When, in 2003, Steve McQueen was commissioned to be an official war artist, he created sheets of postage stamps bearing the faces of 98 British soldiers who had been killed in Iraq. The photos were chosen by their loved ones. Seven years on, with a much larger pool of potential subjects, the BAFTA-winning filmmaker and Turner Prize-winning YBA phenom is still at it. Of his plight, McQueen told The Guardian, “The only way a person can appear on a stamp is if you’re a member of the royal family, or if you’re dead. I don’t know who is more deserving to be on a stamp then someone who has fought for their Queen and country. Tell me if I’m wrong. If I’m wrong, fine, then I’ll quit.” But despite repeatedly telling naysayers to, well, lick it—to say nothing of the Queen and Country petition, which has to date been signed by nearly 22,000 people—the Royal Mail worries that the portrayal of these dead soldiers on stamps across the country would be “distressing” and seem “disrespectful.” It wouldn’t be the first time.
Canada, 2010. In celebration of this year’s Black History Month, the Canadian government issued a stamp commemorating William Hall, the first person of color to earn the Victoria Cross, an award given to those who exude bravery “in the face of the enemy.” But some say Hall doesn’t deserve the stamp or the Cross. In a letter to the Toronto Star, one incensed reader writes, “He was not a member of the British army and he was not defending his country or his government. He was a hired mercenary (like the Black Guards in Iraq today) working for East India Co., who sought to maintain illegitimate control over India by wanton atrocity and by instilling fear in an unarmed population.”
U.S.A., 2010. It seems unlikely that anyone would have reason to carp over the deification of philanthropist Mother Teresa in stamp form, but carp they did. Loudly. Apparently in violation of one of the Postal Service’s 12 regulations, which reads, “Stamps or stationery items shall not be issued to honor religious institutions or individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings or beliefs,” the Teresa shout-out did not amuse its secular philately fanatics. One blogger wrote, “Mother Teresa should certainly appear on a stamp—but only after we change the law. We shouldn’t look for loopholes that require denying the importance of her faith in order for her to qualify.” The USPS stood by their decision nonetheless. Spokesman Roy Betts told Fox News, naturally, that “Mother Teresa is not being honored because of her religion, she’s being honored for her work with the poor and her acts of humanitarian relief… This has nothing to do with religion or faith.” Amen?
Mexico, 2005. It’s not tough to see why this one pissed people off. According to MSNBC, “The stamp depicts an exaggerated black cartoon character known as Memin Pinguin, drawn with exaggerated features, thick lips and wide-open eyes. His appearance, speech and mannerisms are the subject of kidding by white characters in the comic book, which started in the 1940s and is still published in Mexico.” But the offending country denied any and all racial motivations, and then compared their cartoon to the 1953 American animated character Speedy Gonzalez, a mouse with a Mexican accent.
U.S.A., 2008. On September 1, 2001, under the Bush administration, the USPS released a stamp calling to attention Eid-ul Fitr, the celebration at the end of Ramadan. Since the 9/11 attacks, a series of chain e-mails have made their rounds boycotting the reissue and expansion of these stamps. Thing is, despite the e-mail’s claims, no attempts have been made to reissue them. Writes one blogger of the boycott, “Mayor Piper [of Clarksville, Tennessee] joins a long list of conservative politicians who have no objection to stamps commemorating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, even teh [sic] Chinese New year—but a stamp devoted to the Muslim holiday of Eid is singled out as a threat, requiring response from ‘patriotic’ Americans?
U.K., 1999. I can’t figure out how The Royal Mail let this one slip ’em by, but putting Queen’s Freddie Mercury on the face of a stamp sure does make their Mother Teresa lovefest seem a little less incendiary.