He’s not a terrible actor.  And before you start to argue that, yes, he is in fact a terrible actor, go to IMDB and make a list of all the movies he’s in that you legitimately enjoy.  Not movies you would write about in a film theory class, just movies you would watch a second time if they happened to be on TV while you were cleaning the house.  Go ahead.  We’ll wait…

For me there are eleven.  I know; I was as surprised as you.

And the films I like are fairly diverse: Good Will Hunting, Chasing Amy, Argo, Shakespeare in Love, Armageddon.  That’s not to say Affleck stretches himself much as an actor in any of these movies, but he does move fairly easily from comedy to drama to action.  Obviously, he’s no Ed Norton or Johnny Depp, but he’s not Keanu Reeves either.

But part of the reason I like Norton and Depp is that they’re both sort of skinny (except when Norton was in American History X…holy crap) weirdos who seem like the type of people Affleck would beat up during recess in middle school.  And that’s sort of the crux of the matter for me.

The movie role that will always define Ben Affleck for me is the spanking-obsessed jock Fred O’Bannion in Dazed and Confused.  This also happens to be my favorite movie that Affleck has ever been in.  No matter how many asteroids he destroys or awards he wins, this is how I will always see Ben Affleck.

It’s not that he’s too good looking (although that’s part of it).  And it’s not that his giant chin always makes him appear smug (although that’s part of it too).  It’s that he reminds me of that good looking, smug guy in high school that I always hated because his life seemed so easy.  All the girls wanted to be with him and all the guys wanted to be him.

You’d think directing and starring in Argo (a movie nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Director) would alter my opinion of Affleck somewhat.  It’s like when that good looking smug guy in high school sits next to you one day in the cafeteria, and you find out he’s actually a really nice guy who wants to be a physics major in college.  Theoretically that should make you like him (and maybe it does on the surface) but deep down there’s still a part of you (or maybe it’s just me) that hates the guy even more because now you know that not only is he good looking and popular but he’s also smart and nice.  What an asshole!

By almost all accounts, Ben Affleck seems like a really good guy.  He gives to charities, he pokes fun at his own stardom, he keeps in touch with people from his old neighborhood.  Directors tend to have good things to say about him, as do his family, friends, and coworkers.  Kevin Smith practically worships the man, and I really like Kevin Smith.

But none of that makes any difference to me.  I want to hate Ben Affleck.  I need to hate him.  It’s an irrational compulsion that I can’t explain or control.  Ben Affleck could win ten Oscars and I’d still think he was an overrated bastard coasting by on his looks.  Of course, in the end, this says more about my own shallowness and narcissism than it does about Ben Affleck, but you probably knew that before you started reading this post.

p.s. I do realize that I wrote this entire rant without actually addressing the question in the title, Why don’t I want Ben Affleck to be Batman?  The reason for this is that halfway through I realized I have no logical justification for not wanting Affleck to be the caped crusader.  I don’t think he’ll be as good as Keaton or Bale, but he’ll probably do just as well as Clooney and better than Kilmer (although I probably won’t admit it if he does).

Originally published in Boulder Weekly

November 2009

It has been more than four years since the literary powder keg known as Hunter S. Thompson exploded off this mortal coil with a defiant shotgun blast. He was a figure of great controversy who served as America’s national conscience during one of the most tumultuous periods in our country’s history, and he left behind an enormous collection of written material that will be studied and debated for generations to come.

However, like so many cultural supernovas of that era who burned hot and bright, Thompson’s artistic legacy is in danger of being overshadowed by his iconoclastic persona. If you ask the average fanboy about Thompson, he will most likely wax poetic about the trippy sensationalism of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or the satirical revulsion of “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” but he won’t know a damn thing about the larger canon. It’s a shame in more ways than one. Thompson was a gifted wordsmith and philosopher who represented everything that is pure about the American way of life. He was not just some stoner in a safari hat.

At the height of his career, it seemed that Thompson would never run out of energy or idealism. If there was an important event, he was there, wielding his typewriter like a sniper rifle, picking off the bad guys one at a time. In Thompson’s hands, words were more dangerous than bullets. A noun could pierce a blackened heart. A verb could blow a hole clean through a man’s head. He never slept. He never ate. In the public mind, he became a mythical figure, indestructible and omniscient, a cross between Billy the Kid, Prometheus and Superman. He ceased to be a human being and was transformed into an idol.

Of course, this is mostly bullshit. If Thompson possessed any extraordinary quality, it was that he was more human than the rest of us, a fact he made abundantly clear at the end of his life. Yes, he fought the good fight, but he battled almost entirely alone, a general without an army, and eventually the counterculture he loved so much traded in its revolutionary fantasy for a suburban wet dream.

Thompson spent the last years of his life in Woody Creek, Colo., on his “fortified compound,” Owl Farm, where naked women in rubber Nixon masks abounded and high-powered explosions often pierced the night. Although his own career had slowed to a crawl, Thompson frequently entertained young artists and writers who came to his house seeking inspiration.

One of those writers is a good friend and colleague of mine named Ben Corbett.

“I met Hunter after I wrote an article on him for Boulder Weekly,” said Corbett. “I talked to him on the phone, and he invited me out to Owl Farm. We hit it off really well. Over the years, I probably interviewed him about 12 or 14 times.”

Thompson and Corbett were starting to develop a personal friendship at the time of Thompson’s death. In fact, at the exact moment that Thompson committed suicide, Corbett was sitting at home composing a letter to the famous Gonzo journalist.

“It sounds strange, but I sensed that time was short,” said Corbett. “I just had this feeling that he wouldn’t be around much longer, and I should see him while he was still with us. I found out later that he died at the exact time I was writing the letter, down to the minute. It spooked me.”

At the time of his death, Thompson was working on a new book with editor/publisher Steve Crist. Corbett met Crist at a memorial service for Thompson at Aspen’s Hotel Jerome, the venue that served as campaign headquarters when Thompson ran for Aspen sheriff in 1970.

They hit it off, and Crist asked Corbett to contribute to Thompson’s final book, GONZO, which features a lifetime of Thompson’s personal photography, notes and memorabilia.

The new “Literary Edition” of GONZO hit the shelves recently, with an introduction by Johnny Depp and a biography by Corbett. It is a book about the man behind the legend, and it was created by the people who knew him best and loved him. GONZO attempts to peel back the layers of celebrity that haunted Thompson and return to the true meaning of his work. It reads like a final love letter to his friends and fans, a colorful diary of musings and pictures that originated from inside the man’s head. Appropriately, there are no page numbers in GONZO, and it ends with the quote, “It never got weird enough for me.”

I spent several years editing Corbett’s insane scribblings at Boulder Weekly, and I can’t think of a better person to write about Thompson’s legacy. They are kindred spirits — the same naive bravado, the same crooked smile.

Thompson and Corbett are my favorite type of people: clinically insane but with a lot of heart. If anyone can rescue Thompson’s image from the media cranks and Hollywood hacks, it’s Corbett and Crist. Of course, this book won’t do it, not really. The myth has grown too large, the memory hole too powerful. But GONZO will serve as a type of Rosetta Stone for the select few who really want to understand the man behind the mystique. It is an important cultural artifact.

“Hunter was a romantic deep down,” said Corbett.

“He really believed in the goodness of humanity. He valued things like truth and virtue. That’s what his readers should be focusing on. Hunter wanted to inspire people to fight for a better world. That’s his legacy.”

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