The Postal Service has now released an Elvis “Forever” stamp. Some of us opposed the original Elvis stamp, released by the Postal Service in 1993—even if we appreciated Elvis and respected his obvious admiration for black-style vocalization.
Let’s not put the stamp of approval on dying young and irresponsibly.
But Elvis Presley should not have a stamp in his memory. You can love Elvis, you can know every lyric of his haunting ballads, but you can still sense that there is something wrong with engraving this tragic man on our letters and cards.
Elvis Presley died ignominiously and self-abusively. He killed himself with drugs and reckless indulgence. The end of his life came to be a cacophony of blind extravagance and gross negligence. He was not martyred; he was stoned. He was a bad example for kids.
Elvis Presley, brilliant, stunning, original, nevertheless became as sick in spirit was he was sublime in song. His music was good; his life-style was bad. Can’t we acknowledge the difference? At the time of the release of the Presley stamp, some officials of the Postal Service did acknowledge the concerns of educators and psychologists who mentioned the poor role model Elvis had become—as well as the culture of Elvis “sightings” and reincarnations that blur the difference between life and death for kids.
This continues to be a problem against the background of the national epidemic of teenage suicide. Kids are playing dangerous games with their health because they don’t always get it that death is final.
In the end, the Postal Service, always poorly run, and fiscally dysfunctional, decided to run the stamp and enjoy its biggest sales of any stamp in history. Never mind the ramifications of putting the stamp of approval on an idol who surely would have never wanted any youngster to pursue the kind of self-destruction that he did. When celebrities “live on” past their deaths or suicides, then how they died and the very fact of their mortality can be lost upon our impressionable young people. We should want teenagers to be scared of the way Elvis Presley or Kurt Cobain died; instead, the cyber-profit culture encourages a kind of national séance with Elvis.
Those absurd Elvis “sightings” are reported from hamburger joints, radio stations, and mini-malls. The message this sends to vulnerable adolescents is that death is not necessarily final and that fatal practices do not necessarily extract a grim penalty. Making it seem as though death is not terminal may bring in profits for entertainment lawyers, estate experts, and copyright specialists. It’s not so good for kids who understand very little about royalties and who are coping with chronic suicidal feelings.
Isn’t life—real life—the place where, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, one in six young people between the ages of 10 and 17 has seen or knows someone who has been shot? It may be cool to purchase freeze-dried “Elvis sweat.” The fact is that in the United States, children 18 and under (according to the FBI) are 244% more likely to be killed by guns now than they were in 1986.
Now, this is not Elvis Presley’s fault; it’s the fault of the commercialism and retail-idolatry that may have contributed to the sweet singer’s own self-destruction. Record moguls, movie producers, Internet manipulators, and others (including some parents) have forgotten what their own trembling was like, at the age of 12 or 13, when they suddenly realized that life will end someday and that the end of the discussion is nothing but the grave.
There is a teenage suicide epidemic in this country. There is a horrific cycle of suicide in our military. We all have to assert that death is not glamorous—it is very dark. Let’s not post our approval on dying young and irresponsibly.