Monday, February 01, 2010

Firestorm on Facebook! Or, this is your America, lesson 56.

I see stories like this one increasingly often, and I am increasingly troubled by them. What's the upshot here? That it's inherently wrong to drink, or get naked, or both? That as long as no photos exist of someone drinking or being naked, we can rest assured that the person never does either? Clearly the answer to both questions is a resounding NO. So once again, this is part of a pervasive attempt to keep up the appearance of a truth that is not, in fact, true; an attempt to monitor people's private lives and micromanage their personal "decorum," if you will. The hypocrisythe hubrisis breathtaking and unfathomable.

In this challenging economy of ours, your fellow Americans are being penalized or even losing jobs because someone unearths a photo of them in a drunk or sexually compromising position; or maybe your fellow Americans uploaded the photos themselves, on their Facebook pages or personal sites. It really doesn't matter to me. (Presumably the HR personnel making these inspired punitive decisions don't drink or have sex.) Some might say
—as I'm sure my father would, were he alive—"Well then, don't act like a jerk around other people. Keep your wits about you and never let yourself get photographed in such circumstances." That's not the point. I don't understand how we can be formally punished for the images and impressions we toss out into the world, especially when what those images are saying in most cases is nothing more controversial than (1) I enjoy alcohol and/or (2) I enjoy sex. How many Americans do you personally know who fail to fall into one or both categories?

As it happens, my wife, with whom I've been debating this topic all day, is chirping up in the background, "If it takes place in a teaching environment, it sets a bad example. It's a bad message." Let me get this straight: The message we want to sell to our kids is that adults don't party? Spare me, please.

I don't understand what's happening here, or why we tolerate it.

NOTE: By the way, I don't drink, and I don't generally like being in environments where other people are drinking. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions about the sex part.

29 comments:

RevRon's Rants said...

Well, this phenomenon just goes to prove that anyone who thinks that the Puritans were only a footnote in our country's history is beyond naive.

Had FaceBook been available when I was coordinating youth education classes (and teaching classes for potentially at-risk adolescents) at my church, I would certainly have made my page available to them, and would not have been hesitant to interact with them online. The responsibility for sharing appropriate images and language would have been mine, as was the responsibility for maintaining appropriate decorum in my face-to-face dealings with them.

Of course, it would have been a legal imperative for my online persona and interactions to be visible to the church that employed me, if only to protect the church from the rampages of the occasional "church lady." Thankfully, the minister and board at the church have the intelligence to realize how important it is to create and maintain a genuine human bond between adults and youth, and would have made no attempt to impede my efforts toward that objective, whether face-to-face or online.

As it turns out, one of my ex-students - now an adult - is one of my FaceBook friends.

a/good/lysstener said...

I'm a young person and with fairly liberal ideas and I disagree with you here, Steve. We need our teachers to be someone to look up to. We need them to be people who set higher standards than we set for ourselves. I know I personally would not want to see photos of my teachers drunk and naked, not just because some of them are unappealing to look at but because it brings them down to the level of the generation I went to college with. That's not a positive to me. It's like the same thing with parents who want to be too much of a friend to their kids and not enough of a parent. There should always be that "wall" that's composed mostly of a higher degree of respect than we have for our friends.

sassy sasha said...

lyss, you're old before your time again, ROFL!!! sex is sex, drinking is drinking, everybody does it at all ages and places in life or work, its nobody's business but their's!

LizaJane said...

I'm not entirely sure what it is you object (or don't object) to. What is your argument? Maybe I'm exhausted, but this time, it's not clear to me...

As for FB or other networking sites, I think it's best not to be "friends" with someone who isn't someone you'd actually be friends with -- a perfect example of that is your current teacher. I have several FORMER teachers as friends, but were I in school at the moment, I would NOT be FB friends with the person grading my papers. It's inappropriate.

And while it's true that many people like alcohol, and even more people like sex (good for the perpetuation of the species, no?), it is also true that someone stupid enough to be photographed while enjoying either, is too stupid to be a teacher of anything much. It's not a matter of hypocrisy. It's a matter of sense. Do you want someone that silly teaching your kid?

Steve Salerno said...

