If you were Rip Van Winkle and woke up after a long sleep - say a couple of decades or so - and flipped on the television, you might think you'd been out for an afternoon nap.
The news this past week provided a wearying d? vu with all the same people, same faces, same names: Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, followed by Reagan, Bush, Clinton and...? If you were running for president these days, you might worry if your name weren't Reagan, Bush or Clinton.
Reagan, as only Rip Van Winkle might not know, died and George Herbert Walker Bush jumped out of another airplane, this time to celebrate his 80th birthday.
And Bill Clinton was back - did he ever leave? - with a White House portrait unveiling and a book about, what else, himself. His personal odyssey, for which he was paid a $10 million advance, competes with "The Iliad" in the blockbuster sweeps. Publisher Knopf has received so many pre-orders that a second printing reportedly is in the works.
Oh, and lest we forget, O.J. Simpson was back, granting interviews to mark the 10th anniversary of his wife's slaughter. A little thicker, he was otherwise his jolly old self, "po'd," he kept saying, about plenty, but especially about his wife not being around to help with the kids. How could she?
As media runs go, it was a week of stories that write themselves, and that leave readers and viewers exhausted. They had it all - sex, violence, grief, high-altitude histrionics and epic dimension. Riveting, if a little hysterical.
One minute we were grieving a former president; next we were imagining a bewildered Akita tracking blood through Brentwood. Then we were at Omaha Beach choking back tears recalling the thousands who died there when, wait, an 80-year-old former president is jumping out of an airplane.
You want nuance? Rent a foreign flick or move to France. In America, we like ours big, loud, up close, personal and intense. Give it to us all the way and toss in extra anchovies. Extreme symbols for extreme times.
It is all very odd.
O.J. Simpson may have been acquitted by his sequestered jury, but 77 percent of Americans still think he murdered his wife and Ronald Goldman. Even so, we still want to hear what he has to say and treat him just as another fellah inconvenienced by the sometimes-wacky American judicial system.
Clinton, about whom almost nothing is unknown and whose history needs no recounting, nonetheless has produced a doorstop memoir filling in any gaps that might remain. First kiss, perhaps?
The book will be launched June 22 with 1,000 close friends at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, followed by le tour . Based on the long lines during Sen. Hillary Clinton's book-signing tour, we can expect logjams for her husband's.
For reasons that escape some of us, the former president has Elvis drawing power and an indefatigable capacity for enduring adulation. He fairly glows when lens and lights are focused on him. When focused elsewhere, as when President George W. Bush was eulogizing Reagan last week, he slips into slumber.
Was Clinton napping, or was he privately projecting his own future state funeral and famous last words?
Reagan: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
Clinton: "I did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky."
Surely bracing to Clinton, given the inevitable comparisons, was the persistent image of Mrs. Reagan mournfully stroking the flag draped over her husband's casket. Kind of makes you want to curl up into a little fetal ball and murmur "mama." Or bask in the glow of people too startled by starlight to notice naked narcissism.
Clinton says he wants to schedule only one event per day during his tour in order to sign as many books as possible. Translation: in order to receive as much attention as possible.
In the midst of this media orgy, the nation seems to have slipped into a narcoleptic amnesia. What murder? What impeachment? What shame? Only celebrity matters.
In the fantasy world of celebrity, O.J. is still a famous football player married to a sexy blond, bounding through airports to a Hertz fortune. And Clinton is still the charming, loquacious, lip-biting victim of a vast right-wing conspiracy comprised of sexually envious Bible-thumpers projecting their own self-loathing onto the sax-playing soul man.
In other news, Sen. John F. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, is still running.