Saturday, May 09, 2009

Stamps Mirror Who We Are

Many years ago I heard one of Dr. John Lienhard’s programs, The Engines of Our Ingenuity; more specifically, his explanation on Numismatics . The long and short of his talk boiled down to the premise that coins have a two fold purpose, a form of exchange; but beyond that they are a reflection of who we are and what is important to our culture.

“Money, after all, represents the works of our hands -- our technology. Our interest in money has a component that's far more honorable than greed. Money represents what we do. And what we do is what we are. A curious biblical remark tells us that our heart will be where our treasure is. It sounds cynical at first, but it makes more sense when we see money as a kind of condensed representation of ourselves. In the end, it's not surprising that we reveal our hearts in this most peculiar art form. We say who we are, and what we value, when we coin money.”

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to include stamps in that same thought process; after all, stamps have a monetary value and in past times have been used as a form of exchange when coinage was absent. Beyond the values of the actual stamp would be the art form incorporated within the limited area for printing.

Philately, the studying stamps, is the natural twin to numismatics; both endeavors generally appreciate the relationship of the miniature works to the society which employs their use. Artists and engravers are challenged to summarize a single aspect worthy of their efforts, a chance to memorialize if you will, a pinnacle reached by that society. In the case of stamps, the artwork is something which will be observed in passing, affixed to the edge of a letter or important item to be mailed.

That brings me to something we should wonder about as a society. We will now be using the Simpsons to mail letters. I see this as a failure, in so many ways, of our society to strive for the finest available; instead we have permitted ourselves to sink to yet another level of mediocrity. I refuse to exhibit the Simpson Stamp; rather, I’ve displayed the cover of the Scott Postage Stamp Catalog from a few years back.

“The stamp issue is part of a yearlong Fox celebration dubbed "Best 20 Years Ever." Honoring all things "Simpsons."”

In the near future I suppose we’ll have stamps showing our fascination with erectile dysfunction, a pair of old fashioned tubs side by side at the edge of a lake. We could combine the medicinal value of Cialis, or some other major brand, with the postage stamp industry. Licking the stamp might become a little harder; and as always, should your trip to the mail box last longer than four hours; notify your postal inspector.

I don’t wish to sound like a broken record; however, that line from Douglas Callister, the one I referred to in last week’s Sunday School lesson needs to be shared with more of our fellow citizens; especially those in charge of the Post Office.

“When some music has passed the tests of time and been cherished by the noble and refined, our failure to appreciate it is not an indictment of grand music. The omission is within. If a young person grows up on a steady diet of hamburgers and french fries, he is not likely to become a gourmet. But the fault is not with fine food. He just grew up on something less. Some have grown up on a steady diet of musical french fries.”

Our culture has come to expect nothing more than french fries and hamburgers when we have so much more we could be enjoying. What does our music, our art, our literature have to say about us as a civilized people? Now, look at our postage stamps; we have the Simpsons, a beacon to the world of what we have become; God help us.

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