on Jun 22nd, 2009 in Labor | 14 comments
 
It takes a lot of digging to find a positive Hollywood portrayal of postal employees. From Cheers’ Cliff Clavin to Seinfeld’s Newman, TV and the movies have not always portrayed postal employees in the most favorable light. Even Mr. Rogers’ postman sidekick, Mr. McFeeley, was seldom seen actually delivering any mail. “Going postal” was coined and seemed to be a recurring Hollywood theme in the 1990’s, when the movie mills cranked out “Jingle All The Way,” with Sinbad playing a crazed letter carrier, and “Postal Worker”, which portrayed the entire agency as a simmering pot of twisted individuals. And who can forget, “Zarkorr! The Invader,” the Godzilla rip-off, where a Newark postal worker was tasked with fighting this monster — almost as bad as facing a full set of circs (flyers) on a Tuesday after a Monday holiday. What’s at stake? If he fails, the world will be destroyed. There are exceptions. The mail itself is often treated affectionately. The happy ending to Miracle on 34th Street (1947) hinges on the delivery of letters to Santa. In The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan work side by side but fall in love through the mail. The Postal Inspectors have also had a good run of positive films, starting in 1936 with Postal Inspector, featuring Bela Lugosi (yes, the same one who starred as Dracula), Appointment with Danger in 1951, and the more recent Showtime Inspectors movies with Lou Gossett and Jonathan Silverman.
picture of Cliff from Cheers

Unfortunately, postal employees on the big and small screen are most often portrayed as the Rodney Dangerfield types. No respect. Their heroic deeds of saving a life, or just doing their jobs without fanfare, are rarely aired. The majority of postal employees are dedicated, hard-working individuals. So how did this negative stereotype start? Why do you think postal employees get the short shrift on heroic roles? And what can be done to turn Hollywood around and point them in the right direction?

This topic is hosted by the OIG's Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).

14 Comments

I serviced a route in a poor neighborhood. At Christmas time my wife and I shopped for people who needed some reason for the season. A fellow carrier purchased Thanksgiving diner for people at a homeless shelter. We did it because it made us feel good. No publicity, no bows, no "hey ain't I special?". I am sure there are numerous examples of the above but carriers don't ask for publicity....we just do it!

I'm sure there are many carriers like you Just Retired and your colleague who do good works without any need for publicity. But it wouldn't hurt to get the story out more.

The key is reaching out to Hollywood's writers and producers, much as the CIA did a few years ago. This resulted in the ABC Series, "Alias". It also gave life to a number of number of documentaries including some really good ones on the National Geographic Channel that provided a realistic and yet interesting portrait of the agency.

None of this happened by accident, it was the result of a prolonged effort by the CIA to "change their image" in Hollywood. This included inviting writers and producers to their HQ in Langley, VA and providing subject matter experts at no charge to review scripts and suggest changes.

The Postal Service still retains a valuable bit of mind-share with the public, as they are often listed as the most trusted government agency. Building on that sense of confidence seems natural.

Sometimes there appears to be an aversion to playing on the nostalgia of the Postal Service...because I think there is some fear that it makes the organization appear dated, or less modern than other shippers. But I think that most folks still have a warm place in their hearts for the mail...and maybe more could be done to take advantage of that.

Outreach to the movie and television industry is the key. As someone who's been exposed to a lot of the behind the scenes activity in the Postal Service, I can tell you that there are a number of people who go out of their way to insure that the mail goes through. The trick is to let writers and producers have a chance to see that for themselves.

Great topic!

Thanks so much for your comment. I had no idea that Alias came out of the CIA's efforts to reach out to Hollywood. You're right that there are a lot of good feelings for the Postal Service and postal workers out there. The Postal Service shouldn't be afraid to reach out.

I got so used to hearing the sterotypes about postal workers it just didn't bother me after awhile. People are going to think what they are going to think, and I'm not going to waste my time trying to educate them. And besides some of it is well deserved. A family member gave me a t-shirt when I retired that said, don't p--- me off, I work at the PO. And their was an assult rifle under that. I didn't get upset. But I'd never wear it,esp. not in public. You just have to roll with the punches.

Thanks for the comment, Dan M.

How about the movie "Dear God" starring Greg Kineer about Postal Workers in Los Angeles helping the community by responding to letters in the Dead Letter Office written to God. Thats about as "feel good" as you can get. Maybe not "Miracle on 34th Street", but a top 5.

I agree with Les, USPS needs to reach out to Hollywood.

Thanks for the suggestion. It sounds like a good movie to check out.

One more good one to cite: The 2008 Muppet special entitled A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa. Jesse L. Martin plays a very positive role as a Postal worker. Very pro-USPS. When I saw it, I was wondering if some of our marketing folks may have been working with the producers on this one. . . Thought I would buy the DVD to share with the office at the holidays. . .

I've been a city letter carrier for 11 years now. I really enjoy my job. I can't go anywhere without running into someone I have met due to my job and different routes I have had. Most people do not understand that our job entails a whole lot more than just walking down the street putting paper into boxes. In many ways we become family to so many of our customers. I am amazed at what people will share with me about things going on in their lives.
I have often thought that a day in the life of a letter carrier would make a great reality TV show. But, we need to be portrayed as we really are: hard working people who can help make a difference in so many people's lives.

CHANGE OUTER PERCEPTION FROM WITHIN.

Postal Workers - ESPECIALLY MAIL CARRIERS - are the most pressured workers I've ever seen. They are timed, watched and regulated by (mostly) overzealous, micro managing, bonus-happy, discipline threatening supervisors. Their hard work goes completely ignored, marginalized and even disputed by their bosses on a daily basis. Still, they try to enjoy their work.

With the current economic climate, failed Postal leadership, manipulation of Postal Unions and the enforcement of Pivoting (unpaid overtime) on thousands of workers across the country -- HOW DO YOU CHANGE THAT?

The Postal Service needs to appreciate the workers. Without them there is no Postal Service.

Hollywood thrives on stereotypes. Stereotypes are always 50 percent truth. There is no way around that. I wish there was.

My boss at the office where I work pressures us on a daily basis so she can get her bonus. It is very important to her. If we go over on our time by one minute, we are written up and sometimes given a verbal warning not to let it happen again. The temperatures here in south texas are near a hundred degrees most of the days during the summer but she says that the weather does not affect us. Or when it's pouring down cats and dogs, we can't let that slow us down.We have to just keep running so she gets her bonus which is a few thousand dollars. And the postal service officials can't understand why we are losing so much money.

I think postal employees got a bad rap from that film with Robert Redford 5? 6? days of the condor.The postman that tried to shoot him at the door.

I can tell you that there are a number of people who go out of their way to insure that the mail goes through. The trick is to let writers and producers have a chance to see that for themselves.

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