LZJ: Are you being literal in making those remarks at the end? That "anyone stupid enough..." etc., is too stupid to "be a teacher or anything else"? You actually believe that such people do not deserve jobs?

Let me ask you an even more provocative question: Which is worse: A teacher who discreetly f**ks one student per semester, but is an excellent educator otherwise? Or a teacher who would never dream of being intimately involved with a student, but is intimidating and intellectually bullying in class and f**ks with the minds of all students under his or her dominion? OK, maybe you think I'm setting up a false dichotomy. But humor me here.

Athol Kay: Married Man Sex Life said...

Never put anything on the internet that you wouldn't put on a ten foot tall sign in your front yard.

Privacy is an illusion. Google never forgets. Your boss reads your blog.

Steve Salerno said...

Athol: That must explain why no one is willing to be my boss.

Mardi said...

Steve, come on. Who are you kidding with this? I am with LizaJane and A/G/L. What happened to personal integrity and values? And praytell, why would anyone want to display themselves as a drunken booze artist engaging in what the animal kingdom takes for granted? Ewww! They're not someone I would be allowing to teach my children - that's for sure.

Steve Salerno said...

They're not someone I would be allowing to teach my children - that's for sure.

Tell me why, Mardi. And yes, I'm serious. Tell me why someone who loves his women and Jim Beam (or even recreational drugs) after-hours--but who's a truly gifted communicator who can make math accessible to kids in a way that few others can--shouldn't be allowed to do just that. Especially given the woeful performance of American kids in math and the sciences, etc. As long as he or she doesn't proselytize people into "the lifestyle," what's wrong with that?

Almost everyone bemoans the quality of teaching in this country. Let me be clear: I'm not saying that what we need is more drunken sex addicts teaching our kids! But on what basis can we justify simply ruling such people out?

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting question, Steve. My first instinct is, I wouldn't like the idea of someone like that teaching my kids, either. But now that I think about it it's hard to say a reason "why" as long as the drinking and the sex are kept out of the classroom. This reminds me of the issue of whether gays should be allowed to teach, back when that was first controversial. Is it anybody's business what they do outside school?

RevRon's Rants said...

I think there's a BIG middle ground we seem to be missing here. I don't think someone should be denied the right to pursue their talents just because they have a taste for booze or some harmless recreational drug, and certainly not because they enjoy the sexual dalliance of their choice... so long as their extracurricular activities don't intrude upon their professional efforts.

And here is where the "common sense" comes in, as I see it. A teacher certainly has a right to be a multidimensional human in relationship to students, which I believe should include the right to dialog outside the confines of the classroom. Yet even in that dialog, common sense would dictate that the teacher maintain a degree of discretion, and avoid divulging information that could easily be misinterpreted by the student and construed as justification for behavior for which the student is not emotionally prepared.

It is unrealistic to expect adolescents and teens to have the same perspectives and motivations as their elders. A teen, for example, is typically obsessed with his/her sexuality, and is learning how to integrate those drives into the other facets of life. Presented with evidence that a respected adult is sexually active - even to a limited degree - would likely be construed by the teen as tacit permission for promiscuity. And while promiscuous behavior might not be particularly damaging to the adult, immersing one's self fully into any obsession (such as a teenager's sexuality) can serve to distort one's perspective and diminish the beauty one perceives.

As to booze/drugs... Nothing wrong with a photo of a teacher with a highball in hand. Put a lampshade on the head, or document a "wardrobe malfunction," however, and the teacher will become just another partier to the student, rather than a role model. Furthermore, while I see absolutely nothing wrong with the occasional recreational use of marijuana, posting a picture of teacher pulling on a joint just isn't smart, especially given the lack of objective information available to kids about marijuana use. Like anything else, an adult is more likely to use some restraint and common sense in deciding whether to smoke pot or not, while a kid, finding something that is fun, is likely to overindulge to the point that it impedes their function and emotional development.

