When I think of centennial celebrations – my mind always turns to the 1980 movie by John Carpenter – The Fog. The little seaside town of Antonio Bay was celebrating its 100 year anniversary when all hell broke loose – literally. It was a story of gold, greed, political corruption, taking advantage of the disadvantaged and leprosy – much like the world today. Anyway, a hundred years previously, Blake was on the losing end of the whole sordid affair – and he comes back to exact his revenge on those who did him wrong.
When strolling down centennial lane, I also think of things like our country’s bicentennial celebration in 1976. That was one big megillah! From coast-to-coast, everyone was partying. Even if some history-challenged people didn’t really care or even know exactly what they were celebrating – no matter - it was a fabulous opportunity for lots of barbeques, beer and fireworks.
And now, kicking off on February 6th, apparently we have the great centennial celebration for the birth of Ronald Reagan. It seems that it’s going to take a full year to consecrate what would have been his hundredth birthday. Events will be going on all over the country from sea to shining sea – and for an entire year, no less. Anyway, this is where things start becoming misty for me in the cognitive department.
I can understand celebrating the founding of a town or a country or maybe even a person, especially if the tribute is simply on the day itself. But when did we start celebrating the birth of people that are no longer here? Has it been going on for a while and I just missed this tradition? Oh…okay, there was Jesus – but he was supposedly the Messiah and savior of the whole world, so that kind of makes sense. But, even with him, he only gets the one day commemoration of his birthday – although you are encouraged to start shopping for it a couple of months beforehand. And sure we have Presidents’ weekend – that all-purpose presidential holiday and super-sale. And of course, there’s MLK day – but he was a great civil rights leader who was assassinated – so he deserves the day, plus so much more. But someone tell me why out of the legion of U.S. presidents (and all people who have ever lived) we have to have a centennial celebration for Reagan? I mean, I could understand it a little bit better if he was actually here to blow out the candles…but he’s not. Sorry, but he didn’t make it to 100. So, why on earth are we having a yearlong birthday party?
On the old Today show – the weatherman, Willard Scott – used to do a little segment noting the birthday’s of people that were a hundred years old, or even older. He’d say a few kind words, show a photo and…well, I don’t know, maybe he also sent them a copy of his new book or an NBC t-shirt or something. But the thing was…they were a hundred years old and still breathing - and, that’s certainly reason enough to get a shout out on national television.
And since when did we start treating former presidents as if they were our aristocracy, or demigods, or American Idol winners? You know, I think the original idea was that they were simply men…merely guys…just citizens like the rest of us – one person not more important than the next. Sort of the created equal thing. Obviously, I’m not so stupid that I don’t realize how rigged this system is, or how corrupt, inbred and clubby, but still, we’re supposed to not be too obvious about it, aren’t we? Why does Reagan get to stand on a golden pedestal and have time and money lavished on him? Why is Ronnie the recipient of preposterous hosannas of praise, when there are so many people that have lived quieter, but far more ethical and decent lives that get no national attention let alone an entire year of laudatory-overload? You know, this is one of the many things that’s wrong with this country. Instead of questioning the propriety of launching a year long birthday wing-ding for a dead man, everyone just goes swimmingly along with it.
Clearly, the Republican re-writing history machine wants to stamp as much Reagan as they can across the country – try to turn him into a symbol of pure, deified goodness and leadership. They actually succeeded in this endeavor long before this birthday jubilee, as the Democratic president fawns all over the guy so much that it’s downright embarrassing. Obama’s the one, who in 2009, spent taxpayer money on a commission whose sole purpose was to find ways to honor Reagan on what would have been – but isn’t – his hundredth birthday. (P.T. Barnum would have been 201 years old this year, where’s the commission for that?) Obama didn’t even set up a “jobs” commission in 2009 – despite our unemployment crisis, but he had time to pull one together for the Gipper’s one-hundredth imaginary birthday. And, besides this waste of money, Reagan already has a commemorative stamp and an airport named after him (among other things) - how many honors does this dude need?
Oh, I know, this isn’t really a democracy of equal people, like they keep trying to sell us. That’s why they’re forever putting each other on presidential thrones, as if they’re better and more honorable than the rest of us, meriting the highest of accolades and the largest of celebrations. And taxpayer money is spent on it all, while a lot of ordinary Americans eat it all up with a spoon. In my unasked-for opinion, everyone from President Obama on down has it wrong. Reagan isn’t going to turn a hundred years old this February 6th , so there’s no reason to celebrate. He’s dead, so he doesn’t get any more birthday parties. It should be enough that his family and friends honor the memory of the man they knew in private, just as the rest of us do with our loved ones who have passed on.
But for those of elevated status, that apparently isn’t good enough. Dignity, love, thrift, humility and quiet reflection are eagerly sacrificed on the altar of celebrity, extravagance, hyperbole and mass adulation. Why is it that having been an honorable person in life is not sufficient reward? Well…I guess…maybe when you’re not truly a good and decent man, you need a yearlong celebratory lovefest glorifying the day of your birth to hide that sordid fact.
Ah, hell…where’s Blake when you need him?