A friend of mine is an artist at a self-publishing house here in Indiana. She just recently posted on Facebook that her project for today is illustrating a white supremacist manifesto. Part of me wants to give her shit for not standing up to her crappy job and just saying no, but another part of me wants to respect that it's her business, and she's just trying to pay the bills (although I believe that sort of justification is known as the Yuppie Nuremberg Defense). Giving my friend shit for helping publish hate-literature as part of her job: Is that okay?
Thatz okay, in moderation.
When you post an item on Facebook, you are essentially hosting an exhibition inside the peanut gallery. If we didn't want people to notice our Facebook posts and respond, we would keep our photos in an album and our "I got into mortuary school!" announcements in a journal. Your friend probably posted about her weird work assignment on Facebook because she felt uncomfortable. The difference between a hilarious anecdote and an embarrassing secret is how people find out about it: Do you tell them yourself, or they uncover it on their own?
The problem with treating Facebook like a confessional is that, unlike a priest, or a mom, or a hooker you are paying to sit and listen to your problems, Facebook friends have no obligation to understand or forgive.
Can you gently tease your friend by asking "Cheesefries on David Duke tonight?" Sure. Should you publicly reprimand her for setting back the cause? Eh, probably not.
Sometimes people's jobs require them to perform tasks they really would rather not. For instance, Gawker's art director Jim Cooke had to make an eye-catching image with white supremacist flair for this very post. (For what it's worth, when I asked him to weigh in on the question as a fellow artist, Jim said he would turn your friend's job down.)
But the illustration that accompanies a white supremacist manifesto self-published in the great state of Indiana is probably not going to be the deciding factor that turns many Hoosiers to the cause. Most people are not really on the fence when it comes to white supremacy; you're either all in or you're not even participating in this poker game because it is taking place at a closed Klan meeting in the basement of a nondescript office building in Texarkana, Arkansas.
What your friend has here is a plum opportunity to push her creative boundaries by mastering the art of subtle sabotage. Perhaps her design can incorporate a race-positive ambigram so that if a reader turns the booklet upside down, "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children" becomes "Watch Scandal Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC."
There are, of course, a few practical reasons why it is ill-advised to accept such an assignment. Your friend can't ever get a job designing White House visitors' brochures if she illustrates "NEW Soup For You: A Nazi Soup Cookbook (Revised and Updated with Over 100 Stunning Color Illustrations)" in her twenties. And, if the author of the manifesto ever achieves any sort of criminal notoriety, she will forever be known as "the girl who designed that racist lunatic's book jacket." These are worthwhile points to bring up before your friend accepts the assignment. At this point, she's probably locked in.
When your friend's career as an illustrator reaches the point where she can afford to turn down work, she should turn down requests to illustrate white supremacist manifesti. Until then, she should take these fools' money. Upcharge them. Perform as many costly revisions as she can.
If she starts illustrating racist literature gratis, that's a problem. If she tells you that, for all it's obvious faults, the manifesto "actually does make a few good points," that's a problem. If she becomes the official artist-in-residence of the Ku Klux Klan, you should drop her as a friend. (Judging from their website, they are badly in need of someone with her skill set. Maybe don't tell her.)
Like most offices, we have a common kitchen area. People treat the microwave like it is a dorm laundry and throw things in and leave it there for 10-15 minutes while they do other things. The other day, one co-worker was cooking some homemade soup that smelled fantastic. When I went to make my lunch, it was just sitting in there, open bowl, no lid. I decided to take a clean plastic spoon and taste it. My co-worker returned then and started yelling and me that her lunch was ruined, what I did was disgusting and then threw out her soup! I think that if you abandon you lunch it becomes fair game. It wasn't like I stuck my finger in it. It just smelled great and I wanted to taste it. Is that okay?
Thatz not okay.
As is the case with so many of this planet's best-smelling items (babies; hyacinth; ladies' hair; air freshener shaped like pine trees; gasoline right from the pump), just because something smells great doesn't mean you are allowed to eat it. Have you ever been to a restaurant? Everything smells great (unless you are at a bad restaurant). But you are only entitled to eat the things you have ordered.
You say your microwave is like a dorm laundry machine, but you aren't treating it like one. If someone leaves a pair of wet jeans in the washer, that doesn't mean you get to try them on or eat them. It's annoying when someone leaves clothes in the machine, or the toilet seat up, or food in the microwave, but pretty much the only acceptable course of action at that point is to correct the situation yourself. I don't know how Aladdin ran things in the cardboard castle street orphanage where you were raised, but "Gotta eat to live—gotta steal to eat—tell you all about it when I got the tiiiime" is not an accepted part of the office moral code.
It is true that, given what we know of the situation, your coworker's decision to discard the soup seems a little extreme. But it's perfectly understandable that her first reaction upon seeing a guy she kind of knows from around the office helping himself to her lunch was not, "Oh, I'm sure he used a clean spoon."
No matter how hard you sell the idea that the other players in the story are barbarians (SHE LEFT HER SOUP!!! IN THE MICROWAVE!!!!), there is no getting around the fact that you are the one who ate a stranger's food. What did you expect your coworker to do when she saw you slurping down her lunch? Smile politely? (It's good, right?) Draw back her ears and lower her body to the floor to show submission? Battle you for it?
(N.B. you will never win people to your side by employing the phrase "It wasn't like I…" even if you are in the right. (And you are not.) "It wasn't like I…" is for whiners and little brothers.)
To your point, while you were up closely monitoring the microwave for signs of abandonment, you probably left a ton of stuff—for instance: your computer—unsupervised at your desk. If your coworkers were smart, they would plant a pile of old sandwiches in the microwave around 1 p.m., and take the opportunity to rob you blind.
Thatz Not Okay is a regular column in which I school inquiring readers on what is and is not okay. Please send your questions (max: 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Thatz Not Okay." Art by Jim Cooke.