Interpretations:Operators Are Standing By
"Operators are standing by"
The message you'd get when the operators are busy
"Smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, bounce their shoes off the end of their feet, and wish they could go home"
But really, the operators are just lazy and only in it for the pay
"Operators are standing by, poking holes in the ceiling tiles making jokes about their old boyfriends and days gone by"
The operators are bored and start shooting the breeze with other operators
"Operators are standing by talking about their portrayal on the TV where an actress sits with a headset in outer space"
The operators are probably talking about Lt. Uhura on Star Trek
"That's enough talking ladies"
Enter the obligatory cranky boss telling the operators to be quiet and to get back to work
"Operators are standing by smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, pass 'round a picture of a Mobius Strip and wish they could go home"
Boredom marches on for the operators and their switchboards until dismissal. n8jorge
The Johns are obviously enjoying the double meaning of "standing by" which is presumably intended by the employer of the telephonists to convey the sense that they are ready to swing into action, but it can also mean that the operators are not enjoying their work and standing around idly instead, so here we have a delightful description of exactly what we were not supposed to imagine, though it is probably much closer to the truth. --Balb Kubrox
The titular operators are in Purgatory, jadedly awaiting judgment upon their souls.
Both Giants like to pretend that there work is not autobiographical and Linnell is the most diligent at smothering his lyrics with oblique metaphors so that his much inner life is guarded and protected. Flans, almost by default, is therefore the most open of the two about his life and he is hardly Morrissey in sharing his emotions. A common theme in his songs is a fear of convention and of the mundanity of a 9-5 existence, particularly in the less skilled end of the job market. One guesses this is largely auto-biographical from the days when he worked jobs at uni and the early days of the band. Minimum Wage, Hearing Aid and more recently Never go work off the kids album are all great examples of this theme. However, this beautiful little song, is by far the best of these tunes, a beautifully elegant song, it has some of the best descriptive lyrics that you'll find in a Giants song, or indeed any popular song. Flansburgh playfully inverted the theme on the Mono Puff Night Security which is a joyful ode to lonely ill paid isolating work. Pleasurable only because it was whilst working as Night Security that a young Flans learnt guitar. Operators are Standing by works almost as a poem the lyrics and images are that strong and is criminally under-rated by They Might be Wiki voters. It would be in my top 10 They Might be Giants songs. (Mr Tuck)
One thing that should be mentioned here is that the phrase "Operators are standing by" was used quite a lot in TV commercials in the 1980s. That's where the expression really originates. Typically, in a commercial from that era, an announcer will say that telephone operators are "standing by," i.e. waiting, for you the customer to call in and place your order for a product or service. When the operators in this song talk about "their portrayal" on television, they mean that an actress has been pretending to answer phones in a TV commercial. A really famous ad campaign like this focused on a perky upbeat character called "Judy the Time-Life Operator." The point is that there's a vast difference between the operator in the TV commercial and the real-life operators who are actually answering the phones. It's easy to forget that telemarketers, customer service reps, and other telephone-based workers are real human beings with lives and homes of their own.