Taking Madonna out of ''Rising Sun'' -- Michael Crichton's new novel pokes fun at celebrity, amongst other things

Isn’t Japan-shredding enough for Michael Crichton? His new, controversial novel, Rising Sun, with its Cassandra-like warnings that America is in peril, has been called racist by critics for its portrayal of Japanese culture. But it doesn’t take a particularly positive view of American culture, either. ”In hard times, you do star parties,” one character says. ”That’s what people want to see: fashion and fantasy.”

”I was trying to make a point — that Americans are focused on the trivial,” the author of Jurassic Park explains. ”Americans’ paychecks are shrinking and all they talk about is the new Madonna video and what she’s wearing.”

To this end, the Material Girl rates seven references in Rising Sun (”Madonna stepped from her limousine and preened”), thus beating Tom Cruise (four mentions), Jack Nicholson (two), Cher (two), and Michael Jackson (one).

While hardly hiding his disdain for pop culture, Crichton, 49, actually reduced the number of Madonna references from an earlier draft after his niece asked him what he had against Ms. Ciccione. He cut several out, he admits, to avoid being ”accused of Madonna bashing.” Too late.