Simpsons Get Stamp of Approval …

NASA may send rockets into space, but the folks who can barely get the mail delivered on earth are a lot smarter – at least when it comes to handling public relations stunts.

The U.S. Postal Service rolled out a sneak peek Thursday of the new Simpsons stamps, featuring the dysfunctional cartoon family that seems right at home on FOX – and in most U.S. living rooms.

In a bid to build momentum leading up to the stamps’ May 7 issue date, the USPS is running an online ballot that allows voters to pick their favorite of the five 44-centers: Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa or Maggie (sorry, no Apu or Comic Book Guy – at least not yet). “Vote Early and Often: It’s the American Way,” the website declares, gleefully promoting “ballot stuffing.”

The tone of the contest, whose results mean nothing, is cheerfully irreverent in a very Simpsons-like way – and a clever attempt to get the public involved (ironically, via e-mail).

The unlikely Simpsons stamps had their roots in grassroots: they started as one of the 50,000 annual suggestions for stamp sets, which, with the help of various advisory committee members, get whittled down to 20 to 25 releases a year.

As the USPS is reaping a potential publicity bonanza by playing to Simpsons fans, the rocket scientists at NASA are scrambling to dig out of the mess they’ve gotten themselves into with Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert.

For those living in outer space, here’s a recap: NASA ran an online contest to name Node 3, the planned addition to the International Space Station. Colbert notched more than 230,000 votes as a write-in candidate. The No. 1 choice on the NASA-sanctioned suggestions, the sleepy “Serenity,” finished a distant second.

NASA officials have said all along they reserve the right to pick whatever name they want – which defeats the purpose of the contest and invites bad publicity unneeded by an agency that spends billions when the national deficit is bleeding trillions.

Colbert has been mocking NASA almost daily on the “Colbert Report” ("NASA, don't make me strap a rocket to an intern and launch him into space with a can of spray paint," he declared this week). Some publicity-seeking politicians have made the Colbert naming a cause, and even astronauts living in the space station said they’d be okay with the unusual moniker.

NASA reportedly is eying a compromise under which it would name a space station bathroom for Colbert, indicating the rocket scientists have at least a modicum of a sense of humor left. A decision is expected this month.

“The Simpsons” and faux-conservative talk show "Colbert Report" are cut from similar comic cloth in terms of weaving irony and hypocrisy into laughs. NASA is unintentionally giving both shows a run for their money. 

Even the U.S. Postal Service must be chuckling.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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