The Scarlet NSFW

NSFWThe other day our friend MentalSwitch offered up a delightful little post entitled “Hello Nurse!” It featured a photo of an attractive model dressed as … well, hell, rather than me trying to describe the shot and failing miserably, why don’t you just click on over there and see for yourself. But before you do, please be forewarned that the photo is NOT SAFE FOR WORK!!!!

Ahem. Well, actually, its worksafeness (or unworksafeness thereof) became the topic of some discussion here. Initially the pic was posted without a cut, meaning that the image itself would appear on the front page of S&R. Later, after some complaint and brief deliberations, we moved it behind a cut with the dreaded “NSFW” tag, indicating that the content would most certainly get you fired if it were accidentally viewed by any decent, God-Fearing American® co-worker. And since way too many of our readers work in places where others might be looking over their shoulders, this was a practical concern. As one colleague put it – and we’ll let that colleague name himself if he wants to – “if the wrong person had walked behind me with that image up on my screen, I could have been walked out the door that day, no appeal.”

Such is the reality for millions and millions and millions of people living here in the Land of the Free®, the Home of the Brave® and the Birthplace of the Religious Freedom®.

As badly as it griped me to see such a fine, artistic photo hidden behind a cut like some tawdry porno you’d pay a Times Square carney a dollar to see (price adjusted for inflation), I also had no interest in seeing any of our intelligent, hard-working readers escorted out of their places of employment at gunpoint.

However, my colleague Dr. Slammy suggested that the all-too-standard NSFW tag – the Modern American Internet’s version of the Scarlet Letter – was a lingering stain on the credibility of the artist, and in due course I (apparently being ill of will and sharp of tongue) was enlisted to pen what you may take as an official Scholars & Rogues policy position.

Briefly stated, when you put an artist behind the Scarlet NSFW, you convey a general social verdict that shame should be attached to the work. It is not fit for general viewing; it is likely to be deemed offensive to some people; and those who choose to click the link, well, that’s between them and Jesus.

It does not matter whether such a judgment is reasonable. For instance, in the case of “Hello Nurse,” what really is there to be scadalized by? Let’s take a close look:

What is the supposed objection? The subject is of consenting age. No aberrant sexual acts are depicted. Hell, she’s not even partially naked. No vajayjay showing. No boobies. She’s not fondling herself (at the moment, anyway). There is an aspect of the erotic in her pose, of course, but let’s be clear here: whatever obscenity might arise from the communication of this image lies entirely within the mind of the viewer.

Goddammit, people, you can see more NSFWing imagery any goddamned night of the week on any goddamned channel on television during goddamned prime time. If this is NSFW, then the publishers of every fashion magazine available in America need to be hung in the public square right fucking now!!!

Oh, I’m sorry – is my invective NSFW?

It is true, as another of my unnamed colleagues pointed out, that good art seeks to provoke. MentalSwitch isn’t an especially in-your-face artist, but it is also true that his work routinely challenges convention in ways that are guaranteed to provoke, and it’s not hard to conclude who the targets of his critiques are. As he explains in the notes accompanying a portrait of “Lizzy”:

If all Christians were like this guy then the world would be a better place. On the other hand, if all Christians were like this guy we wouldn’t even recognize Christianity anymore….

Well played, that.

Welcome to 17th Century Salem, folks. Welcome to neo-Puritan America, a land where dismemberments and flying body parts and mushroom clouds and elected officials intentionally and strategically lying to their constituents are cool but a woman wearing four times more clothing than every teenaged girl around every swimming pool in the United States is NSFW. Because she looks suspiciously like she might enjoy sex in a non-missionary position. And sex is not to be imagined. Pictures that might make us think of sex are not to be condoned.

In neo-Puritan America, millions of people wake up every morning praying that the Lord will afford them an opportunity during the day to be offended. Hypocritical offense is next to godliness and the Constitution apparently has a clause about the right not to be exposed to anything you don’t like. Lawyers will be summoned. Human Resources policies will be invoked. Sinners will be terminated. And Hester Prynne will have a red NSFW branded on her twitchy, hellbound little ass, BY GOD!

In case the theme of my rant hasn’t yet made itself apparent, the Scarlet NSFW brands the wrong person. Those whose visions challenge are to be positioned behind the screen of shame, while those who are afraid of ideas have their narrow prejudices reinforced by official policies and unspoken self-righteous bullying.

We will know America has finally attained a measure of enlightenment when the reverse of those statements is true.

In the meantime, I mentioned something about a policy, so here it is. Since, as I noted above, we have no interest in damaging the careers of our readers, and since we’re smart enough to know the reality of many workplaces, we’ll be placing things that we believe might offend the average granny-panty neo-Puritan behind a cut. But when we do, understand that it is not the artist whom we are indicting. It’s the Scarlet Letter crowd.

