By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Lots of people are fine with celebrity magazines. They read them to unwind--which sounds to me like eating live mice to unwind. They just don't take magazines seriously. They toss them out after they read them. They distinguish between the real world and the magazine world.
Me, not so much. I try, but it's no good: Magazines are real to me. I believe in them the way I believe in storybooks, which is a whole bunch. It hurts me to throw one away. So I've got to be careful, especially nowadays. Every issue of Rolling Stone in its most recent model (sleeker, faster, sexier) ends up in a cardboard box in the closet, because it makes me sad and lonely to have Britney, Christina, Kate Hudson, or that booby-rexic Brazilian model blinking at me from the coffee table like drugged teen hookers. I half believe that magazines and books have individual vibes, if you will, and that a magazine created without love transmits a jangly signal of desperation to those within its range. (The superstring theorists will prove me right, you'll see.) Let MOJO pile up next to the bed, no problem. But Rolling Stone's got to go in the box.
Some people skim magazines to calm themselves while waiting for the shrink. For me, they're a big reason I'm at the shrink. How do these people do it? Maybe they just don't think to compare themselves to people in magazines. (They probably don't feel guilty for every bad thing that happens in the world, either. How do they do it? I carry around personal shame for Neil Diamond's work in the early Eighties, just for starters, not to mention that version of "Da Do Do Do, Da Da Da Da" with Sting singing in Spanish.) On a bad day like yesterday, in the middle of my own, private Celebrate Melancholy! Week, I was no match for the snorting beast of American psychosexual pathology in my mailbox: Jennifer Lopez on the cover of Rolling Stone, in a metal Wonderbra.
I pull the thing out of the mailbox, and I know right away I'm going to read it, despite laundry and deadlines and my best Girl Power/Drew Barrymore/Crouching Tiger training. I mean, how can I not? She's a one-woman freak show of metastasized success. She might as well be wearing a sandwich board that reads: "I AM RICHER, HOTTER, AND BETTER ORGANIZED THAN YOU COULD EVER HOPE TO BE, YOU ROTTING CORPSE OF A NOBODY." An internal debate ensues between two of my selves: the teen girl who loves to torture herself with unfavorable comparisons to others, and the concerned guru:
TEEN: Whee! A celebrity-magazine article about a woman my age who's way more successful than me!
GURU: Hmmm...what other mail is there? Look here, love, see the pretty pink stationery from--erm, the nice gas-company people...
TEEN: She has a metal bikini!
GURU: How about this keen Get Organized! catalog? Porn for obsessive-compulsives! C'mon, let's go grab some coffee--
TEEN: She has golden skin!
GURU: Do I have to give you the business--again? Okay. See, Rolling Stone pushes celebrity T&A in order to sell advertising to the tobacco, liquor, and corporate-record industries, which consist of greedy bores and balding guys who wish they had been rock stars, who abuse and exploit your people: young people, and musicians! Furthermore, young lady, you're every bit as lovely as Jennifer Lopez and twice as smart. You're soulful and, and...and well, you're just a super person, and I don't want to hear another word about it.
TEEN: She has a metal bikini.
And so on.
My mom always said, Don't compare yourself. But my mom's a Jedi master. I'm a 30-year-old late bloomer who couldn't even afford Ecstasy on New Year's, forgets her groceries in the back of the car, believes in magazines, obsesses over music trivia (and trivial musicians), and is convinced an alternate realm of perfection and beauty exists just on the other side of the air we breathe. I'm like one of those sleeping fetus-people in The Matrix, trying to find the rabbit hole to Reality. I don't have anything figured out, unlike Jennifer Lopez. She's got it sussed--even if what she's sussed is the manufacture of cold illusion and exploitation of human insecurity.
So I read the hideous thing. I regret it immediately but, unlike a bulimic food binge, you can't un-read a bad article once you've read it. It sits there, curdling your juju. For the rest of the day, comparisons with this chick haunt me.
Jennifer Lopez says, "I don't smoke because I don't have the three minutes it takes to smoke a cigarette!" I have plenty of time. I just don't have the three bucks for a pack.
Lopez has a kicky nickname: "J. Lo" (also the title of her new album). I wonder if I should try it. Call me K. Sul. Yo, I'm K. Sul.
