The Enemy Is Us
So reads the introductory copy for a mailer hawking a Norman Rockwell print of “The Plumbers,” shown on this page. The Postal Commemorative Society of Norwalk, CT, sells the replica for $135, payable in five monthly installments. Here’s how they describe it —
You can see why this painting is one of the all-time favorite Rockwells. The artist actually enlisted the aid of two plumber-friends — and their tools — to pose for this painting, all for the sake of realism. Rockwell captures the stance of both men perfectly, a masterstroke that gives this scene such a comic turn. No detail is missed — notice the half smile, half grimace on the helper’s face as he’s hit with the spray. And see the scuffmarks on the tools and both men’s boots. This is Rockwell at his very best!
Take a good look at this picture, my friends. Check out the slovenly appearance of these plumbers, the dopey looks on their face, their slapstick postures. Tell me, is this the image you wish conveyed of your trade?
Let’s hope not. By now some of you may be getting your dander up, as well you should. Righteous indignation is what inspired Bill Parr (Parr’s Plumbing & Heating, Allentown, PA), to share this insulting mail solicitation with me.
Question is, who should you get mad at? Norman Rockwell? Heck, read the last italicized paragraph. He was a great artist who merely painted what he saw. A couple of real life plumbers willingly hammed it up posing for this work.
Many of you will direct your anger instead at the Postal Commemorative Society. I think that’s also misguided. They’re merely entrepreneurs trying to make a few thoroughly legal bucks by supplying a marketable commodity to a receptive audience.
And just who is that audience? According to the Postal Commemorative Society ...
“The Plumbers” would make a fine addition to any home or office. It is the perfect gift for any plumber.
Self-inflicted Wounds: How astounding that they would market this silly icon to people in the plumbing field. Imagine using the NAACP mailing list to sell posters of Steppin’ Fetchit, or peddling pornography to members of the National Organization of Women, or hunting scenes to the animal rights crowd. What marketers in their right mind would waste their time trying to sell images so obviously offensive to the intended recipients.
But they apparently figure to find plenty of gullible people in the plumbing industry willing to spend $135 for the privilege of denigrating themselves.
No, my friends, it doesn’t make sense to get angry at the late Norman Rockwell for practicing his art, nor at the Postal Commemorative Society for engaging in capitalism. Those who bear ultimate responsibility for this degradation are the people in our industry whose self-esteem is so corroded they would buy this print and hang it on a wall for all to see.
Would the Postal Commemorative Society have put out mailers to people in the plumbing business if they didn’t suppose many of them view themselves exactly as Norman Rockwell did — as jovial, smelly buffoons? Didn’t they have it right in believing that even after going into business for themselves, most of them still regard themselves as plumbers, as opposed to contractors or businessmen?
Doesn’t the Rockwellian image get reinforced with the public every time a plumber shows up at a customer’s home in a dilapidated truck, wearing dirty clothes and a personality that would do a Hell’s Angel proud?
How can anyone expect the public to have a better image of plumbers than plumbers do of themselves?
Money-Back Guarantee: You can take yourself too seriously, of course. Regular readers have seen me on many occasions poke fun at the silly PC movement with its ever expanding list of contaminated terminology. The ability to laugh at oneself is a healthy human trait.
There comes a point, though, when self-deprecation turns to self-loathing. It is one thing to share an occasional plumber or potty joke. But what kind of twisted mentality yearns for a permanent display of something that represents them as clowns?
Postal Commemorative Society director Peter Maglathlin verified that plumbing contractors represent a major target of this marketing thrust. He declined to tell me how many they’ve sold, saying it was his organization’s policy not to talk to the press (though he was kind enough to return my call to tell me that).
If any of you have succumbed to a spasm of bad judgment in buying one of these reproductions, be mindful that the Postal Commemorative Society advertises a full refund if it’s returned within 30 days of purchase.
If more than 30 days have passed, well, I’m sure there are any number of useful things you could do with them. They’d probably make good kindling for the fireplace to help take the chill out of these last few days of winter. Birds probably would get a kick out of seeing those yokel faces at the bottom of their cage. Or, for you NRA members whose aim might be getting a little rusty, I can’t think of a better bull’s-eye for target practice.
Any of these actions would enable you to salvage a little pride. And in so doing you would make a positive contribution to a worthy trade that provides your livelihood and a better life for everyone.