A Good Use for Celebrity

06/17/2010 02:39 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

I woke up thinking about Kevin Costner. No, not in that way. I was thinking about how fortunate we all might be because we went to see his movies and made him a chunk of change by doing so. Strange thing to say about an actor I've never really felt anything but luke-warm about.

For years I've listened to people gripe about how celebrities should keep their mouths shut about politics, or causes, or anything that isn't directly related to the work that made them famous. And for years I've said, "That's just ridiculous. They should talk about anything they want." Turns out I was right.

We live in an age and culture of celebrity, where one's fifteen minutes of fame is not only sought after, it's relentlessly pursued, demanded, and if that should fail, it is invented by people with no discernible talent for anything. Fame in and of itself is not a virtue, though it is treated as such. For my money, the degree to which fame is virtuous is the degree to which that celebrity is utilized for a greater purpose.

While I don't imagine that Snooki from Jersey Shore is going to save anything but her sun tan, or that the Kardashians will find a solution to the Middle East peace crisis, there are some celebrities who take their unique position and the riches afforded them because of it, seriously.

Sometimes that role is thrust upon them by accident or circumstance, like Christopher Reeve or Michael J. Fox, involuntarily making them the familiar faces speaking for countless, forgotten people who need resources and a cure. Sometimes it's a person with the guts to take cameras to a part of the world we'd rather not look at, like George Clooney did in Darfur. Whatever the reason, and whichever the cause, I salute those who dare to ask the question, "How can I help?"

This brings me back to Kevin Costner, who has spent the past fifteen years and more then twenty million dollars of his own money on a machine that separates oil from water.

I have to admit, when someone first told me that Kevin Costner might have a solution to the oil spill disaster, I rolled my eyes and thought, "Really? Come on." I figured that he jumped on board after the spill like so many others in a desperate attempt to want to do something. I didn't know he'd been working on it for fifteen years. And to spend that kind of money takes, well, it takes a movie star, doesn't it? God knows the oil companies wouldn't invest that kind of money in research and development of an effective way to clean up their own messes. Where is the profit in that? But Kevin Costner? Sure, why not.

Good Morning America reported yesterday that BP has ordered thirty-two of Costner's machines. If this works, I don't think it would be an understatement to say that Kevin Costner actually saved the planet. And frankly, I'll go see any movies he makes now, just to support him for trying to.

Here's the troubling thing, though, and it's been bugging me. What if Kevin Costner wasn't famous? What if he was just a rich guy who spent fifteen years and his own money on this? Who would listen? Who would care? Who would try out what he's got? No one. But because he's a celebrity, he was somehow able to get a camera pointed in his direction, and good thing he could.

Will this work? I don't know, but I have a feeling it will. Is it too little too late? I don't know. But here's what I do know: we all have the ability to think bigger than ourselves, to dream bigger than the things we can currently accomplish, and to quietly persevere until the moment when our fifteen minutes of fame will truly matter.

So to Kevin Costner I say, "Thank you, sir." And to all you other celebrities out there I say -- skip a plastic surgery or two, and save the planet instead.