a novel by JOHN GRABOWSKI

Where does reality begin for stars?

Jennifer Lopez shared an intimate scripted moment with her fans recently.

If that sounds surreal, like something you could only hear in the 21st century, well, it is. In this era of constant celebrity, non-stop electronic surveillance and a Trumanshowesque inability to separate real from manufactured, there’s no off switch anymore. And few people seem to grasp how utterly surreal it all is.

First that last reference: remember the movie The Truman Show? At the time it was ballyhooed because it was one of the first, if not the first “serious” films that Jim “Rubberface” Carrey did. But the real amazing aspect of TTS was simply how prescient it was. It accurately forecast the reality craze of today, and more importantly, the inability and unwillingness to separate staged reality from, well, real reality, as bizarre as that sounds—or would have sounded as little as ten years ago.

In the movie, in case you missed it, Truman Burbank (great name!) starts to suspect his life is actually a staged television show, as he notices the same people reappearing in almost scripted ways throughout his day. In one brilliant moment early on, what appears to be a shooting star lands near him as he walks by. The “star” is really an arc light that fell out of the ceiling/sky.

Turns out Truman’s entire life takes place on a giant soundstage that resembles the real world. All the people he meets are actors clocking in and playing scripted roles, as a TV audience watches Truman eat, sleep, work, play, and seriously, who knows what else?, every single day. (The film was made shortly before the term “sex tape” entered the common vocabulary.) Truman Burbank, it turns out as the movie goes on, is the unwitting “star” of his own 24-hour reality show.

There’s just one tiny thing the film gets wrong: he doesn’t like his predicament one bit. The celebs of today (Madonna, JLo, Britney, Jennifer Aniston, Brangelina) and non-celebs (Octomom, Gloria Allred, Snooki, JWoww, the staff at TMZ) and semi-celebs (the Kardashians, the Baldwins, Audrina, LiLo, whoever won American Idol‘s last round) love it, are addicted to it, and they seek it out like a junkie going after a fix. I can imagine if Kim Kardashian had to choose between the thrill she gets when she sees the paps outside Spago and and sex, sex would go by the wayside. Normal people, like Truman Burbank (again, gotta love that name!) would find it stressful and unpleasant to live their lives like a movie script, to have their sexual encounters, their “intimate thoughts” (or what passes for them), their loves and hates and breakups and reconciliations, broadcast for all to see, but for a growing number of people, both these known ones and all the thousands or millions of bloggers and webcammers who telegraph their lives to us, this way of living is unobjectionable. Preferable even.

Which brings me to Jenny From The Block. At a recent concert she “got intimate” with her fans, singing songs about love and loss from her heart, then breaking up in tears. This is in the wake of her split with Marc Anthony, someone who I thought hadn’t had a lover since Cleopatra, but that, it turns out, is a different Mark Anthony. I was half-expecting tweets: “Clee dead, asp bite, bummer. Canceling Spagos tonight.”

Then Ms. Lopez said these simple, utter, heartfelt, poignant words.

Oops, no, I meant these words:

“I’m just a girl, like everybody else, trying to find my way.”

(Though I do think JLo’s been watching Notting Hill a little too much lately.)

Still, this is, ya gotta admit, really intimate, revealing stuff. JLo may have traded the streets for the 90210 zip, but the gal knows how to keep it real.

…Except that, well, later she admitted the whole moment was kind of, um, yeah, staged. You know, the way “thousands” of Iraqis cheered as the U.S. toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein, only this may have been even less real.

Speaking of Iraq, the whole JLo incident reminded me of a personal experience some years ago. Just before the first Gulf War, I happened to be at Lincoln Center at a Mandy Patinkin concert. He talked to the audience between numbers, made some self-deprecating jokes, and at one point seemed to become overwhelmed in his thoughts and, breaking from whatever subject was at hand, blurted out, “I pray there will not be war!” The audience, still in an overall pacifistic state of mind, gave him the standing-o.

I enjoyed the concert, since it was heavy on Sondheim, and decided to see the show again the very next night. And again, Mandy became snared in his emotions during a monologue about life, got a perfect catch in his throat, and said, “I pray there will not be war!”

And the audience rose to its feet.

But that’s just small potatoes, one comment. Technology has made this sort of blurring impossible to separate, and available (and expected) 24/7. Some stars try very hard to have separate, roped-off lives, but they are fewer in number and, sadly, risk stalling their careers if they aren’t performing, enticing, shocking, and mocking all the time. There is no longer, as I said, an off switch. Just as CGI has allowed fantasy and reality to merge seamlessly, so have, even more so, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and TMZ.

Yes, Jennifer Lopez shared an intimate scripted moment with her fans recently. It’s something that you couldn’t have said a few years ago, for it would have made no sense, and certainly would have been contradictory, like Quantum Physics and Relativity. But no more.

Welcome to the 21st century. Fasten your seatbelts. The old laws don’t apply anymore. What this ultimately means is anyone’s guess. I’m waiting for Truman Show 2 to sort it out for me.

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