A lot has changed since 9/11. National security has become the No. 1 political issue; a Department of Homeland Security has been created and our appetite for dumbness has soared.
Week after week we — and I readily include myself — consume an unprecedented amount of celebrity news.
Every culture has its stories. Ours have become: "Tom, Katie and Baby Suri," "The Trials of Britney," "The Saga of Nick and Jessica," "The Legend of Lindsay Lohan's Late Night Partying," and the epic Brangelinian cycle of mini-dramas: "Brad and Jen, Brad and Angelina, Angelina and the Third World."
This stuff sells. In the last five years, for example, sales of celebrity weeklies have exploded, with at least two new ones joining the ranks. This at a time when magazine sales in general have remained flat.
Sure, before 9/11 there were celebrity soap operas. O.J. Simpson's trial was a national event, though that was a story that was also about race.
The current narratives are long and involved, but (even by tabloid standards) substance-free, light as cotton candy. They're soothing, narcotizing. They're salves, balms.
Balms, not bombs.
And let's not forget the muse of post-9/11 pop culture — 9/11 gave birth to Paris Hilton. The celebrity heiress is famous for being famous (and for being an Internet porn star). Now her daily life is news. The disappearance of her Chihuahua, Tinkerbell, is widely reported. Her arrest for DUI was breaking news.
Should we feel guilty for paying attention to all this? No. Most people are perfectly capable of following two stories at the same time. I'm going to catch up on the situation in Baghdad — just as soon as I finish reading about the Paris events. (Looking up from magazine) Poor Paris. I just hope Tinkerbell is OK.
By Mo Rocca
Copyright 2006 CBS. All rights reserved.