Embedding in Hollywood is a shallow, empty duty

Monday, March 31, 2003 at 1:00am

Americans flipping channels last Sunday night between war coverage and the Oscars were treated to a rare instance of defining clarity. While Hollywood displayed its paler feathers on ABC, a series of POWs from the first Gulf War appeared on the all-news channels to tell of their experiences while captives of the Iraqi military in 1991.

Their testimonials were mesmerizing and cast a stark light on the disconnect between much of Hollywood and the rest of us. The irony of watching people accepting awards for acting, makeup and sound effects while men a few remote clicks away were recounting tortures endured at the hands of our current enemies was nearly numbing.

I kept thinking that these men were the ones who should be parading across a stage to accept awards amid the thunderous applause of an adoring public. Surely, the actors in their adornments were embarrassed to display themselves on such a night.

As viewers know, only a few mentioned the war. When Michael Moore behaved predictably by bashing President Bush upon receiving his award for best documentary, the audience commendably booed. Host Steve Martin softened the affront by joking that the Teamsters were "helping Mr. Moore into the trunk of his limo."

I realize that highlighting the contrast between glitzy actors and dutiful soldiers is not the stuff of riveting insight, but neither is it possible to ignore. Last Sunday was a tough day for Americans. Having witnessed our soldiers' dead bodies displayed as trophies for the Arab world

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