April 28, 2003

Glenn crowd wins Ben Stein's wisdom

By Michael Terrazas

Ben Stein may be best known for a few film moments of deathly dull monotone, but the multitalented Stein—who has worked (and succeeded) as a lawyer, actor, writer, media critic, college professor, game-show host and political pundit—was anything but boring April 21 in Glenn Auditorium.

Indeed, Stein’s appearance was part lecture, part stand-up routine. Made famous by his bit role as a droning economics teacher in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Stein shared his sense of humor and his considerable life wisdom with the several hundred in attendance that Monday night.

“Emory reminds me very much of Georgetown, George Washington and American universities,” Stein said, listing three of the schools at which he’s taught. He then recounted his early professorial days of teaching film; when he dimmed the lights to show a film, he recalled students lighting up joints and popping quaaludes.

“I hope that doesn’t happen during this lecture—but if it does, save some quaaludes for me,” said Stein, dressed in a blue suit, pink shirt, red tie and sneakers.

Author of the recently released How to Ruin Your Life—which he said was inspired partly by Richard Nixon, for whom Stein worked as a speechwriter from 1973–74, and “some people in Hollywood I’ve worked with”—Stein spent much of his address sharing the book’s axioms, which he said are guaranteed to lead adherents to a life of pain and misery.

For example: “Assume you are the center of the universe; God went away on vacation and left you in charge.”

Or: “Never accept any responsibility for anything that goes wrong. And always be a critic; there’s never enough [complaining] and moaning in the world.”

And: “Use drugs and alcohol frequently. You’ve probably heard there’s no creature so high and mighty that drugs and alcohol cannot bring them down to the gutter—but you’re different.”

From there, Stein went on to share pearls from what he said could be his next book: “How to Ruin Your Love Life.”

“Point out your lover’s imperfections often. In public. Preferably after a few drinks,” he said. “Play phone games; don’t return your lover’s calls. You might say, ‘Wait, that’s a junior high school game.’ But love is a junior high school game, and the sooner you learn that, the sooner you’ll get the whip hand in your relationship.”

But Stein did have some (semi) serious and straightforward advice for the students. An honors graduate of Columbia University and valedictorian of his 1970 class at Yale Law School, Stein said he never had any college courses that “taught me how to live life decently,” and he proceeded to give a quick tutorial on how to do just that.

Chief among his tips was to be good to one’s parents. Stein concluded his remarks with a touching story of how he made a point to spent time with his parents as they grew elderly in the 1990s. He spent four or five days with them each month in their Maryland home.

“Finally, after screwing up so much in my life, I did something right: I found that I could be good to my parents,” Stein said. “I didn’t do anything dramatic, just sat on the couch and watched ‘Murder, She Wrote’ with them, went on walks with them. But I made them know they were loved and they were important.”

Stein concluded with one of his own personal life lessons, one he conceded he “learned from a Democrat,” John F. Kennedy, during Kennedy’s inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1961. “We all want God to do great things for the people we love,” Stein quoted. “But here on earth, God’s work must be our own.”

Stein’s lecture was sponsored by Emory’s College Republicans chapter as part of “Republican Awareness Month.” Senior Daniel Hauck, chair of the College Republicans, remarked on the group’s progress over the year in bringing a conservative voice to University discourse, something he said is lacking.

“It should not be the responsibility of a single student organization to represent the views of half the country,” Hauck said. “[Changing this is] incumbent upon the University; you cannot get a complete education while learning only half the story.”