J. Lo is a glamorous movie star. I have some glamorous moments too. Just the other night, my roommate said my dinner (fish sticks and spinach) was very Erin Brockovich.
J. Lo's famous ex-boyfriend is hoping he doesn't go to jail for fleeing the scene of a nightclub shooting, with guns ("it was an unfortunate situation," Lopez sighs), because it would mess with his recording career. The guy who used to kind of be my boyfriend (it was an unfortunate situation) is hoping he doesn't get dropped from his record label, because it would mess with his recording career. People call him "puffy" too, because of what his face looks like when he drinks too much Bud Light, which is most of the time.
J. Lo likes to stay in and nest. Hey, K. Sul does too. I'm at home writing on a Friday night when young Hollywood is out snorting coke and sucking face. You think I care?
J. Lo is ambitious. "I'm looking forward to the ninth album, the thirtieth movie," she says. I feel you, J. It's nice to collect stuff. I own, like, five movies right now, but I notice where they're selling used tapes now at Video Hut. You might want to check it out, too, sister. Just a tip.
J. Lo knows how to keep it real. Says one of her many producers: "[J. Lo] still comes to the Bronx and sleeps on her mother's couch." Up in my crib, we keep it so real, I even sleep on my own couch sometimes.
"When we're in the studio," says the producer, "she orders Chinese from, like, the place next door." Me too, totally! "One day she left the studio and got in a cab because she didn't want to wait for a car," he says. "She's got a little bit of thug in her." In that case, I'm a regular gang-banger--I walk, drive, and take cabs. I put the "hug" in "thug," yo.
J. Lo also likes to have fun: "Wherever she's at, she's got her crew that rolls with her," says the producer, "and they party." Apparently she spends more time with these dancers, managers, stylists, and publicists than with her family or boyfriend. Let's see. I must have a crew lying around here somewhere... I'm pretty sure I had a crew--
Good God! I forgot to let the crew out of the closet when I got home from Food 4 Less last week! They've had nothing to read but Rolling Stone!
Of course, J. Lo has a thoughtful side, too. She thinks about things, because she has lots of things to think about. Things like, you know, thoughts. For example: "Things I go through, things I see my friends go through. You get to a certain age and you start thinking about other things." Speak!
And still, I can't help but wonder what it would be like to be like J. Lo: "When she's not demanding everyone do as she does, everyone just seems to want to." That used to happen to me all the time--till I told everybody, Look, Barbie--and Skipper, and you too, Cher: You're going to have to fend for yourselves some day. It still happened after that, but at least I warned them.
Actually, I don't know J. Lo and I don't really mind if she pulls her Madonniest stunts to pop the superfame barrier. She's like an international diplomat for the shelf-asses of the world, and I'm personally grateful for that. She's an okay actress. She's not cloning babies or inventing sheep AIDS or giving money to the Scientologists (that we know of). So what the hell?
But still, she and her single, "Love Don't Cost a Thing"--in which her voice is reinvented by recording technology to resemble a set of robotic triplets, their programs set on "Destiny's Child-lite"--just leave me feeling cold and alone. When a person manages, after years of struggle, to capture the flaming baton of public attention, and they're really running with it, and they're actually starting to master it, I guess I kind of want them to do something with it. Say something. Give me something for my attention.
Not to be too predictable, but supposing you gave me a sign that you feel the things I feel: self-doubt, fear, loneliness, even wild obsession? (Sorry, but confessing you're "addicted to love!" doesn't cut the muffin.) Don't try to sell me that dorky lie that you're part of some immortal club of people who, having achieved humanity's lamest values--fame, wealth, and power--have shed all human qualities but greed and smugness. It only makes you look desperate.
If you can't do that, then sell me a dream, because I love dreams. But make it a goddamn beautiful one. Can you do that? Can you make a kick-ass dream that inspires ass kicking? Can you make it a multidimensional dream that contains hidden doors to larger dreams? Can you be a force for good in the world, and not just a force for you in the world?
You know what? I'd even be happy with a cool bad dream. Just don't give me this "I'm totally bland, have no imagination, and have been completely desalinated by the teams at corporate who have reprogrammed me for the pursuit of money and fame" bullshit.
When you get like that, J., you just remind me too much of reality.