- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 6, 2007

On a day when Alexander Litvinenko was in a British hospital fighting for his life after being poisoned and accusing President Vladimir Putin of murder, the Irish newspapers gave far more coverage to the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes wedding in a castle north of Rome than this astonishing story.

The national fascination with celebrities in Ireland and England not only push serious matters into the margins of history but becloud current events. It no coincidence that anti-Bush sentiment, which is very widespread, is reflexive, rather than thoughtful.

England has undergone a “reverse colonization,” with popular culture driving erstwhile news stories into obscurity. The British cultural decline is more than matched across the Irish Sea, which has become a vulgarized version of its British counterpart. Various provincial cliques have inflated out of all proportion the new media icons.

Bob Geldorf and Bono, to cite two examples — superannuated rock musicians — have boarded the bandwagon of sainted cultural figures to strong-arm governments into pouring money into Africa that, in many instances, ends up in the Swiss bank accounts of African kleptocrats. Of course, that doesn’t stop Western leaders from lapping up the reflected glory these rock personalities convey.

I sat awestruck as Tom Brokaw virtually genuflected when he interviewed Bono at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York several months ago. Every inanity uttered by Bono was treated as if it were gospel wrapped in incontrovertible commentary. Ireland’s new class of professional moralists invariably emote about the world’s starving hordes. Wallowing in victimhood is the calling card for the contemporary cultural icon. In fact, this stance justifies bullying and intimidation.

Perhaps the Ireland that has grown remarkably wealthy in a scant two decades is undergoing the secularization and cultural degradation that characterizes much of Europe. But it is not a pretty sight. Current affairs analysis has been bastardized by the drum beat of rock and movie stars who seemingly must adopt a cause as part of their public persona.

As a consequence, much of the debate about Middle East policy and global poverty has been infantilized. What is the rejoinder to a heart-felt Bono plea for a campaign to help the impoverished? Is anyone opposed to helping? The question is how and under what circumstances. Bono, however, speaks only in fatuities.

There is an even larger issue British and Irish celebrities influence, to wit: the culture that give rise to this quaint admiration. Why should celebrities be granted an intellectual pass that would never be given to a politician? Is this due to the tabloidization of the two nations or is it the common denomination factor popular media transmits?

It is hard to know, but on one matter there be no doubt: Ireland and England are undergoing dramatic cultural vulgarization. The best-selling national newspapers make America’s tabloids seem mild, almost sophisticated. Sex, drugs and perversity have become national preoccupations.

The price the Irish and British pay is in public discourse bowdlerized with rock and other entertainment personalities taken seriously as public policy spokesmen. Is it any wonder jihadists have gained a foothold in England? Even in Ireland, where 97 percent of the population describes itself as Catholic, several mosques have been built in recent years.

A loss of confidence seemingly accompanies a loss of serious commentary. Ireland and England are clearly nations in search of direction. Unfortunately, they are not likely to find it in the words of Mr. Geldorf or Bono.

Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of “Decade of Denial” (Lexington Books, Lanham, Md., 2001).

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