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In Honor of a Rabbit

Has the United States Postal Service stooped too low? First, in 1995, there was the Elvis Presley commemorative stamp. Beyond the debates over which stamp to choose - the younger Elvis or the older version - there was the question of whether the King of Rock really belonged on a stamp, as a figure of cultural worth or achievement.

While we cast our vote for the younger Elvis, we also said certain standards about public or cultural service should be maintained, and a distinction made between pop figures and those whose life or work is worth civic note.

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So now comes Bugs Bunny. This spring, the Postal Service plans to honor America's most famous rabbit by putting him on a stamp. A number of people again are yelling foul - and for some good reasons. For one, Bugs is a trademarked character of Warner Brothers. One of the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee's 12 rules about suitable subjects for stamps is that they not be issued to honor commercial enterprises or products.

It also appears that the Postal Service is hoping Bugs will do what Elvis and other celebrity stamps have done - make money. As with Elvis and the others, the Postal Service already has begun to heavily promote Bugs Bunny. This commercialism is cheapening the US stamp program, critics say.

But, actually, Bugs is more the exception than the rule. In 1996, new stamps were issued honoring, among others, the Fulbright Scholarships, artist Georgia O'Keeffe, and author F. Scott Fitzgerald. There was a new "Endangered Species" stamp and a "Save Our Environment" stamp. For 1997, the Postal Service has planned a "World of Dinosaurs" stamp, a "Helping Children Learn" stamp, and stamps commemorating Benjamin Franklin and Thornton Wilder.

So it doesn't appear there's been a drastic lowering of standards. Sure, a Bugs Bunny stamp probably means higher revenues for the Postal Service, but it also means light-hearted fun for the rest of us. A Bugs stamp just might help get more young people interested in collecting, as the Postal Service says it's intended to do. And though he can't - and shouldn't - be compared to some of the historical figures honored on a stamp, Bugs Bunny is more than a corporate product. He, like Elvis, is an American icon.

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