One of the nice things to come out of Sept. 11 was a breakup in America’s love affair with celebrities.

For a few reasonable weeks, in the aftermath of the World Trade Center rubble, the idea of who some movie star was dating seemed beyond silly.

It seemed insulting.

Even the late-night talk show hosts — including Jay Leno and David Letterman
— saved their couches for firefighters, mayors, pundits and military heroes. We didn’t see Pamela Anderson jiggle. We didn’t watch Richard Simmons act like an idiot. We paid no attention to Cruise versus Kidman or Kidman versus Cruz.

It was — how can I put this? — pleasant. Quiet. Somewhat dignified.

Oh, the good old days.

Julia and the boys

Guess who’s back in the middle of our radar screen? Julia. Tom. Brad. Penelope. With recent military success in Afghanistan and a whopping three months since anyone has flown a plane into a building, many Americans and media types are returning happily to the culture of the inane.

“Shoes can affect my acting in a powerful way,” said Penelope Cruz in a cover story in USA Today last week.

Shoes?

Her new boyfriend, Tom Cruise, was characterized in that same newspaper as having suffered “an emotional year, mostly because of the painful and high-profile parting from Nicole Kidman. . . . On top of all that, there were the terrible terrorist attacks that shook him and his family.”

Right. Silly us. We forgot that what Al Qaeda wanted was to disrupt the happiness of Mr. Tom Cruise.

This sycophantic dribble has turned bathtub-sized recently, with the opening of the movie “Ocean’s Eleven.” I have no clue what this film is about. It doesn’t seem to matter.

What matters is that it has a lot of movie stars in it. And they have been all over the TV and newspapers lately, showing people how lucky they are to be, well, them.

There’s Julia Roberts. There’s George Clooney. There’s Brad Pitt. There’s Matt Damon.

And right alongside are the panting celebrity reporters.

“Brad!” one gushed. “Got to ask you the question — although I already know the answer! — how much fun was making this film?”

“A lot,” Pitt said.

Wow. Roll over, Ed Murrow.

Where’s Chandra?

Why do I bother with this topic? Because part of our pre-Sept. 11 problem, we all agree, is that we didn’t take certain serious things seriously.

We ignored threats of terrorism. We ignored international affairs. We flipped channels when there was news from the Middle East — yet stared endlessly at Chandra Levy and Gary Condit. We hung on the only question that seemed to matter in any story in the world: “Did she sleep with him?”

Well, part of that disconnect with the real world, real problems, real poverty and real enemies, comes from our infatuation with celebrities. We worship them, their love affairs, their hairstyles, while others around the world are worshiping men who preach our destruction.

The hype and noise of movie, TV, sports and music stars is enough, I admit, to distract Galileo from his telescope. But Sept. 11 was a clanging bell, a deafening reminder that the world isn’t about Julia’s hair, Oprah’s weight or Tom’s sexual preference.

We should not forget so fast. Isn’t it odd to read an interview now with the
“Ocean’s Eleven” cast — conducted in an L.A. penthouse, with vodka being served — in which Julia Roberts is asked to tell something “shocking” about George Clooney.

JULIA: “He’s a woman, which is why he talks about having sex with me so much.”

GEORGE: “I’m not just a woman. I’m a lesbian.”

(Much laughter from cast.)

Weren’t these two, just a few months ago, walking onstage in grief-stricken New York, telling people in a serious tone: “We’re not important. What we do isn’t important.”

Let’s take them at their word.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. He’ll sign charity copies of “Tuesdays with Morrie” at Barnes & Noble in Shelby Township
(7:30 p.m. Friday) and in Ann Arbor (1 p.m. Saturday.)

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