Friday, January 21, 2005

Anti-Inaugural Edition

I tried, I really-really tried to listen to NPR's coverage of the ceremonies, but I couldn't. Once I heard a commentator, who is supposed to be a reporter, gushing over the Republicans (probably hoping she could get a discount on the interview fees the President charges), I had to turn it off. What did I want or expect from NPR? Well, I expected more than what the networks had; I expected balanced coverage and an airing of the issues to face the next 2 years plus the effects of a lame duck term. Alas, it was not to be.

Of course, I was still in a bit of a snit. My brother wrote me yesterday and, among other items, mentioned to me that this lowly blog has been banned by the IT dopes at his place of employment. Apparently he and some of his colleagues have been looking in from time to time - not commenting, mind you - and the IT people considered this to either be dangerous (I do mention pornography on occassion, but it's usually tame stuff and, heck, I saw a dishwasher full of vibrators on CSI last night) or simply stealing from work. I'd mention the name of the company except that writing blogs about employers is getting some people fired (sue the bastards, folks). The logical progression is to fire people for reading blogs. Someone should start up internal blogging at this company and get everyone in on the act.

I was once disciplined at Corbis for a series of internal emails between myself and another employee of the company. The email exchange was over a new release from the company formerly known as Digital Stock (a royalty free division which has since been assimilated). The release was a CD of a hundred pictures and the theme was "Homosexual".

I was particularly excited about this release. It was an early foray into such marketing and I was happy to see Corbis taking a stance. As the archivist, I was able to view the photos early as they were being submitted to our collection. What I saw were a set of standard marketing photos of which two thirds could hardly be considered queer and the other third one might call "soft queer". For instance, a woman lying in a hammock is not a queer photo (she may be a pretty woman and she may be a lesbian, but how is anyone to know that from looking at the photo?). The "soft queer" photos were represented by such images as two women toasting wine at a restaurant with candle light or by 5 men silhoutted on a dock by the sunset holding their hands up in a "Y" shape (presumably doing "YMCA" by the Village People after a hard day of kayaking).

I wrote my friend at the Digital Stock headquarters, located in Encinitas at the time, and asked him what the fuck was up with this? How could they blow such a moment? They could have shown some insight and some sensitivity to a community and instead they glossed it over so much as to make it void of all meaning, let alone the meaning that buyers were led to believe existed on the CD? This began a long email exchange. As I scanned through the photos, my criticism became more pronounced. One might say that the queer gene clicked on and went into over drive in this bisexual man and I became catty and campy in my commentary. The aforementioned woman in a hammock image became derisively known as the "LL Bean lesbian". Keep in mind, it wasn't the intent of the series that I was upset with, but rather the execution.

After the exchange, my friend went to lunch. While he was away from his desk, his petulant manager decided to find out what he and his friends were laughing about and discussing so animatedly in the processing lab (apparently enjoying my commentary). She found the email threads and mailed them to her own account. She then turned them over to the vice president of the Digital Stock division. He went on to "out" the emails rather publicly by sending copies off to HR, the president of the company, a vice president of the compay (who oversaw my work), my manager, his employee, and myself. WHen I got into work the next morning, I saw his email. I was outraged that somehow my "private" (what I thought were private, but as it turned out, was the real lesson I learned from this episode) exchanges had been exposed and revealed to so many people. Angry, but determined to answer his criticisms, I replied and took him on. It was probably not the smartest thing to do, but I was determined to engage in conversation rather than bow down to this idiot who, among other things, claimed it was difficult to find a gay photographer to work on the project (yes, right, a gay photographer in Southern California must be tough to land), that the photographer who did the shoot had a brother who is gay (um, OK...I have black friends, but that doesn't mean that I understand their realities completely), and that the photos had been approved of by our gay co-president (who, as I pointed out, probably didn't want to be known as the arbitor of all things queer in our company and, while I was at it, there were a lot of gay people who worked for Corbis who would have been happy to offer their input).

A debate occured within the company over what to do about this exchange. To his credit, the VP at Digital Stock began to back down and he took this more detailed criticism constructively. The episode was not yet done. Having brought HR into this mess, they felt the need to get involved. They wanted me to sign a letter reprimanding me for my behaviour and place it in my file. My manager went with me to stand up for my rights and told me that if there was anything in it, that I should have it corrected before I sign the letter. None of the Corbis HR staff came to the meeting. Instead, they sent a temp to do their dirty work. After reading the letter, I requested several changes and they were made quickly and then I signed it. One of the items I insisted on changing was a clause that would forbid me for every saying anything derisive about Corbis, it's products, or it's employees ever again. I told the temp that would violate my constitutional rights and had it struck from the letter. It was the right thing for her to do.

Hence, you're able to read this tale today. Corbis was over reaching in it's response to my behaviour. I was foolish to think that my email exchange would necessarily remain private (hey, give me a break - it was the mid 90s and I was still learning). The manager who brought the email to light was moved within the company, but never promoted. The VP who wrote about me was fired before I left the company. In fact, I outlasted all of the other participants save for the co-president and my VP. Disagreement, criticism, disputes are all natural within any organization. They can actually be healthy depending upon how they are handled and resolved. Corbis did a decent job of it, but I'd still give them a "B" for even letting HR get ahold of this. The corporations who are firing employees for posting on their blogs, particularly the satirical blogs, are handling this thing called free speech poorly. As long as the writer is not divulging corporate secrets, their employers should be hands off. And, as long as my brother's company doesn't find their employees reading porn or wasting an inordinate amount of time (more than what they would waste talking with people around the coffee pot) reading blogs and surfing the net, then they should back off. Listen, there's a reason people complain about these jobs. Don't exacerbate the perception and create bad blood with scores of other employees, let alone people who read of their plight, by doing something so stupid as firing the person.

Grow up and get with the technology, rather than fighting it. That is the summary of my email lesson.

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