In addition, don’t be surprised to see NSFW replaced by NSFP – Not Safe For Puritans. (My original idea, Not Safe For Repressive Puritan Asshat Jesus Nazis, was deemed a bit unwieldy.)

At Scholars & Rogues, we don’t shrink from challenges. We’re not kept up at night by the unconventional. And we are absolutely, positively not afraid of ideas.

And we will not quietly pander to those who are.

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15 thoughts on “The Scarlet NSFW”

  1. Dude, your NAME should be labeled NSFP!

    Thanks for the support and the enlightenment as to the classification of that post. it’s so true. I can only imagine someone delivering a Victoria’s Secret catalog to said colleague’s place of employment. Are they gonna 86 the mailman? 🙂

    I will be working on a related article of my own here shortly, maybe post Halloween.

  2. I think you’re reading too much into NSFW.

    Not Safe For Work, loosely translated, means, “This link will take you somewhere that contains something that will catch the eye (such as a picture or colorful language) that will make it more likely that someone glancing over your shoulder will notice it isn’t related to your job. So if your boss is the type to get upset about you goofing off at work and looking at things that aren’t work related, avoid this one until you get home.”

    It doesn’t imply, “This is something you shouldn’t be looking at.” Rather, it implies, “If you’re not being paid to look at stuff like this, this one is probably more likely to get you in trouble with your boss.”

    For many people, their boss might look over and see CNN.com and not think twice. But they see a half clothed woman and that’s when they say, “Johnson, quit goofing off and get back to work.”

    That’s all NSFW means. Now if you want to argue that more people in charge in corporate environments should be open to letting employees look at provocative art during office hours, then fine. But that’s not really what you argued here. (I think you picked the wrong target…)

    1. That’s not how I’ve ever interpreted NSFW. If I see an NSFW, I assume it’s something that might get me fired, not yelled at. If it was a “yelled at by your boss” thing, then all of S&R (and HuffPo, and ThinkProgress, and every political candidate’s website) should be labeled NSFW, and that’s just not reasonable.

      From my experience, NSFW content is more likely to match Boney’s interpretation than it is your own, Josh.

  3. Rather, to clarify, I think muddied your argument by picking the wrong avatar to make your point.

    Reading this post a second time, it becomes a bit more clear the point you’re trying to make is that society is too puritanical. But your snark around the term NSFW doesn’t play well with me. NSFW isn’t a judgment of artistic merit nor does it, as you say, “convey a general social verdict that shame should be attached to the work.” That’s wrong… it’s a warning for people looking at this stuff at work. That’s all.

    Which is why tying the term NSFW into your argument muddies your points about, for example, the NSFW-ness of prime time television. Most of us don’t watch prime time TV at work. Of if we do, we have the type of job where NSFW warnings mostly don’t apply.

    Sooo… good points, poorly argued, in my humble opinion. Sorry.

  4. Josh, I think it’s fair to state that anyone visiting S&R at all during business hours is doing something that they are not being paid to do. The whole site is NSFW in that sense.

    This whole thing started when the post was relabeled NSFW and while not making a stink about it I was really confused. Really? This pic is NSFW? There is more provocative stuff on CNN, MSNBC, HuffPo and none of that stuff bears the same label. I was confused about what actually made it earn that label and other than ‘my company might fire me’ I didn’t really get an answer. That’s not a lot to go on and the notion of that pic putting someone in that predicament, given the fact that they are already on this site at work, blew my mind.

    As for the target, my last post was a creepy doll faced girl with the caption of “I ate your soul”. That’s more work safe? And my post before that one was a shot of a girl in a corset and deteriorating fishnets holding a a knife. Also, no objections on that one.

    I don’t mind my stuff being labelled NSFW when it’s appropriate. The site with the rest of my work is most decidedly NSFW if you wander into the Models gallery or some of the Events galleries. Sometimes the front page is NSFW. In this case I was shocked because I had made my decision to post that picture with the guideline of ‘not pushing the PG-13/R rating boundary at all’ and it still caused a fuss.

    I don’t want people to get fired, I don’t mind putting my stuff under a cut, I simply didn’t understand the NSFW label in this case and my subsequent questions appear to have pushed a Bonesparkly button.

  5. Okay, fired. That’s not really the point.

    The point is, things labeled NSFW tend to be more visually eye catching… like a half naked woman, or the word ‘fuck’ (either repeated enough times to warrant easy notice or in big, capital letters). A news article or a sports score is a little less innocuous.

    Let’s say anything you’re doing online that’s not work gets you yelled at (checking on your fantasy football team, maybe), things labeled NSFW are more likely to get you fired or yelled at more severely (say, looking at a picture of a highly sexualized female with her hand in between her legs).

