“The movies won’t be the same without Roger,” the President of the United States said today in a statement upon the death of Roger Ebert, one of the most influential American writers and critics of the last quarter century. He was, to begin, a great film critic, a joyful viewer who always preached that great art and popular entertainment were not exclusive. (See his defense of Star Wars, above.) He was also a great essayist, and the world now begs some book publisher to come along to bind his best blog posts, if only so they can be preserved by others who loved the printed word as much as he did. But most importantly, he celebrated humanity, and the things it creates. In 2011, he wrote about his own mortality for Salon:
What I expect to happen is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function and that will be that. My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. I am comforted by Richard Dawkins’ theory of memes. Those are mental units: thoughts, ideas, gestures, notions, songs, beliefs, rhymes, ideals, teachings, sayings, phrases, clichés that move from mind to mind as genes move from body to body. After a lifetime of writing, teaching, broadcasting and telling too many jokes, I will leave behind more memes than many. They will all also eventually die, but so it goes.
O’Rourke’s had a photograph of Brendan Behan on the wall, and under it this quotation, which I memorized:
“I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don’t respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.”
That does a pretty good job of summing it up. “Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.
Rest in Peace, Roger Ebert (1942-2013).