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.
While we like our stars to be of the aw-shucks variety, Lopez got off to a decidedly bad start with a notorious 1998 Movieline interview in which you could smell the ambition on her. Not only did she boast "I'm the best" and "I have the stardom glow"; she also managed to alienate half of Hollywood. Cameron Diaz, she said, was "a lucky model who's been given a lot of opportunities I just wish she would have done more with." Wesley Snipes, who hit on her during a film shoot, was an "asshole." Of the Oscar-winning Gwyneth Paltrow, she said, "Tell me what she's been in? I swear to God, I don't remember anything she was in."
The blowback was swift and fierce. After going to the vet to get de-clawed, Lopez has spent her career since trying to appear humble and unostentatious--despite a large amount of evidence to the contrary. Take her new single, the brain-rotting "Jenny From the Block." In it, she implores "Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got/ I'm still, I'm still Jenny from the block/ Used to have a little, now I have a lot/ No matter where I go/ I know where I came from." Not according to the folks back on her old Bronx block, who told the New York Post, "She's a phony, a fake and she doesn't do anything for the block." On a recent made-for-TV stroll through the neighborhood with Diane Sawyer, her bodyguards shoved excited kids out of the way, leaving one tiny fan in tears.
BUT IF REPORTS are to be believed--and she's never provided any good reasons why they shouldn't--J. Lo is guilty of much more boorish behavior than that. According to news stories, her bodyguard must address her as "Number One." She has been known to order six breakfasts at a time, because she likes plenty to choose from. If her coffee isn't stirred counter-clockwise, she won't drink it. At a Vogue party, she demanded that all revelers be cleared from the ladies' room before she entered, a request that wasn't nearly as odd as when she visited the Rick Dees radio show, and had an underling warn the staffers to avoid eye contact with Her Number Oneness, while another lackey prepared her way, spraying Tuberose perfume in the studio where she'd be interviewed.
She checks her dogs into the Presidential Suite at the Ritzy Canine Carriage House, where the canines sleep on cashmere bedding, have access to a pet beauty salon, and are fitted with Swarovski crystal collars. During a 2000 BBC appearance, she set new records for diva-ness by showing up with a 60-person entourage, including three chefs and 11 interior decorators, then demanding 10 dressing rooms, all of which had to be adorned in white cotton weave and lace. All of this, so that she could go on the air to lip-synch two songs. Which makes one wonder, just what block is Jenny From the Block from? The Rue de la Paix? Worth Avenue? Mars?
Lopez, naturally, downplays her beastliness, telling Diane Sawyer of these "rumors": "At first I hated it. I really, really hated it. I was like, you know, this is so mean. Why are they saying things like this about me? Where do they get this from?" Umm--for starters, try the rider that Lopez's own people sent to the organizers of a celebrity all-star music video intended to benefit 9/11 victims. The memo detailed what amenities Lopez needed before she would show up to do 90 minutes of work.
Published by the good folks at The Smoking Gun website, the document was so heinous that it was voted the site's 2001 "Document of the Year," outscoring the next three runners up: the Osama bin Laden terrorism manual, the Timothy McVeigh prison manuals, and a U.S. spy report on Adolf Hitler. To insure the terrorists wouldn't win, video organizers were instructed to provide a 45-foot trailer, a white dressing room with white flowers, tables, drapes, and couches, "room temperature" Evian water, French aromatherapy candles, beans, rice, chicken, Cuban food, and yellow roses with red trim. Compared to her usual demands, this was actually J. Lo-maintenance.
Her diva-ness may make the Sun King look like Mitch Snyder, but it's her exhibitionistic amorousness that's really cloying. While Lopez has said she grew up idolizing the likes of Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, and Ava Gardner, she will never touch them--stature-wise--since the central element of their appeal eludes her. They always left the public wanting more. With J. Lo, there's nothing more to want--it's all there, dolloped out scoop by scoop, in Page Six.
We've been witnesses to the Nobu make-out sessions, the dance-floor gropings, and the "oodles of canoodles. " (A Nexis database search of "Jennifer Lopez and canoodle or canoodling" turns up 114 entries). We are there when she declares each love eternal, then mounts her next steed before the ink is dry on the divorce papers. Her second husband lasted less than a year, after she filed divorce papers in July, citing irreconcilable differences. (He was in love with her. She was in love with herself)
Now, she is engaged to Ben Affleck, helping her compound her riches, fame, and capacity to annoy. He is People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive." She is FHM magazine's sexiest women alive. Together, they are destined to have the sexiest baby alive, which will no doubt be raised by the sexiest fleet of nannies alive. When they do, J. Lo will doubtless simulcast the birth on MTV, helping her flack her new line of booty-less maternity gowns.
Meantime, to prove the depth of her feeling, Jen has written a song for Ben on her new album ("Dear Ben"), the lyrics of which could make you lose all six of your breakfasts: "I love you, you're perfect/ A manifestation of my dreams/ You make my body feel/ About a million different things."
As for Ben's Sexiest Man Alive status, J. Lo says, "The difference between me and People magazine is that he'll still be the sexiest man alive in my eyes when he's 100 years old." That's 70 years from now. It's a sweet sentiment. At the rate she rotates spouses (three every five years), perhaps her 45th husband will understand.
Matt Labash is senior writer at The Weekly Standard.