What do you do when a global pandemic is ravaging the world, isolating people from their loved ones, and the president is on TV recommending (“sarcastically”) that everyone shoot up with bleach? If you’re Ben Affleck, you throw on your face mask, shirsey, and a shoulder bag, wander outside, and shove that mask above your mouth for a good, old-fashioned smoke break. And while The Daily Beast is not in the business of endorsing tobacco use, I gotta say—this might be a meme for the ages.
In 2016, Affleck’s split from Jennifer Garner combined with a bleak press tour for Batman v. Superman to turn the actor’s frequently discussed personal woes into a meme. The legend of “Sad Affleck,” AKA “Sadfleck,” started with that viral “Sound of Silence” video. But then, the joke got broader as images of Affleck savoring his cigs morphed into a metaphor for existential angst—both his, and, perhaps more crucially, ours, in the face of surreal and uncertain times. And then, a couple years later, came the infamous back tattoo.
Lately, though, Affleck has worked to turn the page on that story—mounting a comeback tour with his recent release The Way Back and getting (somewhat) candid about his past. He’s also hooked up with rising star Ana de Armas, whom he met working on the psychological thriller Deep Water. Shots of the couple’s highly public walks, sometimes with their dogs, sometimes in confounding poses, have met a fair amount of skepticism, especially because they initially did not wear masks. If these walks were at all motivated by publicity, it seems safe to say they fell shy of producing the desired results.
But these smoking shots are another matter entirely. It’s worth noting that although Ana de Armas was apparently by Affleck’s side for this walk, most of the photos that have circulated crop her out. She simply doesn’t fit the narrative required to make this meme sing.
This, after all, is Affleck as the public is used to seeing him. This is Affleck stressed out, trying his best, and still indulging in a few bad habits. In the words of another Batman movie series, he’s the Affleck we deserve—though perhaps, given the CDC guidelines about mask use, not the one we need right now.