After much media touting and excessive paparazzi shots of pregnant actress Jennifer Garner, the offspring of Ben Affleck and his beautiful bride finally emerged into the world amid all the predictable swarm of media furor that befits the second coming of Bennifer. The baby girl is healthy enough. Her parents are the ones coasting on dead careers. But still, there’s a celebrity story in all this somewhere.

Jess Cox

And that’s odd. J-Gar took the sexy, kick-ass lead in a modestly rated cult show and turned it into household recognition. Sure, she follows Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jessica Alba, but that doesn’t make her fame the less illusory, less hype-based. Her movie career might prove that – “Daredevil” and its objectionably unnecessary spin-off, “Elektra,” outweigh the pleasantly breezy “13 Going on 30.”

But to pick on Jen in this context is just silly. Because no matter how over-hyped the chipmunk-cheeked actress, no matter how many flops she has to her resume, she’s still your basic Hollywood starlet. Overrated? Maybe, but affable and pretty.

To talk about really over hyped; to talk about the poster boy for overexposure and the perils of publicity overkill, we need Ben Affleck. Because nobody in Hollywood has accomplished the stratospheric rise and calamitous crash with quite the relentless and spectacular flourishes of Ben Affleck.

Whatever he is now, Affleck was once a friend to the press. Back in 1997, a movie about a misunderstood math genius and the life lessons he learned captivated the nation and launched a pair of Boston-bred best friends into the public limelight. Matt and Ben were sold as a pair, affectionately and unpunnily labeled (Menjamin, to the ever-lasting disappointment of one columnist, never really caught on) as a golden duo.

So high and intense was their wave of public and industry goodwill, the pair even won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay for their draft of “Good Will Hunting” – an unfortunate circumstance that means the DVD for last year’s slapstick, “Surviving Christmas” could conceivably be stamped with the words “Oscar-winner Ben Affleck.”

So how exactly did Ben Affleck go from winning statues to slumming in schlock that got buried by “Christmas with the Kranks?” Unfortunately, the answer is probably very simple: Bennifer I.

Before there was J-Gar, there was J-Lo. There was the explosive, all-consuming monstrosity of Bennifer. The beautiful couple made glamorous kissy faces to the press, but took it a step too far cavorting naked in her fabulously self-indulgent “Jenny from the Block” music video. As Affleck sits pensively with his slicked-back hair, looking every inch the token bourgie toolbox of an accessory to J-Lo’s astonishing wardrobe, you can almost hear his salary deflating.

But then again, Tom Cruise is equally obnoxious these days, and in spite of it, people still pay to see his movies. Ben and Jen did not suffer from such dubious luck. Their first collaboration was a film about a mobster and the lesbian he loves or something. “Gigli,” which incidentally rhymes with “really,” gave witty film critics an open license to concoct the most delightfully scathing reviews. Though sometimes a film speaks for itself – as more than one critic put it, “‘Gigli’ is really bad.”

With his relationship making him a daily coverboy at the National Enquirer, with his film career in limp shreds of faded dignity, Ben Affleck decided to do the right thing and step gracefully out of the spotlight for a while. Actually, he married another celebrity.

But getting past the jokes, past the public persona of an oafish, incompetent frat boy, Ben Affleck is not entirely to blame for his downfall. Yes, the relationship with J-Lo was ill-considered and I, for one, never actually made it to the end of “Gigli.” But Affleck as a public punching bag is simply the product of a very bad backlash.

As a culture, Americans love to lash. Perhaps it comes from that need to establish a unique and individual identity (which must set in sometime after high school, just as we get the knack of being faceless clones) that makes us hate what’s popular – what the plebeians are buying these days. Or maybe it’s more basic. An emergent celebrity might seem appealing, but 30 pop-culture magazines will unfailingly uncover the nasty flaws. Our shame at originally liking what, under the microscope, seems so clearly lame might account for the intense, visceral rejection we feel. Even when we feel it collectively.

Whatever the source of the backlash, Ben Affleck has been on the receiving end far too long. I’m advocating a frontlash. The man has made his terrible movies, he’s done the diva girlfriend. Enough is enough. The Colin Farrells of Hollywood have had it too good for too long with Affleck as the easier target, so now it’s time to get past the pink engagement diamond and uncommitted performances. If we continue to celebrate Affleck and his new progeny in the papers, we’re going to have to learn to live with Bennifer II and “Jersey Girl.”


– Andrade thinks they should revive Colin Farrell for “Daredevil 2.” Join the fight by e-mailing aandrade@umich.edu.

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