    The NSFW tag doesn’t say, “That picture is shameful, and you should be ashamed for looking at it.” Nor does it say, “This is porn, not art.” It just says, as I said before, “This is something that will be more likely to catch the eye and when it does, be more likely to get you yelled at (or, yes, potentially fired). This ain’t no hockey score.”

    @mentalswitch: The doll one I remember, and yeah, if your the type of site that gives NSFW warnings (and not all sites do — if you want your site to be known as a place where any content might be of that nature without warning, that’s fine), then yes, I think it probably would need one. A lot of regular Digg submitters would add one, I think.

    The fishnet picture I don’t recall… so I can’t comment. 🙂

  6. Whenever I see “NSFW” I assume nudity. If I’m at FARK I expect nudity that probably includes farm animals or demented puppets. I frequently see links with “(NSFW banner ads)” included in the link. So I think most people assume it’s nudity, not that the subject matter is not appropriate for work settings.

    In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen NSFW in any context other then nudity. For example I’ve never seen a webcomic labeled as “NSFW” but if my boss saw me looking at comics at work, I’d be in deep trouble for not doing my job. Same thing if I was reading an article about the latest computer game complete with screen shots, and no “NSFW” label there.

    I do find it interesting that we label it “NSFW” and not “Not Safe for Public” because lets be honest, the stuff that’s labeled NSFW you probably also don’t want your elementary school kid standing behind you viewing, or the librarian, or the cute barista that you’re pretty sure is in high school and feel a bit dirty for checking out.

    Lara Amber

  7. Actually, I’m a nurse, and I wouldn’t see anything like this at work because I’m busy working. It’s different if you have a job where you can sit at a desk doing nothing much useful. Would you happen to be an insurance industry executive? Just wondering.
    They don’t have any fetish pictures about bloggers, because overweight guys in their shorts with Cheeto-stained fingers and orange teeth are not considered erotic in our culture.

    1. Wow. I mean, I respect the hell out of nurses. But pardon me for saying it – there’s so much stupid in this comment it’s hard to know where to start. Let’s briefly summarize:

      1: If you’re at a desk you aren’t working.
      2: If you are, it isn’t useful.
      3: If you’re at a desk you’re probably an insurance exec.
      4: All bloggers are fat guys in shorts with cheetos stains.
      5: Bloggers aren’t sexually valid humans.

      Fortunately there aren’t any stupid stereotypes about nurses. You know, like all they’re doing is trying to lasso a doctor so they can spend the rest of their lives on the couch watching Oprah and eating bon-bons.

      Now that we have THAT out of the way, did you have anything intelligent to add?

  8. Luckily part of my job is approving websites to make sure we will allow them to run our ads. I can always chalk this up as “Potential Site”.

    If we follow Nancy’s generalization about people who sit at desks, then 911 operators aren’t doing anything useful. Maybe she hates them because the rapid response allows people to arrive at the hospital alive rather then dead. If they arrive dead it’s less work for her. If they arrive alive it actually creates more work for her and it eats into her Grey’s time.

  9. When i responded to Mentalswitch’s post, asking where the NSFW part was, I did so for a couple of reasons: 1) i caught it before it was hidden behind the link and was disappointed though not surprised when i came back later and it was behind a cut and 2) i was hoping it would generate a little conversation. but, damn!

    In different lines of work, the standards of what is accepted in the workplace are necessarily different based on both the public facing front and the scope of that workplace’s work. A kid working at McDonald’s has no internet access beyond checking his/her iPhone while on a potty break, so at that extreme it becomes a non-issue because the workplace is so restrictive. At the other extreme, a person working for an adult film studio probably won’t face suit for viewing something on the internet just given the scope of the company’s work.

    But internet sites like this one are available to both (what? you don’t think McDonald’s employees are regular contributors?) and so we play by a lowest common denominator rule. It’s no different than broadcast TV in that regard i guess, but I still find myself going back to that old thought: why isn’t the protection afforded to free speech extended to the freedom to hear (or view) it? I know it’s naive, but really, without such protection, corporate culture is slowly killing free speech by killing the freedom to hear it.

    Maybe i’m taking this too far, but it seems like every cycle of the economy has the net effect of pushing us to work more hours than we did before. Will we reach a point where our social lives slowly dry up? If our personal lives eventually disappear, will free speech go with it?

  10. I have to agree with Lara Amber – NSFW generally means nudity, in my experience.

    If it were to mean “I’m wasting time on the company dollar” then much of the internet should have the NSFW label slapped on it. LOLcats included. But there is generally nothing “offensive” on that site. The majority of people won’t get sacked for looking at pictures of cats, even if they should be working.

    Erotic nurses – that’s another story.

    I think this is a really thought provoking post – thanks!

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