In my own case, I shared information with my students that I felt to be appropriate to their stage of development, and think it's the responsibility of everyone who works with kids to do the same. Being available to them emotionally is, in my mind, consistent with that responsibility. Posting evidence of my own sojourns into "adult" (or more frequently, adolescent) behavior is not. They might find a picture of me having fun on my FaceBook page, but I won't be nekkid, with a joint in my mouth and a lampshade on my head.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron: As you know from our past dialogues on this or that topic, I have problems with the discretionary component of these judgments--the "balance" that you so often champion. Make no mistake, I certainly agree with you in principle, but the attempt to postulate (and, ultimately, mandate) a commonsensical middle ground is fraught with subjective pitfalls that, in the end, lead to tyrannical situations like we have now--where the thought-police go around randomly prohibiting behaviors (and even mere attitudes) that they deem "objectionable." That's why I usually take the position that we have to ban all such rule-making.

I keep coming back to the rallying cry from our own Revolutionary era (borrowed, of course, from our pal Voltaire): "I disapprove of what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it."

RevRon's Rants said...

The "subjectivity" you describe is inevitable, Steve. Like you, I have a problem with the notion of anyone else establishing the mandate for acceptable behavior, especially when that mandate is based upon ideological rather than common-sense criteria.

We simply have to trust our teachers to some extent if they are to be given the task of guiding our children. Within certain obvious boundaries, I don't think we need to be attempting to regulate and micromanage our children's personal lives, much less the lives of their teachers. If we do feel the need to assert such stringent control, we'd do well to look a bit more closely at our own motivations... especially before judging someone else's.

RevRon's Rants said...

Guess I hit submit too quickly...

Case in point: Say someone is a teacher in middle school. Goes with boyfriend/ girlfriend/spouse/friends/whatever to a clothing-optional beach. Someone takes pictures and posts them on a voyeur site. The "justification" for firing a teacher under such circumstances would be purely ideological, based upon the assertion that merely engaging in the activity constitutes a moral lapse. I would strongly disagree with such a response.

However, if said photographs were taken by the teacher's fellow naturist, and the teacher chose to post those photographs on a site that was potentially accessible to his or her students, the question is no longer whether the teacher's "morals" are acceptable, but whether his or her judgment is sufficiently sound to justify remaining in a position of influence over students.

Any teacher worth his or her salt would advise students not to document behavior that could call into question their judgment. And what's good for the goose...

Steve Salerno said...

Ron: Though this may fall more into the category of a peeve than an intellectual argument, I also keep coming back to the Hypocrisy Factor: I think of all those evangelical preachers and uptight GOP lawmakers who claimed for themselves the moral high ground--seeking to dictate and constrain the lifestyles of their fellow Americans--then later were caught with their own pants down, in beds (or toilet stalls) they shouldn't have been in, sometimes with members of the same gender. Who the hell are they to pass judgment on me or anyone else? I think of John Edwards and all his campaign bluster about America's lagging "moral leadership." And I think of the high-school principal not far from where I live who was known as a tough task-master, a guy who insisted that all of his teachers toe the mark...until he was caught smoking dope in his own office while surfing porn.

As I say, maybe it sounds juvenile, but it would piss me off mightily to be forced to walk on ethical eggshells in order to keep my job...and then learn that my boss had been living a secret life of debauchery the whole time. And I have no evidence to back this up, but I actually think that very scenario ("do as I say, not as I do") is deplorably common.

RevRon's Rants said...

I share your distaste for having to "walk on moral eggshells," and especially for being judged by hypocrites. I just think if one uses one's own common sense in making decisions about their behavior, the pious would have less justification for their posturing. And if they did choose to get up on their sanctimonious hind legs and try to take punitive action based solely in their individual moral code rather than common sense, they'd have little ammunition to pursue their agenda.

To co-opt and paraphrase, we can't really define common sense, but we know it when we see it.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron: But you know it's interesting that you invoke the (in)famous Potter Stewart quote. Do we know pornography when we see it? ;)

(I'm just trying to be an all-purpose troublemaker today, aren't I?)

RevRon's Rants said...

Today???!!! :-)

Common sense, while not necessarily that common, does enjoy a degree of universality... at least once it is removed from the constraints of individual agendas.

Anonymous said...

Having read only some of the comments, I'm under the impression that what's really changed in all this is the fact that a photo of someone in their off hours could appear on the internet. Presumedly, everyone's doing what they've always done, but now photos of them doing it can appear. So, is the issue that they are (still) doing it (whatever *it* is) or that a photo that catches them in the act will destroy their entire character if it shows up on FB?

Steve Salerno said...

