“Are you in love with the Affleck nanny, too?” my friend Mike asked last week. “Because I am. She was photographed on a private plane with Ben and Tom Brady wearing all of Tom’s Super Bowl rings. Then she was reportedly paid by Ben to go into hiding but came outside to do photos. She put one on Instagram and captioned it, ‘She’s just a girl and she’s on fire.’”
Christine Ouzounian is the nanny who provided care for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner’s children — and then, rumor has it, provided sex for Ben as his marriage crumbled. The most sordid details from Ben and Jen’s divorce have revolved around Ouzounian’s conspicuous consumption: According to People magazine, she racked up a $12,000 bill in six days at the Hotel Bel-Air, where her ex-employers had asked her to “keep a low profile.” (Ben paid the bill; rumor has it she’s still there.) Soon thereafter, while Ben was busy denying that they’d had an affair, Ouzounian showed up at his house in the middle of the night with a bottle of Champagne. Now she’s dining alfresco at L.A.’s hottest restaurants, wandering Newport Beach in a bikini, and leading a throng of paparazzi as she cruises around town in her new white Lexus convertible: “Keep calm and meet my new drop-top Lexi,” she wrote on Instagram. This, while newsstands across America displayed her on the cover of Star magazine, labeled “Jen’s Worst Nightmare.”
She’s the other woman, and she’s not ashamed. Star accused her of “seducing” Ben; In Touch accused her of being “so Fatal Attraction.” Fans of the fairy-tale Garner-Affleck marriage are calling for Ouzounian’s destruction, but still, the nanny refuses to be ostracized. She flaunts her scarlet letter like it’s the season’s hottest accessory — and in doing so is building her own modest fan base as a quasi-ironic icon for sexual audacity. “You always love an audacious ‘other woman,’” I replied to my friend Mike, who immediately launched into a soliloquy about the ties that bind Monica Lewinsky and Anna Nicole Smith. The audacious other woman, I realized, is a genre of celebrity unto itself — albeit a notorious, irony-inflected one. Few chose to belong to this club. (Tiger Woods’s girlfriends didn’t go public until his wife’s golf-club attack drew tabloid investigation.) But, upon realizing “other woman” status has been foisted upon them, those who flaunt their infamy become sort of perversely admirable. And it’s not just a modern phenomenon: Throughout history, savvy mistresses have leveraged their erotic capital to gain power and fame. Think of King Louis XVI’s mistress Jeanne-Antoinette, who despite being “cold as a fish” in bed, finagled critical roles in the government and the arts. Or Lola Montez, the “Spanish seductress” who slept with composer Franz Liszt and King Ludwig of Bavaria. Montez was so widely hated that Ludwig eventually banished her — but only after turning her into a countess. Today’s tabloid mistresses may not be angling for political power or feudal estates, but in claiming their place in celebrity history and TMZ, they make their mark.
The most transgressive sex act in modern life, I would argue, is neither queer nor kinky nor fetishistic. (Not necessarily, at least.) It’s fucking a married A-lister and refusing to apologize. Like most transgressive acts, it’s one that has been happening since the beginning of time; but unlike every other taboo liaison that may occur between consenting adults, this one shows no sign of losing its official stigma. (If anything, the paparazzi panopticon only encourages pearl-clutching.) And perhaps that’s what makes it so exciting to witness for onlookers like me and Mike.
Of course, we don’t know the precise circumstances of the Affleck-Garner marriage. (Rumor has it Ben started sleeping with the nanny during the separation, but before the divorce. Meanwhile, he denies buying the Lexus, and his publicist characterizes recent tabloid coverage as “full of lies” and “garbage.”) Nor do we know the circumstances of Garner’s and Ouzounian’s professional relationship. In my personal life, I tend to recoil cheaters and their enablers. When I watch celebrities, though, I consistently find myself rooting for the “other woman,” whom I consider both an underdog and an icon of sexual daring and female selfishness.
“Nobody’s winning nannygate,” Grantland’s Juliet Litman argues, but I disagree. The winner is the woman who hired a PR firm, then started “stepping out” in glamorous getups. (Remember the lessons of ex-publicist Rob Shuter: Photos this beautiful are always staged.) The child-care professional with a hand full of championship rings. The 28-year-old who, in the face of widespread scorn, holds her head high and maintains a sense of humor about the role she plays in this preposterous pageant that we all know doesn’t and shouldn’t matter — but into which she has been thrust, and cannot escape. Christine Ouzounian took one of the sourest lemons in public life — being branded a skank on every newsstand in America because of something a much older, more powerful man supposedly did consensually with her — and turned it into lemonade, which she sips now from the driver’s seat of her brand-new Lexus. Sure, the pleasure may be fleeting, but her reputation was shot and her private life destroyed no matter what she did. At least she’s enjoying herself.
“Ouzounian’s embracing of the spotlight is the kind of behavior that sustains tabloids and gossip sites,” Litman writes. “While she’s playing to a wide audience right now, her future is filled with ignominy.”
But wasn’t her future filled with ignominy even before the high-flying parties? To stride boldly into that fate is impressive. To pop open a bottle of Champagne is downright subversive. Ouzounian’s post-scandal life is thrillingly glamorous and recklessly sexy — qualities that, one imagines, got her into this conundrum in the first place. Why fight the momentum? She could be hiding in her mother’s basement, weeping herself to sleep — or she could be partying at the Hotel Bel-Air and securing her financial future (remember that she just lost a job) by offering exclusive photo-ops, or aligning herself with tabloid players, or whatever mysterious thing she did to earn the money for that Lexus. Given the choice, who wouldn’t choose the latter? (A “source” told The Daily Mail that Ouzounian “has made some money selling photos” of herself in recent weeks.) Quiet dignity like Jen’s tends to get the most positive public response. But turning around and exploiting the older man who dragged you into this mess? Less dignified, sure. But so much more fun.