Hold onto your history books; the US Postal Service (with help from its faithful fans) has delivered the latest installment of "Celebrate the Century"—the century that everyone else is so eager to get past, we're starting the new millennium a year early. The Postal Service has released the designs of the 15 stamps (chosen by mail-in ballot from a list of 30 subjects) intended to express the essence of the 1960s. And what does the Keeper of the National Pantheon, which previously gave us the Slinky stamp (for the '40s), "Stock Car Racing" (the '50s), and "Bobby Jones Wins Grand Slam 1930," think will sum up the years of rage, rebellion, and randiness? You'll be relieved to know that "Televised Golf" will not be celebrated as one of the 1960s stamps coming in September. On the other hand, neither will Motown, pop art, or Easy Rider. Nor "Environmental Awareness," the Kennedys, or the Civil Rights Movement, though a stamp showing Martin Luther King, Jr. that reads "I Have a Dream" did win, with twice as many votes as mere "civil rights." Even ganged together on one stamp, "The Great Society and Medicare" came in next-to-last in the balloting. You may or may not lament not getting to stick "Everybody Twist," "Shopping Malls," and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In stamps on your bills. And not only did Catch-22 miss out on becoming only the second book celebrated in the century series (forget Gatsby, Hemingway, Faulkner, and Frost; the other was Gone With the Wind), it came in dead last in the balloting. Maybe that's why the Postal Service didn't even ask about Gravity's Rainbow. At least Love Story wasn't on its list.
Don't fear: You can still celebrate the century with "Barbie Steps Out" and "Ford Mustang" stamps, while Mattel and Ford celebrate the free advertising. The Yankees can cheer a stamp honoring Roger Maris' 61st; according to Linn's Stamp Weekly (www.linns.com), they ensured it would win by handing out "Celebrate" ballots at games. But pro football fares even better with two stamps, celebrating the Green Bay Packers and the Super Bowl, plus two more in the '70s series to come, for the Pittsburgh Steelers and—whoopee for ABC—"Monday Night Football." So, the '60s and '70s were 13 percent football.
Those who remember them otherwise won't find stamps commemorating dropping out, the drug culture, or student rebellion, except obliquely: One stamp shows the peace symbol, another the Woodstock birdie-and-guitar-head (love that synergy, another commercial logo). But the Postal Service gets into that wild, rule-breaking '60s spirit with a Beatles stamp—violating its own longtime rules against honoring living persons or non-American subjects. But hey, if it's '60s, it's American.
Stamp voters also showed they're not always scared off unpleasant subjects when they picked the Vietnam War for one '60s stamp. Otherwise, the upheaval of the '60s is invisible. Some more '60s themes the Postal Service didn't offer: assassinations, inner-city riots, domestic spying, the Bay of Pigs, the sexual revolution, the Native American movement.
Likewise, the '70s stamps (chosen but not designed) won't include divorce, inflation, gay liberation, the farmworkers movement, Watergate, Wounded Knee, Love Canal, Three Mile Island, or "America Held Hostage." The '80s stamps will overlook AIDS, the drug war, the prison boom, and Central American wars. For the '90s, the decade when extinction accelerated to a pace unseen since the dinosaurs' passing, we'll get a "Returning Species" stamp. I am not making this up.
Also coming soon to a post office near you: stamps celebrating disco and the smiley face for the '70s, Cats for the '80s, and the essence of the '90s: Seinfeld, Titanic, and sport-utility vehicles.
The Who sell out
While we're celebrating, consider how Nissan mines a '71-vintage Who classic in a spot for its Maxima wheels. First, Peter Townsend's unmistakable chord slash, then Keith Moon's thundering sticks, and the tell-tale screams. Cut next to the chase, the usual panting invocation of a car as not just a machine but a dream, a transformation, an identity—the illusion that car ads have sold since they had the sort of tail fins celebrated on one of those recent "1950s" stamps. Nissan wisely cuts away before its rented song hits the chorus, "I get on my knees and pray—we won't get fooled again."
So what's the difference?
Internet service providers are starting to mimic cellular-phone companies, offering free computers to customers who contract a block of service. Meanwhile the Washington Technology Alliance (a.k.a. "Microsoft's lobbying arm") has started a "Smart Tools Academy" funded by Bill and Melinda Gates and working in a "public-private partnership" with the superintendent of public instruction. At its summer institutes, held at various state universities, the Academy will train 2,250 school principals, superintendents, and headmasters around the state in ways "to maximize the existing and future use of technology in educating our children." Afterward, the press release reads, "Each successful participant will leave the institute with a state-of-the-art laptop computer for his or her professional use."
Why they call it the silly season
What do voters want. What do voters want? Seven years ago, the voters picked Bill Clinton over George Bush. One year ago, everyone figured Clinton was finished because he couldn't quit womanizing. And this year, Al Gore—Bill Clinton minus the womanizing—is flailing, while George W. Bush—Poppy Bush with a womanizing history—is the hot ticket.