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The J. Lo Chronicles

The wild life and times of America's latest ubiquitous pop culture presence: Jennifer Lopez.

11:00 PM, Dec 16, 2002 • By MATT LABASH
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WITH FLU SEASON UPON US, millions of Americans have rushed to their immunologists, hoping to avoid the cruel bite of the Moscow, New Caledonia, or Hong Kong strains of the influenza virus that are prevalent this year. But no matter the precautions, these doctors can do nothing to stave off the most insidious airborne pathogen to take root since the 1968 pandemic that claimed 34,000 American lives. For it is already here. And we have all suffered exposure. It is nothing less than the J. Lo virus.

Whether you call her Jen, Jenny, J, J. Lo, The Butt, Jennifer Lopez, or, as she is known in my house, "that nattering cow who won't get off my TV," the actress/singer/restaurateur/fashion designer/serial divorcée has gone from highly visible to inescapable. Even those who don't take deep, shameless drafts of disposable pop culture, as I do, cannot avoid her influence.

For instance, when my boss, Fred Barnes, nonchalantly bops around the office in his distressed-denim, low-cut lace-up jeans, he probably has no idea that they come from Lopez's Sweetface Fashions. Likewise, when my other boss, Bill Kristol, helms editorial meetings smelling of sandalwood, soft amber, jasmine, and musk, he likely hasn't a clue that he is wearing Glow by J. Lo, a real steal at $50.00 for the 3.4 ounce spray.

Additionally, Lopez has reportedly signed a licensing deal to plant the J. Lo flag on everything from Christmas cards to back-to-school items to cell-phone covers. It is only a matter of time before J. Lo offers feminine hygiene products: Lo-tex for heavy J-flow days. Indeed Lopez seems to be angling to become our first omni-sensory celebrity. We can see her (on film, music videos, and television). We can hear her (on our radios). We can taste her (she just opened a Cuban restaurant in Pasadena, even though she's Puerto Rican). We can smell her (in addition to "Glow," she is about to start shilling a new fragrance called "Man," the ads for which will feature her latest fiancé, Ben Affleck, naked. His manhood--what's left of it--will be covered by wisps of steam). True, we still cannot touch J. Lo. But with the speed at which she is marrying through the population (Affleck will be the 32-year-old's third husband), odds are that we will all get a shot.

Undeniably beautiful, though less so the longer she is inflicted upon you, Lopez has seemingly spent the last decade plotting to turn herself into the nation's cultural wallpaper. The daughter of working class parents from the Bronx, she first made a splash dancing her bountiful rear end off (there was still plenty left over) as a "Flygirl" on the early '90s comedy show "In Living Color." Perhaps her single greatest attention-grabbing moment came when she wore her now infamous low-cut Versace dress to the 2000 Grammys, and her breasts sloshed around like angry jellyfish trying not to get beached by the surf.

But she is also a woman of substance. In a relatively short time, Lopez has made 15 films, of which, according to my count, one is good (1998's "Out of Sight" with George Clooney), two aren't half bad (2000's "The Cell" and 1997's "U Turn") and one is so-so (her breakout 1997 film "Selena"), if your taste runs to maudlin movie-of-the-week biopics about deceased Tejano singers. The rest are lousy enough that it's small wonder she also elected to become a recording artist, and a very successful three-time platinum one, at that.

Benefiting from skin-baring videos and all the overproduction Sony CEO Tommy Mottola can muster, the thin-voiced diva, as a lyricist, is the greatest romantic poet since Wordsworth, as the following lines from her smash-single "Love Don't Cost A Thing" attest: "When I took a chance/ Thought you'd understand/ Baby credit cards aren't romance/ So you're try'na buy what's already yours/ What I need from you is not available in stores." Still not convinced? Try'na this on for size: "Baby play that song/ Play it all night long/ Just turn it up and turn me on."

Of course, everyone knows that you don't achieve Oprah-esque levels of ubiquity by composing clever couplets. Rather, you do it as Oprah did--by making blood pacts with Satan. And by pretending you are the girl next door, albeit one who gets in nightclub shootouts with former boyfriend Puff Daddy (Puffy was acquitted, and shortly after, at a Valentine's Day dinner at Nobu, J. Lo quit him). With her warm brown eyes and gangster-rapping associates, J. Lo has always seemed to straddle the line between being an unapologetic Madonna-like bitch, and a Sandra Bullock-style, actress-as-Bambi. In this last pose, Lopez has done some of her worst acting.