Bennifer Blame Media for Wedding Delay,” reads an ABC News story from Sept. 10, 2003, just days before the planned ceremony date. They ended their engagement in January 2004.

Though celebrity gossip has been around for as long as there was a star system, the early 2000s marked the start of an intensifie­d era, according to Claire Sisco King, a communicat­ion studies professor at Vanderbilt University. The building popularity of reality television and the proliferat­ion of digital media fed a hunger for the juiciest celebrity news. Magazines paid big bucks for exclusive paparazzi shots; the New York Post in August 2002 detailed a bidding war between People magazine and Us Weekly that ended with the former coughing up $75,000 for nine photos of Affleck and Lopez.

“There was such scrutiny — even, at times, cruelty — built into that model,” Sisco King said.

While on a Hollywood Reporter podcast last year, Affleck looked back at the media circus surroundin­g his first relationsh­ip with Lopez, which contribute­d to the rise of tabloids such as Us Weekly and In Touch (but preceded the heyday of gossip blogs such as Perez Hilton). Affleck said Lo

pez was targeted with “sexist, racist” writing. His own career went off the rails after a string of flops, including “Gigli.”

“I was actually in the very worst position you can be in in this business,” he recalled, “which is you can sell magazines but not movie tickets.”

The invasion of privacy became so prevalent in their lives that Lopez made it the very premise of her music video for 2002’s “Jenny from the Block.” But she exhibited a media savviness even in those days, according to Alice Leppert, a communicat­ion studies professor at Ursinus College and co-editor of the Celebrity Studies journal. Lopez and her team chose to work with the more establishe­d magazines, including People. In 2002, Lopez gave ABC News’s Diane Sawyer the exclusive on her engagement.

“She was going right for the prestige,” Leppert said.

Nowadays, social media allows celebritie­s to craft their own narratives; in the Instyle interview, Lopez credited her ability to “show you who I am a little bit” on apps such as Instagram with helping her avoid breathless tabloid coverage. Her team went a step beyond the usual platforms with On the JLO, an email newsletter containing curated updates on her life. In April, she shared the news of her “quiet,” “nothing fancy” engagement there. On Sunday, she announced her marriage.

“We did it. Love is beautiful. Love is kind. And it turns out love is patient. Twenty years patient,” Lopez wrote, adding that her Vegas wedding to Affleck was “exactly what we wanted.” She expressed that she was grateful for “a new wonderful family of five amazing children” — three from Affleck’s previous marriage to actress Jennifer Garner, and two from hers to singer-songwriter Marc Anthony — and that she found the “best moment” of her life in a “tunnel of love drive through” at a Nevada chapel.

The newsletter, signed Mrs. Jennifer Lynn Affleck, included wedding photos seemingly captured by a cellphone — highlighti­ng the intimacy of the whole production. On their second goround, Affleck and Lopez were the ones in control. A publicist for Lopez on Sunday shared a screenshot of the newsletter to confirm the marriage. A representa­tive for Affleck seemed to find out this way, too.

“I don’t have any informatio­n,” she emailed a Post reporter. “I have just been reading the reports like everyone else.”

 ?? Columbia PICTURES/EVERETT COLLECTION ?? Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, seen in the 2003 movie “Gigli,” were inundated by paparazzi during their first engagement.
Columbia PICTURES/EVERETT COLLECTION Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, seen in the 2003 movie “Gigli,” were inundated by paparazzi during their first engagement.
 ?? WINTERSTEL­LER/BEI/SHUTTERSTO­CK ?? LEFT: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, with Nicole Kidman in 2002, first dated in the early 2000s.
WINTERSTEL­LER/BEI/SHUTTERSTO­CK LEFT: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, with Nicole Kidman in 2002, first dated in the early 2000s.
 ?? FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/ GETTY IMAGES ?? RIGHT: They rekindled their romance last year.
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/ GETTY IMAGES RIGHT: They rekindled their romance last year.

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