In Search of Time JLost

Portrait of singer and actress Jenifer Lopez. (Flickr/Melisa David)

How can I know if I am the same person I always was?

Of course, I have memories of my past. Birthdays, Christmases, dance recitals, math exams. But memory is fallible. Maybe an evil demon has placed these ideas in my head to trick me for some nefarious purpose. Or maybe, I’m just a brain floating in a large vat, manipulated by a mad scientist to remember happenings that never happened. Maybe, I’ve unknowingly contracted some mysterious and powerful virus, a strand so potent it rewired my brain chemistry to create strange and detailed hallucinations replacing actual events. Maybe my memories were never mine to begin with. Even then, I have my friends and family who treat me as if I am the same person I believe that I am. But what does that mean? Just because they are a consistent presence in my life doesn’t make their allegiance to me guaranteed. They too could be a part of this elaborate hoax, or maybe they themselves are being deluded. For all I know, they might not even be real. I could be alone in the universe, me and the voices.

But what I don’t know can’t hurt me. I choose instead to believe that I am me, that I have always been me and that no matter what choices I make in the future, they will still be made by me. A stream flows continuously and without interruption, yet the water that moves through its body is never the same. Everything is impermanent, but that doesn’t diminish its significance. Even as I write this, millions of cells in my body are dying and being replaced. Yet no matter how my physical self might change, I can acknowledge the wholeness of my being. This is the same me I was before, this is the same me I have always been. This is me…now.

Chances are, if you’ve been on any social media platform in the past month, you’ve seen at least one video poking fun at Jennifer Lopez’s apparent fixation with reminding anyone in earshot that she grew up in the Bronx. The recent resurgence in accounts of the American actress and singer’s life story comes in part as a result of her recently-released movie, This is Me…Now, an artistic reimagining of Lopez’s life and career this far, focussed primarily on her past marriages and current relationship with Ben Affleck. The film is strange. It has almost no plot, each scene serves as a vehicle for the star to talk about her romantic troubles and maybe sing a song or two. In the accompanying documentary, The Greatest Love Story Never Told, Lopez presents the project as a kind of love letter to Affleck, a way of portraying how years of romantic mistakes and personal growth eventually led her back to him. But while this may be partially true, I believe there is another, stranger reason buried underneath: Jennifer Lopez wrote, directed, produced, funded, and starred in this movie because she wants to convince you, dear reader, that she is still Jenny from the Block.

This is Me…Now makes frequent references to Lopez’s childhood and adolescence in New York, so much so that it feels calculated. A quick Google search will tell you that she has a net worth of around 400 million dollars. Moreover, while growing up in the Bronx, she attended a private all-girls Catholic school. In interviews, she takes any opportunity to talk about memories of riding the New York City subway and her classic bodega order, which includes a puzzling reference to something called “orange drink” that TikTok users have so far been unable to identify. These anecdotes serve as carefully curated nostalgia trips to reinforce her public persona, but they come off as disingenuous at best and manipulative at worst. It’s as if she’s playing a character —a caricature of her former self— rather than authentically embracing her roots.

At the same time, however, I still love Jennifer Lopez, she fascinates me. I don’t think she’s a particularly nice person (all signs point to the contrary) and I’m not especially fond of her music or acting projects. No, my love for JLo transcends these trivial accomplishments. This woman defies all expectations of what we, as a society, believe a fifty-four-year-old mother and three-time divorcée should be doing with her free time and money. But it is undeniable that Lopez is not exactly the same girl she used to be. At the same time, however, who is? Who am I to judge how another person views themself? In the time it takes for me to form a criticism of someone else, they have already changed in a million ways, and so have I. Maybe it’s time to throw in the towel. They don’t build statues of critics.