Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ben Stein's "How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's World?"

I was just reading Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws and he makes the point several times, with which Jefferson and other of the Founding Fathers agreed, that luxury and ostentation threaten democracy and republican government. Consumerism has had an uneasy relationship with republicanism as Americans have increasingly fixated on consumption at the expense of participation in public institutions. This is manifested in myriad ways. Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone
suggests that community has shriveled. Putnam is a statist, but the shriveling of participation in families, groups, and public affairs has occurred alongside a considerable increase in the scope of government since 1950 and especially since the 1960s. The view of government as a consumption good--a provider of programs and Social Security benefits--leaves the public as apathetic toward public participation as it is grasping toward government programs as participants in special interest lobbies.

Stein's point is well taken. A public that values a movie or rock star over a soldier defending their liberty is one that participates in a failing republic.

The following appeared in :

>How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's World?
1/9/2009 10:55:00 AM
By Ben Stein

As I begin to write this, I "slug" it, as we writers say, which means I put a heading on top of the document to identify it. This heading is "eonlineFINAL," and it gives me a shiver to write it. I have been doing this column for so long that I cannot even recall when I started. I loved writing this column so much for so long I came to believe it would never end..

It worked well for a long time, but gradually, my changing as a person and the world's change have overtaken it. On a small scale, Morton's, while better than ever, no longer attracts as many stars as it used to. It still brings in the rich people in droves and definitely some stars. I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a few days ago, and we had a nice visit, and right before that, I saw and had a splendid talk with Warren Beatty in an elevator, in which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass was a super movie. But Morton's is not the star galaxy it once was, though it probably will be again.

Beyond that, a bigger change has happened. I no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly important. They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But a man or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star we should all look up to.

How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star in today's world, if by a "star" we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model? Real stars are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or getting trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they have Vietnamese girls do their nails.

They can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any longer. A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit , Iraq . He could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets. Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people of the world.

A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad . He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed him.

A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left a family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad .

The stars who deserve media attention are not the ones who have lavish weddings on TV but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even after two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists.

We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our magazines. The noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on military pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships and in submarines and near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and die.

Read the whole thing here.


ratpyan said...

There is something wrong in our universe and in our country that we don't know who our heroes are. When I was growing up we read short biographies of heroes like George Washington Carver and Louis Pasteur, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. We didn't have rock stars and reality TV. No one was making millions by dressing bizarrely and bragging about their affairs and the amount of money they could waste in debauchery. We each of us need to make choices in what life stories we will elevate to the status of examples to our children. The media in its desire for money and fame have co opted these decisions and will continue to if we left them. Time to drop out and drop the media circus. Let them feed on themselves but remove them from your lives. Print media is already in real trouble and TV is suffering as well. Good riddance to bad rubbish. The internet will revolutionize distribution of information and allow the skeletons out of the closets. Perhaps after we clean house we can again revere the sacrifices and committments of our true heroes.

Anonymous said...

God knows who the real heroes are. Ultimately that is the only opinion that matters. The rich and famous can have their 15 minutes, I choose eternity.