How Ben Affleck gaslit the world about his enormous back tattoo: a short story

Is there a moral to the story? You bet there is

Sit down. Get comfortable. Let me tell you a story about Ben Affleck.

It’s not about his historic sexual harassment allegations, his apologies for past inappropriate behaviour, or his recent stints in rehab. You already know about them. No: this story is about a back tattoo Ben Affleck regrets so much that he tried to convince the world it didn’t exist.

We begin our tale in July 2015. A month after his split with Jennifer Garner – an unrelated detail, perhaps – Affleck is caught by a paparazzo getting into a car with part of his shirt lifted, revealing what looks like a brand-new feathery tramp stamp:

Five months pass; speculation boils down. Then, in December 2015, the tattoo grows. Pacing the set of Live By Night in an open-backed hospital gown, Affleck’s ink is revealed to be an enormous phoenix, covering his entire back.

Could it be a symbol of his post-split rebirth? Jennifer Garner doesn’t like that idea. In February 2016 she asks Vanity Fair: “Am I the ashes in this scenario? I take umbrage. I refuse to be the ashes.” Another of Affleck’s exes, Jennifer Lopez, publicly calls the ink “awful,” rhetorically asking: “What are you doing?” on Watch What Happens Live.

The following month, immediately prior to the release of his critically mauled film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Affleck begins his campaign to gaslight the world: he tells Extra TV that the giant phoenix is in fact a “fake for a movie,” though he doesn’t specify which. And, proving just like Donald Trump that gaslighting always, always works (for a little while, at least), the press buys his lies. GQ writes: “[it] is in fact fake… we should have known.” People and The Hollywood Reporter report his words as fact.

February 2017: it’s 11 months later and The Boston Globe has caught the scent of bullshit. Photographed again with the beginnings of a builder’s bum, Affleck’s unmistakeable feathery tramp stamp is still there. “A real – and real ugly – tattoo,” the Globe calls it.

The tatt is sighted several times over the next few months, but it’s not until March 2018 that we get a full exhibition when Affleck visits the beach. Twitter roils with reactions that are uglier than the tattoo itself:

Now, clearly, it was inexcusably strange of Affleck to lie about this, somehow imagining that no one would find out.

The thing is, I don’t want to live in a world where Ben Affleck can’t have a stupidmassive tattoo of a phoenix on his back without living in fear of mockery. I especially don’t want to live in a world where famous people feel like they have to tell barefaced lies about truly insignificant stuff just because they think it might be embarrassing. Some people like the fact that Ben Affleck has a massive tattoo. Doing something divisive and dumb is totally fine.

Until Affleck’s inevitable comment about the situation, that’s the end of the story. Its moral? If you haven’t already guessed it, I’ll let Frank Ocean‘s friend’s mum fill you in: