In the dozen or so conversations about the eclipse, which I have had over the last ten days, I can’t think of one in which eclipse glasses were not mentioned. That’s not counting another five or six that were only about eclipse glasses; the eclipse itself didn’t come up.
From a solemn celestial event to a marketing opportunity. Whenever I think about it, makes me laugh. What a bunch of boobies you all are! The media pressed your buttons, and off you went.
An argument could be made that with eclipse glasses you could safely observe the eclipse directly – instead of as a projection through a pinhole in a piece of cardboard, as we were instructed in 1954. That’s a better rationale than any I’ve heard for self-driving cars.
The funny thing is, though, none of my acquaintances seemed much interested in eclipse glasses as enhancers of their eclipse-watching experience. They saw eclipse glasses as a health care product – something you might pick up at a CVS, rather than a Sharper Image. Oh, sure, eclipse glasses would allow you to look directly at the eclipse, but the main thing – evidently – is that they kept you from going blind.
Well, of course! They know what buttons to push. (By “they” I’m referring to a huge amorphous agglomeration of people and computer programs.)
The hypochondria button was a sensitive button to begin with – just look at the ads at the back of 100-year-old periodicals. In the last decade it has been so exquisitely massaged that it will react to almost any stimulus. If eclipse glasses had been marketed as a way to increase one’s pleasure, quite a few may have been bought. As a blindness-prevention device, they sold in the zillions.
In our neck of the woods, today we had a 75% eclipse.
I remember a couple of other partial eclipses. (Those must have been in 1954 and 1979; I was out of the country in 1970.) Back then, everyone knew that you shouldn’t look directly at the sun. People reminded each other, just in case. In news stories about the eclipse, a single sentence was devoted to the risk. A conscientious county health department might have had radio stations air a public announcement the day before. Science teachers demonstrated the pinhole method, or some other way of safely viewing an eclipse. Some newspapers might have run educational articles, with diagrams.
Perhaps some poor benighted entrepreneur had the brilliant idea of marketing eclipse glasses. If so, it turned out a dud.
(Oddly – and just to show that they are not completely in control – the total eclipse of the sun was itself eclipsed by the phenomenon of Amazon having to refund money to customers who bought fake eclipse glasses. Amazon coyly refused to say how many refunds it made. It could have been a million; it could have been a hundred. Either way, Amazon’s demonstration of cheerful conscientiousness will go a long way towards making up for any profits it might have sacrificed by the refund.)
The eclipse of 2017 is another reminder that the Age of Enlightenment is well behind us. Just as it was in the middle-ages, just as it is still in primitive, uncivilized societies, the 21st century solar eclipse has again become a fearful source of mass hysteria.