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Our new celebrity culture
  Irish Voice   2001-09-25 00:00:00+01

This should be a celebrity column, full of pictures and gossip from Ireland, but this week again it doesn't feel right to report that.

There's nothing at all wrong with our celebs; they have given us much material for our reading pleasure during the past years.

But if there's any small glimmer of good that came of the September 11 tragedy that forever changed our country, I think it has to be how our definition of the word "celebrity" - however temporary - has been transformed.

It wasn't too long ago - though it seems like years - that we were obsessed with the likes of the creepy Congressman Gary Condit, the off-the-wall actress Anne Heche, the multiple breakdowns of Mariah Carey, the over-age Little League ringer Danny Almonte, and so on and so on.

Did any one of us feel uplifted after watching Heche make a fool of herself on Barbara Walters, or the supposedly responsible adults in the Bronx Little League throwing a teenager masked as a 12-year-old to the wolves? I sure didn't, and I bet you feel the same.

And the gossip about a small group of "A-list" names who don't really give a damn about us yet get rich off our backs, seems utterly hollow for now.

Here is one of the new celebrities I love reading and hearing about - New York City Firefighter Mike Kehoe who stared death in the face when he ascended the WTC, while the office workers made their desperate dash downwards.

"Our job was to get up to the floor where the plane hit to reach people there. That's what we were determined to do," he said.

He made it sound like it was no big deal. Stars do those kinds of things in the movies for huge paychecks, but imagine someone doing the same in real life? Awesome - simply awesome.

I had heard of NYFD chaplain Fr. Mychal Judge only in the broadest sense before he gave his life to save the souls of others on September 11; I remember him attending one of our "Dreamers of Dreams" parties with his close friend, Police Officer Steven McDonald.

But now I wish I knew much more about the child of Irish immigrants who was so beautifully eulogized by his eloquent friend Fr. Michael Duffy during a Mass on September 15.

"Mychal Judge will be on the other side of death to greet (the dead firefighters.) He'll greet them with that big Irish smile and say, 'Hello, welcome, I want to take you to my Father,'" said Fr. Duffy.

What a beautiful scene to imagine, a man who gave so much hope during his earthly life doing the same after his death.

Papers round the world are filled with daily reports of the men and women who were victims of the acts of war on our country. We read about their lives, their families, their struggles and their successes. We wish we could bring them back, and take away the insupportable pain their survivors, particularly their children, are grappling with.

We care - really, really care - about these heroes and heroines, and are touched by them in a way that a remote, pampered star could never possibly reach us.

Of course we will someday return to being curious as to whether Mariah can pick up the pieces of her career, and we'll roll our eyes when Sinead O'Connor comes out with her latest rant - don't worry, she's Sinead, so she will.

And we'll flip through magazines such as People and Hello! when hunks such as Brosnan get married, and sell exclusive photos of their big day for big paychecks - as if someone living in a mansion in Malibu needed the extra cash!

Truth be told, who wouldn't want to scroll back to our existing celebrity culture, pre-September 11?

It would be terrific if we were now waiting for a decision from Condit as to whether he'll be running for re-election, or Ms. Walters' announcement of an "exclusive" sit-down with a rehabbed Ben Affleck.

Doesn't tragedy have a profound way of making us realize what really is important? This column isn't meant to dismiss the relevance of stars in our lives - far from it.

In fact, the celebrity community was never more relevant than it was on Friday night during the wonderful bicoastal fundraising event aired on all the big TV and radio stations.

For once, Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise seemed like one of us. Their words and songs of sympathy for "ordinary" people suddenly forced to cope with extraordinary events were heartfelt and genuine.

It's especially great to see that so many stars are giving to various relief funds some of the millions that we've very happily given to them.

No - the point of this piece is just to say that it's so important to celebrate and pay tribute to people like the guy walking down the street, who just may be a heroic New York rescue worker fortunate not to be buried alive in the World Trade Center, or the nurse who works multiple shifts at a hospital to tend to the wounded.

These are the new "beautiful people" in our lives who are truly worthy of our praise and our awe.

Irish Voice

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