I suppose it’s human nature to think that we shouldn’t settle for good because we have this hunch that waiting for us just around the corner is something better. It helps to explain why so many people, men and women alike, put off getting married. It isn’t necessarily commitment they fear, it’s committing to someone who doesn’t measure up to their fantasy. The presumption, of course, is that they, themselves, are the embodiment of human perfection. If only self-delusion could be converted into energy, it would free us once and for all of our dependence on fossil fuels.
The sad fact is that none of us is perfect. We all have any number of defects; some are physical, some emotional, some intellectual.
What put me in this philosophical frame of mind was listening to a couple of my favorite radio talk show hosts. They are Dennis Prager and Michael Medved. I know the latter personally and have appeared on his show a couple of times. I’ve never met Mr. Prager. I listen to both of them every chance I get. Here in Los Angeles, their syndicated shows are carried back-to-back, running from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. I would say that I agree with them well over 90% of the time when it comes to everything from politics and movies to social mores and ethical matters. But each of them has a bee in his bonnet when it comes to a certain topic, and they drive me absolutely nuts.
With Medved, it is, of all things, state lotteries. He absolutely loathes them on all sorts of moral grounds. But he consistently overlooks their one priceless benefit. Namely, hope.
In the 1990s, thanks to the insidious practice of ageism as practiced in Hollywood, I found myself, after 25 years, unable to earn a living writing for TV. Within a couple of years, we were forced to sell our home and cash in my life insurance policy. While I struggled to find work, it was the one or two dollars a week I spent on lottery tickets that provided me with a light at the end of a very long, very dark tunnel. Admittedly, it was a very dim light, but, believe me, it was better than no light at all.
Eventually, my wife and I had no choice but to file for bankruptcy.
Which brings us to my problem with Dennis Prager. Every chance he gets, he announces his contempt for people who seek financial relief in the courts. Over the years, it’s become increasingly difficult for me not to take his harangues personally. Finally, I sat down and wrote him the following e-mail.
“Dear Mr. Prager: My wife and I had to go through bankruptcy about 10 years ago. Circumstances, mainly having to do with ageism in the TV industry, made it necessary.
“I know very well how you feel about bankruptcy, and in some cases I might even agree with you; particularly when it’s large corporations trying to pull a fast one on their employees and their pensions.
“But I wonder why it is that you excoriate those of us who have suffered through the miserable experience, but you always make a point of letting the world know how understanding you are of homosexuals.
“Understand, I have nothing against gays, although I think same-sex marriage is such an absurd notion, it belongs in a Becket play, not on a ballot. But homosexuality is condemned in the Bible, a book I know you take very seriously, whereas I don’t think bankruptcy is even mentioned in passing.
“You would probably defend homosexuality by saying that one does not choose to be that way; that it is simply how a person is born. Well, believe me, my wife and I did not choose to have the financial rug pulled out from under us by the ageists in Hollywood who determined that when I hit 50, I no longer had the ability to write TV scripts.
“So please take a few moments and tell me why it is that you have such compassion for those in the one group and so much contempt for those of us in the other.
“Regards, Burt Prelutsky”
It’s been a while. I haven’t heard back.
I don’t think that either Medved or Prager have flawed characters. I think in Medved’s case, he pictures deadbeats blowing all their dough on lottery tickets while their families go hungry, and I suspect that Prager’s picture of bankruptcies are individuals and corporations trying to wiggle snake-like out of their financial responsibilities. In other words, because they themselves have been able to avoid severe financial reversals, which has very little to do with being smart and quite a lot to do with plain dumb luck, they’re stuck with a tabloid point of view on these two topics.
Like virgins lecturing on sex, they don’t lack knowledge, simply experience.