Anon: That's the crux of it, exactly. What were once people's private lives have now gone public. And apparently some folks feel that the simple act of uploading that sort of patent documentation speaks volumes about the character of the individual involved: Ergo, if you're "the kind of person who'd put pictures like that online," then you don't deserve to be employed. Even though, as you point out, no one is doing anything different from what they (and we) have always done. The one new ingredient is the internet. And what's really absurd to me is the way HR personnel seem to be using this info: "Aha, now we know this person has sex!" What did they think was going on before?

Steve Salerno said...

And you know, it just occurred to me, some time back I wrote a Wall Street Journal piece about SHAM's recession-deniers, which the paper titled "If I Don't See It, It's Not There."
(http://tinyurl.com/denzy2)

I got lots of appreciative feedback from the corporate types who read the Journal, many of whom thought the gurus I wrote about were plainly ridiculous. And yet I wonder how many of those same corporate types work in environments that take an analogous approach to drinking, sex, and partying in general: "As long as we don't see it, it's not there."

RevRon's Rants said...

Cutting to the chase here, Steve. If I go to a nude beach and even if I take a picture of myself, no harm, no foul. But if I proceed to tack that picture up in the student lounge, I'd probably deserve a reprimand, at the very least.

The real tough question, as I see it, is what if someone else takes a picture of me and puts it up in the lounge? IMO, no punitive action would be appropriate in this case. Although I can see the appropriateness of other teachers teasing me about it, much as you did when asking me if I was naked in my profile pic. :-)

Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks for providing the link to that WSJ piece again, Steve. It's a good one.

You wrote: "I got lots of appreciative feedback from the corporate types who read the Journal, many of whom thought the gurus I wrote about were plainly ridiculous. And yet I wonder how many of those same corporate types work in environments that take an analogous approach to drinking, sex, and partying in general: 'As long as we don't see it, it's not there.'"

For that matter, how many of those corporate types work in environments that regularly subject employees to SHAM-type workshops and philosophies? There's a lot of that going around in corporate America, as you have documented so well in SHAM (the book) and on this blog.

Regarding the topic of this post, though: Virtually anyone who has an online "life" at all has the potential of having it used against him or her. It doesn't take a photographic record of drunken debauchery; if you're even a marginally controversial blogger, it can and will be used against you in some way, whether you're job hunting or not. I can only imagine what would happen if I tried to get an actual job somewhere with anyone who's even marginally into any of the stuff I've written about.

Steve Salerno said...

Connie: You raise excellent points (as always) that broaden the issue far beyond the narrow and inflammatory terms in which I've introduced it. I would imagine that anyone who voices strong opinions online (unwittingly) forecloses the prospect of employment in any number of realms or jobs. We've all heard stories about a given worker who was fired for posting critical material about a boss or corporate employer in an online discussion forum or a personal blog.

Long before blogs, my activities in investigative journalism succeeded in making any number of enemies for me (and my blameless family). This is why my phone numbers are always unlisted and I also make every effort to purge mentions of my physical address on sites that like to provide such info "as a public service."

People (and whole industries) hold grudges; I'm quite sure that any number of the positions I've taken on this blog--even just certain sensitive issues I've raised--have whittled down my employment options dramatically, should I ever wish to rejoin 9-to-5 America (which I hope to never have to do). And with increasing numbers of colleges also running these checks, I'm probably "done" there as well.

Steve Salerno said...

In postscript, what's always funny to me, albeit in a tragic sort of way, is that I've worked alongside professors who came very close to sedition and advocating marginally (if not explicitly) treasonous behaviors; this came to a head when Dubya was in the White House. Some of these professors also taught--as fact--extraordinarily jaundiced views of the American experience, and would penalize students for dissenting from that view.

But all of that kind of stuff was OK, as long as you were careful not to make any offhand sexual remarks in class...

SustainableFamilies said...

LOL, Oh steve you are so bad! I can't read your blog at all because every time it's, "Well what if a guy has sex with his students vs a whole bunch of students get abused"

What a loaded question! How's about no body has sex with their students AND nobody f*cks with the minds of every student in their class? I choose option C, that no students are taken advantage of sexually, OR abused by a bullying teacher.

