Ben Affleck, Pink Hats, and the Perceived Loss of Authenticity

How strange it was to glance up at the television screen during Tuesday’s Red Sox game to see NESN repeatedly zoomed in on none other than Good Will Hunting’s and Cambridge, MA’s own Ben Affleck. This is nothing new, I suppose. His presence has been documented in his sweet dugout-hugging seats before.

Actor Ben Affleck leans in to speak to players and coaches in the Boston Red Sox dugout during their baseball game against the Florida Marlins at Fenway Park in Boston Tuesday, June 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Actor Ben Affleck leans in to speak to players and coaches in the Boston Red Sox dugout during their baseball game against the Florida Marlins at Fenway Park in Boston Tuesday, June 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

But let’s step back a minute and observe how far we’ve come from Southie (and Cambridge Rindge & Latin)….

Brown-bagging spectators at Little League.
Brown-bagging it at Little League.

One of the many safe and stable realms of male bonding that Good Will Hunting establishes is baseball. This is of course a recognized Bostonian phenomenon: the Sox, the Curse, the brotherhood of “Red Sox Nation.” There is a key sequence in the film that invokes this (occasionally) unspoken bond among Bostonians — Will and his therapist’s nostalgic recollection of Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Director Gus Van Sant intercuts archival footage, so soaked in nostalgia it has gone grainy and soiled, with the boys’ energetic reenactment of the game’s climax.

"Thirty-five thousand people went crazy. And I wasn't one of them." -- Sean (Robin Williams)

I can’t help connecting the dots from Good Will Hunting‘s grimy nostalgia for 1975 into the future to the Red Sox “Dirt Dogs,” mucked-up helmets, bunch-of-idiots, dirty-water sensibility. This aura clung to the authenticity of the true fans, sitting in the stands in rain or sleet or heartbreaking loss for decades.

That said, recent years have lent the franchise a slew of other connotations, many not in keeping with the underdog mentality so many have cheered for.

So here we are, back from 1975 and 1997, on June 16, 2009…

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Affleck and Kevin Youkilis (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

How weird and false and inappropriate it is to see a dashing, cleft-chinned version of Chuckie Sullivan on Boston’s plasma screens, in Fenway’s front-row, coyly sporting a Celtics t-shirt like an expatriate with something to prove.

How strange it is to see Kevin Youkilis (his shaved head distinctive though out-of-focus) and Affleck in the same AP photograph, their worlds-colliding romantic-histories seeming so much more Hollywood than Boston. (Youk is married to former Affleck beau Ezna Sambataro. Just please, don’t call them Kevezna).

(And Ben and Youk, encountering on this public stage…. Awkward!)

There is a real cognitive dissonance in seeing Morgan in the Little League stands and then Ben at Fenway. Affleck is such Glossy Movie Star these days (but hardly even in movies people sees anymore) and it invalidates that grainy authenticity of Southie, the unrefined Morgan Sullivan, and good ole Will Hunting’s modest dream to grow up taking their kids to little league together.

Affleck’s post-GWH transformation into Tabloid Cover Boy is paralleled by the Fenway Faithful’s transformation into “Pink Hats” (as lamented by tried-and-true Sox fans).  Are we mourning the loss of authenticity?  Has the Dirty Boston in Affleck been reduced to a crisp Pink Hat? Is the Matt & Ben we-won-Oscars-for-a-middling-screenplay-but-we’re-best-friends-so-it’s-adorable fairy tale just marketing hooey?

I don’t know, but I do know that the photographer at Tuesday’s Red Sox game should have been focusing on Youk (the first-baseman! leading the team in on base percentage and helping kids and awesomeness!); not on some Supertramp fan in the front row.

Blogging about Good Will Hunting

Good Will Hunting is more than just the sum of its parts.

For an “indie” film, it is widely recognized, and generally — I think — thought of with fondness. For a film that admittedly flirts with mediocrity, it resonates for those of us who were young adults in the late nineties.  References to the film, over a decade after its release, pepper my peer group’s daily interactions, almost unconsciously.

So.  Just what is it that makes Good Will Hunting so different, so appealing?

Welcome to BlogWillHunting, wherein a collective of Bostonian and Canterbridgian twenty-somethings embark, today, on a discussion of Matt and Ben’s great dissertation.  It is the story of a young man in Boston — a man among friends — knocking back some beers, sitting on a winning lottery ticket, and seeing about a girl.

Join us, won’t you?