In the course of completing a job application, N.C. Harrison found himself stunned by a question asking whether he had “done anything to bring shame upon this organization.”
With his recent, catastrophic mayoral run in New York, former Congressman Anthony Weiner, and his wiener, are the topic of many conversations about the private lives of public people, cyber-sexuality and what may or may not be appropriate in different venues. The images of him are also, sadly, ones that haunt my mind whenever I close my eyes at night. Privacy in general has also become a major concern, for many people, due to explosive NSA wiretapping scandals and attempts by the United States government to, finally, cement its status as a fully fledged cabal of hi-fi Doctor Who villains. To some folks, however, neither of these situations are ones which resonate. “I’m not tweeting photos of my dong to a diverse company of women,” they muse, “so I’ll be all right.” Or, perhaps, “I’m not a terrorist; I don’t have anything to hide. If the NSA checks my email they won’t find much more than campaign spam from Barack Obama.”
I can attest to this because, until recently, I was more or less one of these people. It’s not that I didn’t realize, intellectually, that something might be awry; it’s just that, like so many others, I could rationalize my lack of interest by saying, I’ve got something else to do. This changed for me–the problem hit close to home, as it were–when I graduated and entered the wilds of the modern job market. Although I am very nearly qualified to gain my license as a marriage and family therapist, this will take a little more time and education and so, alas, I could not commence my chosen work quite yet. As a stopgap measure, I decided to seek a temporary job in retail and, to what I believed was my incredible luck, I ran across an opening at a large, nationwide chain of Christian bookstores. With my divinity degree, I reasoned, this would be a perfect part-time job for me while I finished the five or so classes I needed to attain my licensure.
My reasoning, as it has been so often in the worlds of love and politics, was more than a little bit flawed. The application for this job seemed pretty standard–at least at the beginning. I found myself a little disturbed, however, when the next question–after I had been inquired about my job history and educational experience, as per usual–was, “Have you, at any time in the last five, years, engaged in any extra-marital or homosexual activities?”
Since I am, at the moment and by inclination, fairly celibate while I get my business together, I answered no. And also, to myself, breathed, “Not that it’s any of your business, really.” I’m hard-headed that way. The application went rapidly downhill from that point. After a few more questions which were deeply personal and in no way related to my ability to perform duties related to a job, it asked point blank, “Have you ever done anything, anything at all, which might bring shame upon this organization?”
Ever, I asked myself? At all? Even in a past life or in theoretical parallel universes? I began to feel like Lorne in the episodes of Joss Whedon’s excellent show Angel, when the musically inclined demon returned to his homeworld of Pylea. “Numfar!” his burly, bearded mother screamed. “He has brought shame on us! Perform the dance of shame!” And then Numfar, a game but rhythmically inept creature portrayed by series creator himself, began capering around to express his family’s upset. The surreality of this great moment, half remembered from when I watched it one evening after football practice all the way back in ninth grade, returned and seemed to express eloquently the comic potential inherent in this experience.
Although I had decided by this point that I would not take this job even if they begged me, I did finish the application. I am nothing if not dogged, after all. The remaining questions related to my “social media presence” and, presumably, whether or not it would drive a good employee of this chain to commit sepukku from the dishonor of it all. My answers fell into a predictable pattern of name, rank and serial number. “My publication history is on the submitted resume and curriculum vitae,” I wrote, again and again, “anything of interest will be there.” I am a free person, I resisted adding, and whatever legal activities I engage in on my own time are my own business.
Alas, this intrusiveness now seems to be the norm rather than the exception it would have been back in my father or grandfather’s day. It’s a sad statement on technology and progress, if the latter word still has any meaning at all. I don’t know exactly what I’ll end up doing, but I am glad to be young enough, and bereft enough of obligation, to at least make an effort at making my own way in the world. The working man may not be expected to haul sixteen tons of number nine coal anymore, but he still has to sell (and sometimes bare) his soul to the company store.