You try to compare levels of badness in an effort to make certain negative actions seem more ok.

I believe in total forgiveness for everyone that truly wants it. I mean it, everyone that genuinely works through the reality of their actions and genuinely wants forgiveness I believe they should have it.

A teacher who had sex with a student should be forgiven ultimately.(btw a friend of mine is in jail for this while his mom raises his kids, so it may be a little close to home)...

That doesn't mean ANY of these behaviors should be glossed over, ignored or condoned. Any time a person is harmed it matters.

I watched an argument the other day where people were debating international adoption ethics. Suddenly a person came on and said, "Your argument doesn't matter because there was an earthquake in Haiti so you're stupid to debate this kind of suffereing when people are dying. And therefore I'm right."

It made so sense. Like should it be legal to smash your neighbors legs in, because OTHER criminals shoot people?

on the pictures thing though i think you're right.

Steve Salerno said...

I don't want to build an entire new post around it, because PC-speech is a well that I've already gone to on (too) many occasions--but I can't help thinking of the furor over Rahm Emanuel's use of "the R word" in the context of this post. For those of you who may not have heard, Emanuel used the phrase "f**king retarded" in disparaging a certain idea that came to the fore during a strategy meeting this past August. Since the Wall Street Journal broke the "story" last week, he's been widely excoriated (notably by Sarah Palin) and comparisons have been made to others' use of "the N word."

First of all, the word "retarded" is in no way like the word "nigger." Though it may have overtones that some of us dislike, it refers to the condition of being developmentally or intellectually disabled. It is not, in and of itself, an epithet; it is a description, and if it fits, it fits. We don't make the condition disappear by simply prohibiting people from alluding to it (or giving it an uplifting name, like "special," that actually makes it sound as if the folks to whom it applies are a cut above). And yet increasingly throughout society, that is precisely what we seem bent on doing: pretending as if disagreeable things don't exist. If we ban photos of sex, then we don't have to face our puritanical fears of sexuality. If we ban references to mental retardation, then we don't have to face the fact that intellectually deficient souls walk among us. We can pretend that we live in Mr. Rogers' neighborhood or maybe Lake Woebegon, where everyone is smart and attractive and "above average."

It's ludicrous.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was from the guy arguing that the S.H.A.M was wrecking America by telling people that they weren't responsible for their actions....that they were "Victims" and so not accountable? That people were happier and more self-reliant in the 50s and 60s and had the sense to know that "hot coffee was hot".

Well, in the 50s and 60s people generally had the sense not to get trashed in public or photographed in sexual indescretions (a lot of money was paid by Movie Studies to hush up their stupider stars' peccedillos). Why? Because if your spouse saw it you would never get laid again...if your boss saw it, you would possibly lose your job and definately lose that promotion...if your friends and neighbours saw it you'd lose their respect. If you were a Hollywood Star your career was over.

Is that "fair"....perhaps not....but who said life was fair. You said "Addiction" was a made up disease to avoid accountability. Well here's a piece of advice from a Sex Addiction self-help book. It's given to addicts when they whine about how unfair the consequences are. "You chose your actions - the world choses your consequences." Sounds a hell of a lot more like accountability to me than what you're preaching.

These people are not victims of an unfair micromanaging social mileu, they are the victims of nothing more than their own stupidity and self-entitlement. They should stop pissing and moaning about how unfair it is and just be glad it wasn't worse. The drunk "lady" in the picture ought to be happy she fell out the door of the car and didn't exit through the windshield instead.

The teenage girl was the only one with enough common sense to believe what people held true for all world history until recently, that people vested with responsibility should act responsibly. The Boomers and Gen X are by and large an embarassment and I wish I weren't born among them. It's better to fuck students disceetely than bully them?! Funny, everyone I know had at least one asshole for a teacher and turned out fine but all the ones that fucked a teacher ended up totally screwed up over it. And yes, you got fired for that in the 50s that SHAM (the book) says were so much better. Thank God the next generations show signs of telling us where to shove our entitled libertarianism and grow up.

Everyone wants to have their cake and eat it too...well, that isn't reality. Deal with it.

RevRon's Rants said...

And Friday's Bran Muffin Award goes to... guess he forgot to sign his name. So much for posturing about the need for personal accountability! :-)