Some stamp collectors are upset over a new line of Harry Potter stamps
Dean Obeidallah: Keep in mind that the Postal Service is in a financial mess
He says popular stamps are preferable to higher deficits or drastic cuts in services
Obeidallah: The Postal Service should roll out some stamps that can make money
Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the co-director of the new comedy documentary “The Muslims Are Coming!” It was released recently. Follow him on Twitter @deanofcomedy.
First, immigrants steal Americans’ jobs. And now foreigners are stealing Americans’ rightful place on U.S. postage stamps!
OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But a new line of Harry Potter stamps released this week by the U.S. Postal Service has outraged some stamp enthusiasts. As the former head of the American Philatelic Society (that’s a stamp collecting society to the rest of us) noted: “Harry Potter is not American. It’s foreign, and it’s so blatantly commercial it’s off the charts.”
First off, can a fictitious teenage wizard ever become a U.S. citizen? Secondly, and far more importantly, the Postal Service is in a financial “hot mess.” It’s losing $25 million every day. And for the 2013 fiscal year, which ended September 30, the USPS ran up a deficit of $5 billion.
At this point, I’d be all for a stamp bearing the image of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack if that could generate revenue. That’s preferable to higher deficits, drastic cuts in services and increases in stamp prices.
Look, I understand that one of the mandates of the Postal Service is, “portraying the American experience to a world audience through the issuance of postage stamps.” But the “American experience” is not just colored by U.S. citizens.
Plus Harry Potter and his cast of cohorts are not the first non-U.S. citizens to grace our stamps. Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, Mother Theresa and French singer Edith Piaf have all been featured on past stamps.
This is not the first time a new set of stamps has caused controversy. In 2001, the Postal Service came under fire from some on the right when it released the Frida Kahlo stamp because she was a Communist, a Mexican and a bisexual. In fact, the late Republican Senator Jesse Helms denounced the stamp on the Senate floor.
Some have even objected to stamps honoring Mother Theresa, celebrating the Muslim Eid holiday, or bearing the image of the famed Botticelli painting of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus. Why? Because they were troubled by the religious implications.
It appears, though, that the real reason for the uproar over the Harry Potter stamp isn’t his citizenship status. Rather, it’s because stamp purists are dismayed by the increasing commercialization of U.S. postage stamps. As one collector said: “They shouldn’t be reduced to the latest fads, whatever’s going to sell.”
This very issue has caused friction between the Postal Service and the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee – a body established in 1957 to evaluate and recommend to the USPS what should be chosen for stamps.
The tension undoubtedly escalated when the Postal Service chose not to consult with this advisory committee before approving the new Harry Potter stamp collection.
But here’s the thing: It’s not an either/or scenario. Stamps bearing images of iconic America, like national parks and national heroes, will always have their audience. And pop culture stamps certainly have their legion of fans. Keep in mind that the stamp featuring Elvis Presley is the top seller of all time with over 700 million sold.
So I say it’s time for the Postal Service to roll out stamps that will make money. I don’t care if it’s Miley Cyrus swinging on a wrecking ball, an angry Donald Trump or Honey Boo Boo wearing a tiara. These are all preferable to the Postal Service incurring more debt and slashing services to the point where it ends up having to lay off so many postal workers that it’s stuck delivering mail via carrier pigeon.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.