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COMMENTARY

It's a banner year for the anniversary-obsessed

June 20, 2007|Greg Morago | Hartford Courant

When Brits got up in arms recently about the television documentary on Princess Diana that included photographs at the crash scene (disturbing enough to provoke protests from Princes William and Harry), Americans were quick to join the fray. Why? Because the pumps already have been primed for the 10th anniversary of the death of "the people's princess," who was killed along with boyfriend Dodi Fayed and their driver, Henri Paul, on Aug. 31, 1997.

Diana's death is unleashing anniversary anticipation, with a major concert in London, special television programming in the United States and at least 14 book titles.

But there is something more at work, something above and beyond interest in Diana.

It's our inordinate interest in anniversaries.

Such milestones for births, deaths, inventions, cultural touchstones and anything having to do with celebrities usually are colored by intense media interest and no small measure of marketing. From legitimate history-making anniversaries (this year marks the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking baseball's color barrier) to anniversaries that seem to exist only to sell more merchandise (the 30th anniversary of "Star Wars" in May), anniversaries make for interesting pop-cultural blips.

This year is a particularly active year for anniversaries of all stripes:

Residents of Roswell, N.M., will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the "Roswell incident" with a UFO festival. It was in early July 1947 that a mysterious object crashed on a ranch 30 miles north of Roswell, which gave birth to a controversy that still exists. Did alien creatures land there? Did the government cover it up?

This year, Ralph Lauren celebrates his 40th anniversary of turning a little logo on a polo shirt into an iconic American brand. The Polo pony has racked up $10 billion in sales and shows no sign of going to the glue factory. In fact, Lauren was just named menswear designer of the year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

It was 40 years ago that "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" taught Americans how to play. The album was a landmark recording not just for the ever-shifting Beatles but also for pop music. Last week's 40th anniversary of its release was big news in Britain and the States, coinciding neatly with the release of an album from Paul McCartney.

The 30th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death (Aug. 16) will be marked by DVD and CD reissues of beloved films and recordings, and the official Elvis Week festival in Memphis, Aug. 11 to 19.

Last year, Apple Inc. celebrated its 30th anniversary, but this month marks the 30th anniversary of another sort for the company: The first Apple II computers went on sale June 5, 1977.

"I equate the anniversary glut to how other forms of media and entertainment are recycled. Books are turned into movies that are turned into Broadway plays that are turned back into movies that are turned into cartoons," said pop-culture follower Don Carter, creative director for Adams & Knight Advertising and Public Relations in Avon, Conn. "It's all just proof that Americans are not as adventurous as we claim to be."

Perhaps not, but we're really into anniversaries. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the broadcast of the groundbreaking miniseries "Roots"; the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love; the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Midway; the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War of the Arab-Israeli conflict; the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's royal wedding (she was a princess when she wed the Duke of Edinburgh); the 50th anniversary of the original Broadway production of "West Side Story"; the 50th anniversary of the death of Arturo Toscanini; the 25th anniversary of the Falklands conflict; the 70th anniversary of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

What does it all mean? To pop-culture expert Michael Stern, it means there are a lot of people who are invested in reminiscing.

"It seems to me that the inordinate focus on anniversaries has everything to do with the baby boom's tradition of navel contemplation," said Stern, who, along with his wife wrote "Jane & Michael Stern's Encyclopedia of Pop Culture."

"It's interesting that none of the noted anniversaries go back to the early 20th century or before. They all have to do with events that were significant in the last 30 to 50 years, which pretty much starts with the beginning of the baby boom and continues to our adulthood," he said.

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