Amid all the hype about Monday’s solar eclipse, only one aspect of the event has not been thoroughly and relentlessly examined — the hype itself. Why is a celestial event that could have been predicted by Galileo attracted so much attention? I have collected six theories to explain.
1. 1979 was a long time ago
We’ve had 38 years of pent-up demand for looking at the sky with cardboard sunglasses. We remember 1979 as a more innocent time, for those of us who can remember it at all. A solar eclipse to cut across the United States again in 2024, but it’s easy to make the mistake that we’ll have to wait another 38 years for the next one. We think of anything that happens over our heads as happening on a strict schedule of non-random repetitions.
2. This eclipse is all ours
We’ve had eclipses before, but each one in our lifetimes has also crossed through parts of Mexico or Canada. This eclipse will be draped across our nation like a beauty pageant sash. American supremacy has been in the news a lot lately, so it’s good to see the heavens literally lining up with those talking points. If an eclipse wanted to “see the real America” for a few hours, it couldn’t have chosen a better path. It will miss the power centers of New York and California, but those places’ radio signals can be found literally anywhere in our solar system. (“I Love Lucy” is currently under “new releases” on Netflix Uranus.)
3. We’re all media moguls now
Nothing screams “selfie” like an non-recurring event — especially one you can plan for and then look back on. Since each of us has friends who live elsewhere, we’ll want to digitally gloat about what the sky looks like over our heads. We can be sure they will follow our FaceBook feed with envy, unless they are among the million people who are jumping into planes and rental cars to witness the traffic jams that will keep them — and many of us — from witnessing the event.
4. Let’s spend some money
It’s probably the prejudice of place, but it sure seems like Oregon is getting more than its fair share of attention surrounding this eclipse. Maybe it’s because we’ll be first to see it. Or maybe shows like “Portlandia” and fawning press reports have deposited Oregon into many people’s bucket lists. People have money in their pockets and time on their hands. What they don’t have is any good ideas about what they could be doing with either. It’s been so long since we had anything to spare, we’ve forgotten how to handle such an excess. A trip to Oregon (or someplace else) for a three-minute show somehow seems like a good idea.
5. It’ll be an adventure
Thanks in part to the Great Recession, many Americans in their 50s or 60s left the workforce before they may have intended. We’ve never had more active seniors looking for an adventure. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is not for everyone. Nor is driving a camper around and visiting all 48 contiguous states. Thousands of people are looking for a way to get out of the house, but not too far out. An adventure that involves going outside and looking up — that sounds perfect!
6. Things are looking up
The Aztecs may have taken an eclipse as a bad omen, but we can’t be anything but grateful for even a small modicum of normality or predictability in the world around us. Global climate disruption, Korean missile threats, or just one more day of too-hot weather — we haven’t had many opportunities lately to look to the sky and feel anything other than dread.
Hype or no hype, I’m planning to stay put Monday morning, and here’s why. Somebody in 2024 might ask me where I was when the last eclipse favored the United States, and I don’t want to tell them I was stuck on a road outside Harrisburg. I want to say I was under Eugene’s 98 percent obscurance, where good enough is a way of life.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.