Three cheers for People magazine. In the midst of America’s continuing discussion and debate over 9/11, People brings us poignant thoughts of that terrible day from the unlikeliest of sources: Britney Spears.
Yes, Britney Spears. You read that correctly. Her piece on Sept. 11 in the April 12 edition is a must-read.
Marking its 30th anniversary, People asked some of America's biggest celebrities to tell us about the moments that defined who they are today.
When I first saw that Britney Spears was offering her thoughts on 9/11, I groaned. Surely, I thought, Spears would take a swipe or two at the Bush administration and government officials, or make some self-righteous political point. Most celebrities do.
Fortunately, People was no soapbox for the sassy singer. Instead, here’s what Ms. Spears supplied:
"One of the most significant things that's happened in the last 30 years was the tragedy of Sept. 11. I was on my way overseas on that sad day and I couldn't get back to the U.S.A. right away, and I was very worried about my brother who was in New York. During this time when the whole world was grieving, I just wanted to go home and be with my family and appreciate life even more."
It’s a simple statement, devoid of political motivation, extraneous themes or other typical celebrity silliness. Any American could have said it. And most probably agree with her.
Compare and contrast
Contrast how Britney remembers 9/11 with the lessons her celebrity colleagues have offered on that dark day:
—Madonna, a few days after 9/11: "Violence begets violence."
—Susan Sarandon: "Let us hate war in all its forms,whether the weapon used is a missile or an airplane."
—Alec Baldwin: "What happened in 2000 did as much damage to the pillars of democracy as terrorists did to the pillars of commerce."
—Dustin Hoffman: "I believe that [the Bush] administration has taken the events of Sept. 11 and has manipulated the grief of this country, and I think that's reprehensible."
—Norman Mailer: "What Americans refuse to recognize is that large parts of the world, particularly the most backward nations, see us as cultural oppressors and aesthetic oppressors. …Until America realizes the damage it is doing by insisting that that way of life, the huge profit-making way of life, is not necessarily a good fit for most countries, we are going to be in trouble. We are going to be the most hated nation on earth."
—Backstreet Boys’ Kevin Richardson on Sept. 12, 2001: "I just think we are a little bit of an arrogant nation; and maybe this is a little bit of a humbling experience."
Fortunately, People didn’t ask that surly bunch for 9/11 memories. In her simplicity, Britney was poetic.
A not-so-poetic moment
Contrast Britney again with another celebrity whom People did go to for a defining moment. Cher wrote of her ex-husband Sonny Bono, and included this bit of nastiness: "I never got used to the fact that Sonny became a Republican. He had always been such a staunch Democrat. I remember one time being at his house in Palm Springs and seeing a picture of him with Dan Quayle. I said, 'Sonny, this is ridiculous. What's going on? How could you bear to have a picture taken with Dan Quayle?' He laughed at me."
Poor Cher. I hope she doesn’t think Sonny Bono is the only one who has ever laughed at her.
We've also had a few good chuckles at the expense of Britney Spears. You know the Britney jokes — as in take my wife, please. Earlier this year she mistakenly got married in Las Vegas. Here’s how she explained the 55-hour nuptials to MTV: "I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I totally do. But, I mean, I think I was in Vegas and I just — I don't know. It took over me and I got a little — you know, things got out of hand. And, yeah, that's what happened."
For Britney’s sake, and our own sanity, let’s linger a bit over her memory of 9/11. It’s probably the most intelligent thing she’s ever said.
Howard Mortman is a producer for "Hardball with Chris Matthews."