The Operators Must Be Crazy
John McClane: Mayday, mayday! Anyone copy in channel 9? Terrorists have seized the Nakatomi building and are holding at least 30 people hostage! I repeat, unknown number of terrorists, six or more armed with automatic weapons, at Nakatomi Plaza, Century City. Somebody answer me, god damn it!
Dispatcher: Attention, whoever you are, this channel is reserved for emergency calls only.
John McClane: No fuckin' shit, lady! Do I sound like I'm ordering a pizza?!?
Phone operators are mysterious people. Completely faceless and dedicated to following the correct protocol to reroute calls to the proper addresses when the person can't reach it on his own. Although they are humans, to some people, they can seem closer to machines.
Except when they aren't. For some reason, the operators in this work don't want to do what they're supposed to, and they rebel against the system any time they're reached. At their worst, these operators will harass the calling people and verge on sounding like prank callers themselves, and it's hard to imagine that they'll keep their jobs for a particularly long time. Even those that aren't flat out crazy and abusive will come across as an Obstructive Bureaucrat
This trope actually is Truth in Television
. In fact, one reason that telephone companies began hiring young women instead of young men was because the young men that they hired had a bad tendency to get into arguments with the callers. It eventually led to the invention of the automated telephone exchange.
Can overlap with Mistaken for Prank Call
. As phone operators become increasingly replaced by machines, this trope has become more and more displaced by For Inconvenience, Press "1"
. However, the Operator from India
is still a common subtrope.
Anime and Manga
- A series of Discover credit card commercials: "Thank you for calling USA Prime Credit. My name is Peggy..."
- David Spade played a very unhelpful operator in a series of Capital One commercials.
- In the late 80s and early 90s Cliff Robertson did a series of ads for AT&T. One featured frustrated former Ma Bell customers dealing with one of the competition's Operators, whose snide "Well, you're not dealing with AT&T anymore!" became something of a meme/Catch Phrase at the time.
- Ah! My Goddess, Keiichi gets a direct line to the Goddess Help Line, when he's trying to order a meal.
- Digimon Adventure
- The show loved to use jokes based on this. For instance, in one of the movies, when Tai is desperate to reach any of the other kids, but the phone lines have all been tied up by Infermon, a computer virus, he reaches a phone operator over and over who keeps telling him that the lines are busy in an increasingly frazzled tone until finally screaming at him "Did you hear me?! IT'S BUSY!!!!!"
- After the kids first reached the Digital World in the original Digimon Adventure series, they ran into a bunch of payphones and, overjoyed, desperately tried to call their homes. Unfortunately, when they tried, all they got were a variety of non-sequiturs from the operators, including "The number you are currently dialing exists only in your imagination" and a weather forecast of "partly cloudy with a slight chance of ice cream".
- In Dilbert, Dogbert answers calls with "How may we abuse you?" when he is acting as a phone operator.
- An old horror comic had a man buried alive in a coffin with a telephone in it. Desperate to call for help, the man tries contacting the operator again and again, even as his air runs low. When the man finally makes a connection, the operator instead lectures him on tying up the phone lines as the man suffocates and dies.
- From Mostly Harmless:
...the third event, which was a rampaging mob of long-distance telephone operators who had got so twisted with having to say, all day and every day, "Thank you for using BS&S" to every single idiot who picked up a phone that they had finally taken to the streets with trash cans, megaphones and rifles.
In the ensuing days of carnage every single window in the city, rocket-proof or not, was smashed, usually to accompanying cries of "Get off the line, asshole! I don't care what number you want, what extension you're calling from. Go and stick a firework up your bottom! Yeeehaah! Hoo Hoo Hoo! Velooooom! Squawk" and a variety of other animal noises that they didn't get a chance to practice in the normal line of their work.
As a result of this, all telephone operators were granted a constitutional right to say "Use BS&S and die!" at least once an hour when answering the phone and all office buildings were required to have windows that opened, even if only a little bit.
- So Long and Thanks For All the Fish has Ford Prefect attempting to call Arthur, and having to convince an incredulous operator to put him through. The reason for the difficulty is he's calling from outer space.
- Fibber McGee and Molly's Myrt, who was never heard, but always got sidetracked telling Fibber the latest gossip and never put the call through
- Gertrude Gearshift and Mabel Flapsaddle of The Jack Benny Program, who were too busy making wisecracks and infuriating Jack to put the call through.
- Paranoia supplement HIL Sector Blues. IntSec Communications Central operators were stupid, hard to understand, surly and uncooperative.
- A sketch in Pleasure at Her Majesty's has Alan Bennett attempting to dictate a telegram to an operator through the phone, only to have his conversation continually drift into 'a kind of redundant intimacy' (to use his words) as a result of her interjections and questions.
- A Running Gag on The Simpsons for a time was phone hotlines having extremely inappropriate hold music;
- In "Tree House of Horror III," Marge tries to let the toy company know a Krusty Doll is attempting to drown her husband as she speaks. She holds and gets Gary Lewis and the Playboys' "Everybody Loves a Clown".
- In the episode where Maggie goes missing, Homer's on hold with the police department waiting for word on Maggie, and the song he hears on hold is "Baby Come Back", causing him to start sobbing.
- Homer also tears up in the episode "Saturdays of Thunder" when he's on hold with the National Fatherhood Institute and "Cat's in the Cradle" starts playing.
- In the famous Michael Jackson episode, Marge is also driven to tears by the Patsy Cline song "Crazy" while being placed on hold with the Springfield Mental Hospital.
- The Looney Tunes Show, "Customer Service": Cecil Turtle is a customer service representative in a cable company and savors the sadistic glee this job can provide him. He disconnects Bugs' cable service on purpose, then pretends to be voice mail when he calls, tells him that he can't reconnect his cable (even though he only needs to click on a single button on his computer to do so), makes Bugs wait all day for a house call - and waits until he goes to the bathroom to leave a note on the door, and other indignities... all For the Evulz. Finally, Bugs declares "Of course you know, this means war!" and proceeds to give Cecil a taste of his own medicine, resulting in Bugs getting his cable back and then some, with Cecil still being fired.
- The soldiers in Grenada who called in their situation from a civilian telephone, and had to give a credit card number before the call was relayed (after which a gunship came in to save them). This is certainly the inspiration for the Transformers example, and was depicted in the Clint Eastwood movie Heartbreak Ridge.
- What motivated the first automated switchboard design? According to legend, an undertaker believed that one of the local operators was routing calls to her husband, his competitor.
- This happened to broadcaster Herbert Morrison immediately following The Hindenburg tragedy at Lakehurst, New Jersey. As he and assistant Charlie Nehlsen were about to leave, he got to a pay phone to call NBC in New York, and the NBC switchboard operator refused to put him through to the newsroom "because a terrible disaster has just happened". When he told her who he was and what he was doing, she said "What would a WLS reporter be doing in Lakehurst?" and hung up on him.
- Cracked compiled a disturbing list of "5 Horrifying Tales of 911 Incompetence", showcasing a range of unhelpful emergency services operators, from those who are simply apathetic to those who are actively obstructive.