Monday, April 6, 2009
*Note: image above from Janet Perlman's film, HotSeat.
I never know what will touch a nerve in my SVA animation career class. So, I was very pleased when a healthy debate erupted based on the "Desktop Dilemma" section of Chapter 7 in my book, "Your Career in Animation: How to Survive and Thrive." Assuming you have the book (I can dream, can't I?), I'll give you a minute to look that section up. In short, it was a cautionary tale of how an animation artist could damage his reputation by adorning his wall space and desktop computer with swim suit models and scantily clad teen starlets.
Look at any studio's animation cubicles and offices and you'll find personal items such as posters, toys, family photos, doodles, and other decorations at most every workstation. The stuff we surround ourselves with projects an image. Its a public display of our tastes, humor, and personality. But, how much should one share at the workplace? Even when it comes to the creative workspaces in this industry?
In response to the "Desktop Dilemma" story above, one female class member explained that if she sees pictures in the workplace that objectify woman, it feels like a personal attack. It makes her feel as if she is being looked at as a sexual object around the office.
The particulars of office culture comes into play when trying to understand this complicated issue. A preschool series tends to have young children, mothers, child development specialists, and female network executives walking through the office on a regular basis. Its easy to understand why it would not be desirable to have anything potentially offensive on display.
One male student objected and felt that the images described in "Desktop Dilemma" were not offensive to him... and, besides, another studio in town that animates edgy adult swim and comedy central series' had much worse on their walls. The difference, I explained, was that the edgy studio was an independent company, set up to reflect the taste and personality of its owner. For some, that might be reason enough to not want to work there. Not everyone is the right fit for every situation. And, on the male students first point (he did not understand what was offensive about swimsuit pictures), I told him the issue wasn't his personal definition of what was offensive. Instead, the point is to be sensitive that somebody else "might" take offense.
I'm not sure I got this point across either. Later that night (after class), a trusted friend suggested that for men that didn't understand what could be offensive about female swimsuit pictures posted at the office,...maybe they would understand it in other terms that might be offensive to them. There's a long list of potentially offensive material that I wouldn't recommend displaying in the workplace: images that are racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Christian, homophobic, etc. Think of the what might offend you and understand that there are some women who might be offended by your sports illustrated swim suit calendar or copies of Maxim magazine.
The bottom line is that the office, desk, chairs, stapler, computers, and walls, are not your property. You are only keeping the seat warm for the length of time you are on a project. You are working in someone else's home in a highly collaborative process staffed by men and women of all kinds.
I tried one last time to reach this male student. I asked him, "Is it worth the risk of harming your reputation to prove a point that you're entitled to express yourself no-matter-what the circumstances? Not quite sure if this was understood either, I asked, "What are your goals on a job? Are you there to conduct a sociological experiment to determine what percent of a staff might be offended by your wall-hangings?...Or, are you there to be an animation artist working in harmony with the rest of the team?