I Am Obsessed With The Reason David Fincher Cast Ben Affleck In “Gone Girl”

In this edition of Cleanse the Timeline, a powerful book about identity politics, the stan account at the center of a celebrity breakup, and Ben Affleck's smile.

Welcome to the latest edition of BuzzFeed News' culture newsletter, Cleanse the Timeline! You can subscribe here.

Hi there,

I won’t say that I hope you’re doing OK. As my colleague Katie Camero wrote this week, “those emotions you feel, they’re normal. The numbness that envelops your entire mind and body, that’s normal too. A vast range of feelings — sadness, frustration, anger, anxiety, fear — can overwhelm you in moments of grief following mass shootings, natural disasters, and other tragedies.” But I do hope you’re taking care of yourself the best you can.

One way to do that is to spend time with the people and things you love. Tomi Obaro read Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò’s Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics (and Everything Else), an accessible and comprehensive account she hopes will “invite all of us to consider the limits of so much mainstream liberal thought and to push for more intersectional and meaningful solutions.” Elamin Abdelmahmoud reflects on the surprising quality that led to Ben Affleck’s casting in Gone Girl (the book has been in the news; it came out 10 years ago, as Maris Kreisman reminds us in a great Esquire piece about its impact). And Stephanie McNeal took a look at the unassuming Instagram account that landed in the middle of celebrity breakup drama this week.

Take good care,

Estelle Tang, senior culture editor

Welcome to Read This, where we recommend something old or new to add to your ever-growing book pile.

Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics (and Everything Else) by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò

Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics (and Everything Else) by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò

I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that the left as we know it is undergoing a kind of identity crisis. In this Georgetown University assistant professor of philosophy’s new book, we learn how the elite have been able to co-opt the language of identity politics to keep their power intact. Táíwò explains how the activists of the Combahee River Collective originally created the concept of identity politics to acknowledge their dueling identities in various civil rights movements as Black, lesbian woman activists. Decades later, the mayor of D.C. ordered a Black Lives Matter mural to be painted in her city, even as she controlled the police force people were protesting against. Democratic politicians wore kente cloths and white-collar companies ordered employees to take Juneteenth off, futile symbolic gestures that did nothing to ease the cycles of poverty, police brutality, and segregation that protesters opposed.

But Táíwò also goes after the liberal leaders who favor “deference politics,” his term for the practice of “centering” the most oppressed person in the room, that aren’t conducive to actual change. What matters more are the people who can’t enter the room in the first place. “Trauma is not a prep school,” Táíwò writes. Creating actual change requires alliances that extend beyond similarities in trauma or skin color. He documents how the successful independence movements in Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau were rooted in this philosophy of bringing diverse groups together and being deliberately intersectional.

Táíwò can occasionally be too pedantic; a metaphor about the emperor who has no clothes goes on too long, and the book is frustratingly lacking in specifics about how to combat some of these issues. But his clear, accessible writing (always welcome from an academic) will hopefully invite all of us to consider the limits of so much mainstream liberal thought and to push for more intersectional and meaningful solutions. —Tomi Obaro

Welcome to Cause and Affleck, a column in which Elamin Abdelmahmoud thinks deeply about the most important subject in the world: Ben Affleck.

Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck

How Ben Affleck Got Cast in Gone Girl

I am obsessed with the reason director David Fincher cast Ben Affleck in 2014’s Gone Girl. With the Gillian Flynn novel of the same name turning 10 this month, I was brought back to Fincher’s glorious words. You know when people use the expression “living rent-free in my head”? This is well beyond that. Fincher’s reasoning has established a multigenerational home, or possibly a city block in my head. My head has been thoroughly colonized by Fincher’s explanation.

In 2014, Fincher told Playboy that he cast Affleck because of his smile. Fincher needed his Nick Dunne, a bumbling husband who becomes a prime suspect after his wife disappears, and one scene was key to his vision. This is how he described it: “In Gone Girl, there’s a smile the guy has to give when the local press asks him to stand next to a poster of his missing wife. I flipped through Google Images and found about 50 shots of Affleck giving that kind of smile in public situations.”

