Considering all the disturbing events of late -- air crashes, U.S. ships picking through Persian Gulf mine fields, more confusion over presidential policies, further dangerous Middle East instability, trade and budget deficits rising again -- the odd question for Americans is not how much more bad news they can take but whether they can survive what simultaneously passes for good.
In this case, what's "good" depends upon one's point of view.
If the press is any guide, a doubtful proposition at best, for many Americans and countless citizens of the world the good news came in two forms last week.
First, there was the weeklong commemoration of Elvis Presley's death, a mega-media event that deserves to be studied by chroniclers of American life in the 1980s along with Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker, Jessica Hahn, Donna Rice and other instant tearstained happenings. This exercise in emotional bathos nicely led into another kind of mega-media event, one of global if not interrestial dimensions: the so-called "Harmonic Convergence," brainstorm of a Colorado art historian named Jose Arguelles.
As staff writer Mary Battiata explained the phenomenon in The Washington Post Monday, Arguelles "consulted the ancient Mayan calendar and a few other sources and concluded that during a two-day period ending yesterday, the Earth would move from one epic age to another." She went on to explain, with delightfully felicitous turn of phrase:
"The transition would be precarious, however, and to help the Earth along into the Age of Aquarius (to say nothing of preventing nuclear holocaust or similar catastrophe), Arguelles recommended that 144,000 humans get together at far-flung sites, hold hands and hum. For reasons that remain unclear, but which undoubtedly have something to do with widespread anxiety about the state of civilization, thousands of people around the world decided to do just that yesterday."
Holding hands and humming at daybreak sounds like a great idea, especially in the dog days of August. It beats the heat and provides a modicum of exercise, at least for the lungs, and that's got to be good for cardiovascular stimulation, fitness freaks. It's also infinitely preferable to what the Elvis throngs did all week, according to accounts from the scene in this newspaper. A sample lead paragraph from Memphis: "At sunrise, Sue Ireland wept, and her friend Cheryl Bott sobbed, as they prepared to place an offering of flowers and letters on Elvis Presley's grave."
Even in this age of media excess, the Elvis outpouring was memorable. The Post alone, in the nine days before, on and immediately after the 10th anniversary of Presley's death, published what must have been much more than 20,000 words of reportage -- far more, I'll bet, than on similar anniversaries of the deaths of John F. Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or, to keep it musical, the much more talented John Lennon. This coverage, often with two stories each day, examined everything from what headline writers described as "The Humble Roots of the King of Rock" to the "Passions of the Faithful." It produced, of course, a revelation or two.
Scoop: "A poem said to be written by Elvis Presley for a Texas woman who claims to be the mother of his illegitimate daughter has been authenticated by New York handwriting expert Charles Hamilton." Follow-up headline: "The Hidden Loves of Elvis Presley. Desiree Presley: the Looks, the Hair and a Reverence for Her Father," and lead: "On the morning of her ascension, Desiree Presley finished another Bloody Mary and began another interview."
Mom -- that is, "Texas woman who claims . . . " -- was not ignored either: "Lucy de Barvin has gunmetal eyes, a gamine smile and poise an airport X-ray couldn't cut through."
What these events say about the needs and hungers of present-day American life is not certain. They are, however, reminiscent of the 1920s when social historians report that people turned away from the disillusioning aftermath of the great-war-to-end-all-wars, the "Red scare" and the lawlessness of the period to take solace in fads and pleasing nostrums, such as the Mah Jong craze, the Coue Institutes teaching audiences nationwide to murmur the invocation, "Day by day in every way I am getting better and better," and the singing, everywhere, of the nonsensical hit song of the era, "Yes, We Have No Bananas."
So here's the good news. Just go on humming. A few bars of "All Shook Up," naturally, will do nicely.