Categorized | Kamin_Ben_Rabbi, USA

Elvis stamp sends wrong message to youth

By Rabbi Ben Kamin

Rabbi Ben Kamin

Rabbi Ben Kamin

ENCINITAS, California — 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.

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.

Rabbi Kamin is an author and freelance writer.  You may comment to him at [email protected]

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4 Responses to “Elvis stamp sends wrong message to youth”

  1. guiillermo says:

    By the look on his face, Mr. Ben Kammin wasn’t even born when Elvis Presley, then just 21, was the prime mover for the exponential increase in the immunization level ( from 0.6% to 80%, across the US over the next six months),after he went live, on national television in the afternoon fn October 28, 1956, and was innoculated by the top NY doctor and the top NY nurse with the third version, the one that finally worked, after 2 death ridden, failed attempts in both 1954 and 1955 of Jonas Salk’s anti-polio vaccine. In April of 1957, the Jonas Salk Institute announced that polio was all but eradicated from US soil. For that alone, the first Elvis stamp was more than warranted. As to the second stamp, ask the 250,000 Hungarians his US$6 million (US$49.5 in 2015 adjusted dollars) helped settle in Vienna and London after the 1956 invasion by the Soviets, received as they were by the IRC in Geneva after Ed Sullivan requested emergency funds be sent on his behalf on January 6, 1957, or the thousands of children throughout the world whose parents find solace in St Jude’s a hospital, an institution he helped launch, in both 1957 and 1964, with his donations, or ask the state of Hawaii’s officials how the 62 million who have thus far toured the USS Arizona Memorial must feel about Presley’s contribution to the building of that Memorial, one fifth of whose total cost he personally handed to the Pacific Commission in March of 1961. The construction was going nowhere until Elvis stepped in. Presley, even before he turned 25 had done enough to be worthy of being the subject of two USPS commemorative stamps…

    Even the citizens of Budapest learned to appreciate the humanitarian side of Elvis. Their country ravaged by two successive invasions, masterminded by Yuri Andropov, then the Soviet Amabassador to Hungary and given the OK by Nikita Krushchev, on 24 and 31 October, 1956. And what did Elvis, without a single pint of Hungarian blood do? It was a bit too late to organize and make the appeal for emergency assistabnce to those who suffered the invasion when he faced the 55 million who watched his second appearance at Sullivan, on October 28, so he asked him to please make a mention of it, on the third, that which was telecast to some 50 million on January 6,1957. But Sullivan was worried about the Coke which was supposed to hang from Elvis’ knee, from the inside of his trousers, so he ordered his cameramen, for the first time, to film him from the waist up ONLY. He wasn’t for the appeal, but Presley insisted, then sang a gospel in their honour a gesture which Sullivan was also against. But Presley prevailed and 55 years later, in 2011, he was named a citizen of that city, and a park facing the oldest bridge the Margret bridge, named after him for having garnered, for the International Red Cross in Geneva some US$6 million, the equivalent of US$49.5 million in adjusted 2015 dollars, which the IRC then distributed as perishables and non perishables to to the 250,000 who settled, take this, in Vienna and London. And not a single news organization gave this any credit until the Hungarians honoured him….

    The extent of ignorance regarding the humanitarian side of Elvis came crushing into my head not so long ago, when the US Army retired the plane which made more than 100 sorties, delivering all that aid, Army rations, etc, to the 250,000 Hungarians, from Germany to Austria and London, and back, as well as from the US to Europe and back. The plane made all those sorties in an 11 month period, from early 1957 to early 1958. Then, in March of 1960, it was also the plane which by an incredible coincidence brought Sgt Presley bsck from his service in the then West Germany. So, can anyone here reading these posts imagine my disappointment when the ARMY press release mentioned the 100 sorties, as well as the fact that it had brought Presley back, but without mentioning that the source of all of those US$ 6 million which the IRC translated into Army rations, etc, and tghe 100 sorties, had been the direct result of Presley’s appeal? I wrote to the general, and apparently they themselves did not know, in 2014, about the 1957 Presley appeal.

    Guillermo F. Perez-Arguello, Managua, Nicaragua

  2. Robin Markowitz says:

    Which “pure” artists would YOU choose for a stamp? Not many from which to choose,eh?

    The stamp is for his artistic accomplishments and acknowledges his humanitarian work mentioned in the comment above. (There is much, much more.) One doesn’t reduce a great artist to their worst personal experiences and errors. We’d have very little art if we always did that.

    Elvis Presley was a great American artist. Though he did make mistakes in his personal life, it’s really none of your business. I will leave that judgment to G-d. Surely you are not speaking for Him?

    Robin Markowitz, Orange, California

  3. Tony Plews says:

    Sir, thank you for your article which draws attention to the appalling level of teenage suicide. Many of us will have personal connections with this topic.

    However, I feel your singling-out of Presley is unnecessary and inappropriate. Presley was not a celebrity, he was an artist: the fame was an unfortunate side-effect of his unprecedented success.

    As with so many (all ?) public figures, he lived two lives: public and private. Many times (most notably in a 1972 press conference) Presley acknowledged the impossibility of living up to an image. Were the postal stamp to feature JFK or MLK, men who influenced the world immeasurably for the better, we could easily be having the same conversation about double standards.

    Presley did not kill himself per se … he was killed by his understandable inability to deal with the fame that was thrust upon him. That’s not hypocrisy, it’s tragic and worthy of understanding and sympathy.

    In truth, he was a modern day King David: gifted with astonishing good looks, great charisma, an irresistible musical blessing, and a sense of having being called. Yet he had many failings and was able to acknowledge those failings to those closest to him (“My biggest problem is that I am self-destructive.”)

    How would any of us have coped with the hand dealt to Presley? Probably not as well as he did, in truth. The time has come to put his mistakes to one side (as we have done with MLK and Ali, for example) and focus instead on his great achievements and legacy.

    Indeed, had we looked only at the face Presley presented to the world for almost a quarter of a century, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. His failings were posthumous. Let’s finally bury them along with his body and celebrate the life in his music. — Tony Plews, Ealing, London, UK

  4. tom long says:

    “in the end, the Postal Service, always poorly run, and fiscally dysfunctional” Really Rabbi, where do you get your information? Congress imposed the Postal Accounting and Enhancement Act of 2006. No other company has this burden placed on it finances. Maybe you are remembering the wrong part of Elvis’ life. — Tom Long, Rockford, Illinois


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