Let’s think about that for a second. Fincher clocked Affleck’s standard celebrity smile as a “guy who smiles next to a poster of his missing wife” smile. This is objectively perfect. Fincher explained that when he looked at photos of Affleck smiling, you “know he’s trying to make people comfortable in the moment, but by doing that he’s making himself vulnerable to people having other perceptions about him.” He needed an actor who could make you uneasy about Nick, a character designed to blur the boundaries of innocence and guilt.

Fincher’s explanation is also a distillation of the public arc of Affleck. There is consistent evidence that Affleck is an intellectual dude who thinks deeply about his art, but that evidence doesn’t stand a chance against our years of perception of him as an action star with infinite meme potential and relatively little to say. So he lets the perception stand. Or, as Fincher put it in the same interview, “what many people don’t know is that he’s crazy smart, but since he doesn’t want that to get awkward, he downplays it.” After all, Affleck’s big breakthrough was not an acting role in a gigantic movie; it was an Oscar win in the screenplay category for Good Will Hunting — yet he’s more likely to be seen as his crass character in the same film.

So what are we left with? Yes, a gap between the real Affleck and how we see him, but notably, an impressive lack of effort in Affleck attempting to bridge that gap. He doesn’t dodge substantial questions or go out of his way to play one-dimensional, but nor is he preoccupied with combatively correcting the record when he is portrayed that way. Or, as Fincher put it, “If you have a lot of success when you’re young and good-looking, you realize it’s OK to let people write you off. It’s the path of least resistance.” Whatever is lobbed at him, he keeps smiling that awkward smile and moving on to the next role. Perhaps Affleck realized long ago that what we think of him is none of his business. —Elamin Abdelmahmoud

Hi, and welcome to Like and Subscribe, Stephanie McNeal’s column about the accounts and trends she just can’t stop following on social media.

Liam Payne and Maya Henry

Did a Random Stan Account Really Help Destroy Liam Payne’s Relationship?

Before this week, @payno18 was just a little Instagram stan account devoted to former One Direction star Liam Payne. It only contained three photos of the singer, all posted before November 2020, and had about 500 followers.

Yet some news outlets reported on Monday that the account managed to destroy Payne’s relationship with his fiancé, model Maya Henry.

On Monday, it posted five photos of Payne and a brunette. “Liam and Maya look so cute here 😍,” read the caption, tagging both Payne and Henry. The problem was that the woman in the photos was not Henry. The first few photos don’t show her face, but the last ones clearly didn’t look like her. And if there were any doubt, Henry confirmed it by commenting on the page.

“I love all of the fans so much but please stop sending me these pictures of my fiancé wrapped around another woman. This is not me and it’s hard enough knowing this has happened without seeing it. Enough now,” she wrote from her verified account.

According to one report, the woman in the photos, Aliana Mawla, shared them herself on Instagram at some point over the weekend, which is likely how @payno18 got them. Feverish discussion ensued in the comments: Had they actually thought Henry was the one in the photos and was this an honest mistake? Or was it all a giant troll, set up by Henry herself, or even Payne?

A flurry of headlines appeared, claiming that the pair had broken up. Some outlets attributed the split to the Instagram revelation, citing the fact that Henry had referred to Payne as her fiancé in the comment, while others reported the couple had actually split a month ago but hadn’t announced it publicly. “Maya’s comments referring to Liam as her fiance are untrue and very misleading,” a “source” told the Daily Mail.

At first, I was intrigued by the notion that a stan account could accidentally blow up a famous person’s life by trying to support them. But other people on Instagram aren’t really buying it. “You haven't updated for two years but posting this now?! That's fucking sus,” wrote one commenter.

I’m not above a conspiracy theory. What if Henry’s team planted this to make Payne look bad, and gain sympathy? Or Payne’s team did, as a weird way of announcing the breakup or as an attempt to grab headlines away from former bandmate Harry Styles and his new album? I have no idea. This whole situation leaves me like the Oprah “what is the truth” meme. Like with a lot of celebrity gossip, we may never know what really happened. But this time around, a little-known account also got caught up in the mess. So far, they’ve remained silent about the experience. —Stephanie McNeal

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