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Star Struck 

Crank Call

Now that Michael Jackson has been cleared on all charges of "conspiracy," child molestation and plying teenaged boys with liquor, balloons and fantasies of fame, the only thing left is to accuse him of what we already knew -- that he's really, really rich, really, really weird and, by now, about as "black" as Paris Hilton.

I mention the black thing -- if you prefer, African-American -- only because Jackson himself is determined to regard his legal battles as being "racist" in origin. But even he can't take that assertion too far. Jackson's lawyer, Thomas Mesereau Jr., said last week that the perennially described "self-styled King of Pop," having escaped prison by the skin of his teeth -- if those really are his teeth -- has decided to "alter his lifestyle" and "get those boys out of his bedroom."

Good idea. Frankly, I've been wishing they'd throw a blanket over Michael Jackson for the last 15 years, but no one listens to me. The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that Jackson has "beat it to a secret location, where he is now reportedly surrounded by sympathetic family members and slowly regaining his strength on the crumbs of sandwiches. As the tarnished star fiddles with his hurt feelings, a big question mark still burns in the trial's aftermath: What will Wacko Jacko do next?"

Well, never mind: What are Americans going to do next? With the Jackson trial finally over, where will our nation look now for something to distract it from the genuine and really terrifying problems at hand -- international war, a collapsing economy and dysfunctional health-care system, global warming, earthquakes, floods, fires and other environmental disasters, the Japanese starting to eat whale meat again, George W. Bush and the Republican takeover of government, etc.? And what sort of "lifestyle" changes are we, ourselves, prepared to make?

Don't think too hard about that. The only things "Americans" really care about are cars, sports, shopping and barbecues (not even "the economy," I think, so long as the oil is still pumping, we're all "supporting the troops" and everyone gets a slice of watermelon). It takes an enormous kick in the national stomach to get Americans to wake up to anything, and even when that happens -- Pearl Harbor, say, or "9/11" -- they normally wake up on the wrong side. ("Hey, there's something like 150,000 Japs in this country. Let's stick 'em behind barbed wire!") So let's not hold our collective breath waiting for some seismic social shift, because there isn't going be one.

Of course, there's no dearth of celebrity "news" to keep the wheels of media spinning and ourselves entertained while the world goes to hell in a hand basket. There's Natalee Holloway, for instance, that missing teen in Aruba -- blonde and white (a prerequisite for this kind of slobbering), but not as "pretty" as the press suggests and, on the evidence, thick as two short planks. That is to say, Natalee isn't overly bright: You don't go out drinking, dancing and smooching in the backseats of cars with local boys in the Caribbean just hours before you're due at the airport to get back to Alabama. If you do, you've got a screw loose.

Blaming the victim? Do forgive me. Blame doesn't go very far in this country, if it goes anywhere at all. My guess is that poor Natalee is dead, and that there'll be an unholy noise from the Fourth Estate when her remains are found. It'll be like Terri Schiavo, but, you know, without Congress involved.

Of course I could be wrong. I thought the same thing about Jennifer Wilbanks, the runaway bride, who recently received something like half a million dollars "for all media rights to her story," whatever those turn out to be. By the time you read this, Jennifer will have given her first TV interview on NBC, parts of which were leaked to the press last week. Jennifer describes herself as "very ashamed" by her actions. She feels "guilty" about all the people she's hurt, but not so guilty as to keep her from banking the check.

"It's the best mistake I ever made," Jennifer confides. "It allowed me to realize that I desperately needed help."

Right. And let's not talk about Mark Felt, the former FBI deputy, who recently confirmed that he was the "Deep Throat" of Watergate fame, and who, at the age of 91, looks forward to a $1 million dollar advance on his story -- for book rights alone.

Let's not talk about Leonardo DiCaprio, either, who required a dozen stitches Saturday night "to close a cut in his head after a woman hit him with a beer bottle at a Hollywood Hills party."

And let's not talk about Tom Cruise, who, fresh from his marriage proposal to Katie Holmes in Paris, went to London and got water squirted in his face by "a bogus reporter, wearing a white and green T-shirt," who used "a joke microphone" to commit the deed. Tom's thinking of suing.

And -- please, I'm begging you -- let's not talk about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, whom Jennifer Wilbanks wants to star in whatever movie they make about her. If I hear one more word about these tasteless nitwits and whether or not they're having an affair, I just might go back to writing about Bush, Iraq, the 23 people killed on Sunday at a restaurant in Baghdad and the more than 1100 "innocent Iraqis" who've died in that country just since the end of April.

And we wouldn't want that, would we -- not when the summer TV "reality shows" are just about to start?

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