Philatelic Controversy

Standard

Could you have imagined that postage stamps could summon controversy? Okay, maybe, Finland’s recent “unfurling” of homoerotic stamps featuring the artwork of Tom of Finland will not be everyone’s favorite (I love them!), but conventional philatelists are pretty up in arms about non-conventional stamp releases.

Unfurl it! Cannot help but think of classic Kids in the Hall skit “Danny Husk is Blade Rogers” – the whole clip is chuckle-worthy, but the final 30-40 seconds feature the clip I thought of. (Love Scott Thompson and Dave Foley!)

“Now that I own it, let’s say I see it. Unfurl it, boy. It’s not a flag, let it touch the ground.”

Not being a stamp collector – at all – but someone who likes to choose interesting postage stamps when I send out postal letters and my quarterly soundtrack CDs (yeah I am that old school – actual CDs in the actual postal mail), I sort of keep my eyes open for cool stamps.

Recently while stumbling through the United States Postal Service website, I found that there will soon be a Jimi Hendrix stamp (looks vaguely psychedelic).

USPS Jimi Hendrix postage stamp

USPS Jimi Hendrix postage stamp

But it got me to thinking, “Why Jimi? Why Jimi and not Jim or Janis?” I searched more and found a Rolling Stone article that confirms that the USPS will release stamps of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, James Brown, Roy Orbison, Tammy Wynette, Michael Jackson, Sam Cooke – and others. Including John Lennon. This is where the controversy begins.

“A U.S.P.S. rep told the Post that stamp subjects may change at any time. The Postal Service is looking to attract younger stamp collectors with some of these new additions; because some of these proposed stamps betray previous stamp guidelines (such as the subject being American, in the case of John Lennon), this new direction has become controversial among older philatelists.”

Who knew that stamps could cause controversy? While I can imagine that something like the Finnish stamps might stir up some grumbling among some people, the idea that a non-American appears on an American stamp seems like igniting a controversy where there isn’t (or shouldn’t be) one. Then again, there is something called the “Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee” – stamps really matter to someone.

The Importance of the Surname

Standard

I am and always have been unmarried. While I don’t plan to get married any time soon, I cannot begin to imagine changing my surname just because I got married. I have given this a lot of thought over the years, never really confronted with the reality of having to choose one path or the other. The controversy of it (as if there should be a controversy around something so simple, so tied to one’s own choice about personal identity) came to mind today when I read about Air Canada’s recent kerfuffle about refusing to allow spouses to transfer tickets to each other if they had different surnames. (Referred to on Twitter as #SurnameGate.)

This might be a new issue in North America, but having spent a good portion of my life in Iceland with Icelanders, whose naming conventions dictate that people take their father’s first name plus a –son or –dottir suffix as their “surnames”. When a typically quite mixed Icelandic family travels together, there can be a lot of questions asked because everyone in the family has a different last name.

Aside from the world’s different naming conventions (lots of countries do it differently; Iceland is just the most obvious, near-and-dear-to-me example), the idea of personal identity comes to mind. While it has been historically common and expected that women in much of North America change their names when engaging in matrimonial activities, feminism and women’s liberation put a small dent in that. The hyphenated surname also has grown in popularity. I even know a few couples who decided to choose whole new names, unrelated to either of them, to start their new lives together. Non-traditional options aside, apparently, most Americans still choose to take their spouses surname; most Americans seem to feel it should be legally required to enforce marital name changes?!

I met a funny, personable American woman in the Keflavik airport in the late autumn of 2013 who told me that she decided to keep her maiden name not just because she had worked hard to get her PhD just before her father died but because it was a part of her identity. Getting her doctorate was the only time in her life that she saw her father cry. He commented, “It’s just too bad that the only doctor to ever have our family name won’t have it much longer.” She realized she wanted to keep the name – to honor her father, her family, herself. It echoes the same kinds of feelings I have always had about my name. I never loved the surname I was born with, but the longer I live, the more I do, the more accomplishments I rack up, the more pieces of official ID I collect, the more I am cemented in this identity. It has absolutely nothing to do with some future spouse’s identity or name. (Some argue that it has nothing to do with one’s father either – but it has more to do with one’s parentage than it does some random person you fell in love with – but that too is a matter of perception, choice, how you live your life and want to be identified.)

Leaving aside the personal attachments and bureaucratic and legal issues attached to having a name, where the issue becomes even more contentious is where a person is actually prevented from doing something because they have made the choice not to toe the name-changing line. One friend was not able to do anything with bills or bank accounts because her name was not the same as her husband’s. When she explained to the customer service agent that she did not have to change her name, the agent seemed surprised that one has a choice.

And in Air Canada’s case, although they had a clearly stated policy in place that addressed this issue, the customer service issue went viral because of social media and one man’s determination. When he was prevented from transferring a ticket to his wife, he elevated the issue to become one that transcends a customer service faux pas and becomes something bigger. As the man stated in his exchange, ““You can see how this institutionalizes a lower quality of service to women who kept their maiden names, though, yes?””