About once a year Ben Stein’s Last Column circulates over the net. The title is, How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's World?
In 2003, Ben Stein wrote his last bi-weekly column, Monday Night At Morton's. In it he wrote about the disproportionate attention given to celebrities. The column was written at Morton’s, the overpriced steak hangout for the rich and famous in NYC. In Stein's opinion, celebrities we ought to focus on are not the Hollywood actors and other entertainers, but those people with more to offer than celluloid characters. Ergo, people with real character.
Stein wrote a compelling piece and his point is well taken. We should be more cognizant of the sacrifices made by others in our behalf, be it soldier, fireman, policeman or doctors and nurses. In addition, shouldn't we take every opportunity to be there for those we love as well as for people in need?
I can't argue with that kind of thinking.
But … if he had asked me, a humor writer, I would have said that the world needs both sides of that coin. We are better people because we laughed with Bob Hope as he joked with "our boys overseas" and made them feel less homesick. Watching Bob Hope Christmas Special each year our eyes filled with tears as we looked into the faces of young men and women who should have been home for Christmas with their families. Instead, they were laughing along with Hope … the entertainer capable of giving the gift of escape, if only for an hour or two.
Laughter is a good thing and it has the power to counterbalance the extremism of radicals, both Left and Right. The world needs to escape from time to time into fictional drama, mystery and intrigue, whether it be in the form of books, stage, film or the silliness of a standup comic. Escapism is what helps us to remain sane in a world gone crazy.
Stein writing about an actor chewing on a chicken bone at Morton's in no way compares with the courage of a war journalist reporting from the Middle East. Nevertheless, writing a column celebrity antics also provides a service.
After spending twelve long hours underground, a weary coal miner comes home and is subjected to a media blitz of bad news. Does hearing it or watching it on TV help him to relax? Does it make him eager to wake up the next morning or does it make him feel depressed?
I don’t read the tabloids, but people in nursing homes probably do. They read them cover to cover. For a little while, they lose themselves, their loneliness and their surroundings to the razzle-dazzle of Hollywood. Hearing that more people were killed on any given day in the name of peace does nothing to lift their spirits. Reading about the rich and famous, however, allows them to pretend that they are wining and dining at Morton's with The Donald.
We need to stay informed, but we should not forget to play. We should never lose sight of those men and women who put their lives on the line each day, but neither should we forget how to laugh, how to be pleasant or how to care for and about others. When someone finds a profession he loves, be it acting, directing, writing or soldiering, we should never forget that he has the right to do his thing.
Ronald Reagan, whose sense of humor is legend, was at one time a mediocre actor who rose to great heights as one of our most beloved leaders. He was also famous for using levity as a source of strength. President Reagan did not forget that humor has the inherent power to connect individuals, as well as nations.
So I wish Mr. Stein all the best when once again his column will be resurrected once again this year and re-read in homes across the nation. I applaud his quest to make the world a better place by being there for those he loves and others he has the resources to help. I admire him, for he must be a good man.
But if he should ever write another "last" column, perhaps he'll take a hint from Bob Hope or Ronald Reagan and give credit to those who try to make the world a better place by sharing laughter.
Cappy Hall Rearick