Written by Greg Barbrick
There is a phenomenon in this country which we refer to as “going postal.” The term was coined after a series of mass shootings in the workplace by disgruntled Post Office workers back in the late eighties and early nineties. Since then, “going postal” has entered the lexicon as shorthand for losing one’s temper. It is an example of what one might call vocabulary evolution, and one which I had never paid much attention to previously. But the producers of the new film Murder By Proxy: How America Went Postal certainly have.
The title intrigued me, because it led me to believe that this was a documentary about the rash of Post Office shootings that have occurred over the past 25 years or so. Indeed, the first half of the film does focus on those horrible events. But the real intent of Murder By Proxy: How America Went Postal goes far deeper than what I had initially expected. Murder By Proxy is about rage in the workplace, and in American society at large.
To tell that story would take a much larger budget than this 75-minute picture obviously had – so they focused on relatively current events to make their case. When Patrick Sherrill murdered 14 of his Postal co-workers on August 20, 1986, it shocked the nation. The theory that a seemingly normal but actually unhinged person “lost it” and shot his co-workers seemed plausible enough. Frightening yes, but certainly not a trend.
It became a little more complicated for us as a nation to just dismiss these events with the “lone gunman” theory as Postal rampage after rampage continued. Then the argument became what the hell is it with the Post Office that drives these people to such desperate acts?
Then came Columbine, the Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Xerox shootings, and suddenly the nation was faced with much a much deeper question. The film’s title Murder By Proxy becomes clear at this point. Since you cannot “kill” the Post Office, or Xerox – the thinking is that a person can “hurt” these organizations, or society at large with these types of acts. It is final cry for help in a way, as the gunman (or gunmen in the case of Columbine) generally “finishes the job” by killing themselves.
Murder By Proxy: How America Went Postal is an very intriguing film, but it raises more questions for me than it answers. Maybe that is the whole point; to get us as a society to look deeper for the roots of these horrible actions. Some of the footage they use is shockingly graphic. In particular there are scenes taken from security cameras inside some of the Postal facilities that show the murders as they happened. This is pretty difficult material to watch, and are no disclaimers or anything beforehand.
The issues brought up are undeniably true. But the filmmakers only go back as far as Reagan’s firing of the striking air-traffic controllers in 1981 to explain the roots of this workplace violence. Although it is true that ever since then, the unions have steadily lost power, and individual workers are more and more “on their own” when it comes to the way they are treated on the job. The movie ends with a black and white speech from Lyndon B. Johnson talking about what “The Great Society” should be.
Okay, the movie is what it is. But I kept hoping for more. We all know how to bitch and moan – and that is kind of the overall effect Murder By Proxy had on me. I also found it interesting that all of the footage basically ends in 2008, the year Obama was elected. It feels as if the whole project was resurrected with the Occupy movement.
There is a very obvious political agenda to Murder By Proxy, and I have no problem with that at all. But there are no real answers or even alternatives offered, and that is a bit disappointing. If nothing else though, at least this 75-minute movie might get people talking, and that is at least something.
There are no extras included with the DVD, unless you count the theatrical trailer.