Up until yesterday, Ben Affleck used social media as a depository for promotional material. He posted four times on Facebook between November and March, each one related to his recent crime noir film Live by Night. And don’t even get us started on his austere Twitter presence — 381 tweets in six years.
There are no baby photos or smiling pictures with fans or pictures in restaurants. No political diatribes, no selfies with Matt Damon. There’s no proof of a life, just proof of a career.
That’s what makes Affleck’s March 14 Facebook post such a bold and significant departure. Last night, Affleck posted an admission of his struggles with alcoholism.
After reading this post, nerd that I am, I immediately thought of Alexander Hamilton. After Hamilton's political rivals threatened to leak his affair with a certain 23-year-old named Maria Reynolds, Hamilton decided to out himself. He published a 95-page pamphlet called Observations on Certain Documents, a.k.a. The Reynolds Pamphlet, which denied charges of corruption — but fully admitted to his relationship with Reynolds. Essentially, Hamilton beat the tabloids to the chase with the 18th-century equivalent of a Facebook post.
Yesterday, Affleck had his own Hamilton moment. Instead of seeing this revelation splattered across the covers of Us Weekly and People, Affleck took control over the dissemination of information regarding his life.
We should be grateful that he did.
The post raised an important, if often ignored, truth for this age of celebrity worship: Alcoholism isn’t something that should be treated as sensational news. But we’re all guilty of doing just that. We watched Lindsay Lohan's spiral with voyeuristic, detached pleasure, and we marveled at what happened to Amanda Bynes after All That.
By voicing his truth, Affleck refused to allow addiction to be brushed over as entertainment, as it has been so often. Instead, he reached out to the public as a fellow human. Someone who needed help and got it. Someone who also relies on family for help, and someone who wants to protect that family from rumors, tabloids, and gossip.
Here's yet another instance of how social media is changing the way celebrities communicate with the public. Sure, social media allows celebrities, like Affleck, to level with their fans. But on the flip side — and here's where you come in — Affleck's post asks us to view actors as individual people who create entertainment, and not entertainment in themselves.
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free and confidential information.