June 1st, 2010 / 2:40 pm
Web Hype

This Post is Not Safe For Work

I have a real problem with the phrase, “not safe for work,” the false sense of security it provides, and the way it condescends.

I understand workplace politics and that there are certain work environments where “mature” or “adult” content is censored or where individuals can be fired for reading such content. That doesn’t make the phrase okay for me. Censorship, in any form, troubles me a great deal.

When we say something is “not safe for work,” we are not protecting anything or anyone. I see that phrase and find it just as ridiculous as people who complain about privacy on Facebook. Really?

When we say something is “not safe for work,” we are making a judgment about the content in question and its appropriateness, not just for work, but for general consumption. We are drawing an arbitrary line between decent and indecent.

Trying to define decency is nearly impossible but there are, it seems, rules. James Joyce’s epistolary erotica for Nora Barnacle is always lauded as literary and great because the letters are anointed with the imprimatur of Joyce’s name. If I had written those letters, they would simply be smut. The Song of Songs in the Bible is decent because, well, it’s the Bible. Books like Tropic of Cancer, Lolita, and Little Birds, are decent because they are great literature. These kinds of books are studied in classrooms and widely respected and I’m quite certain that discussing those books would never be considered “not safe for work.”

This is not to suggest there haven’t been attempts to censor these works. There are always gatekeepers trying to dictate what we can consume, what is right and wrong, what is decent or indecent. On the whole, however, such “great” works are acceptable and appropriate.

Over the weekend, We Who Are About to Die linked to two writer blogs, those of Janey Smith and xTx with the disclaimer that those blogs were not for the faint of heart.  The content on those blogs can certainly toe the line but the notion that one would need a heart pill before reading them is certainly odd given the breathtaking range of explicit content on the Internet. Is this poem not for the faint of heart?  Or this story? Or this story? Where do we draw the line? The moment we try to put some writers in little boxes as “not for the faint of heart” we’re saying they’re dirty and they’re wrong and that there’s a right way to do things, a decent way to do things.

This morning, that post was taken down, citing concerns about workplace safety. I enjoy We Who Are About to Die and all the contributors. This post is not an attack on that blog, but the incident got me thinking about safety, decency, and censorship. Where do we draw the line between decent and indecent? Why does that line so often seem arbitrary? What does it take for us to feel safe?

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