Politically Incorrect … To Whom?

October 12, 2009
van dyke

Earlier this week I was speaking to one of my cohorts here at the agency, during one of the five to six “humor breaks” that we manage to squeeze in on a typical busy day.  He said something to me to the effect of, “Hey, do you think some of the stuff we do here at the agency when we’re kidding around is similar to the type of stuff you did when you were with a bunch of TV writers in a room?”

That got me thinking.  There is quite a difference between what happens on both coasts and what happens here in the Midwest among creative people when they’re working together. Things tend to be a bit more “buttoned-up” in the land of 10,000 prudes.

Here’s a perfect example:  Several years ago I had created and was executive producing two television series here in Minneapolis.  I was producing them with a company that is no longer in operation, so I know it’s safe to share this story.

During one particularly long 12-hour day of shooting, I decided to sit down during a break, on one of the chairs on the set.  One of the show’s producers (a female friend of mine for many years) came over to me and asked me if I would like my shoulders rubbed, as I looked “exhausted.”

“Absolutely!” I replied, with a big smile on my face.

She began rubbing my shoulders; again, this was on the set, during a break, with the entire staff and crew around us.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the president of the production company  (who had recently been hired), look very harshly at me, while shaking his head disapprovingly. 

My first thought was, “Was this guy possessed by the spirit of my mother?” My second thought was, “What’s his problem?” 

A few days later I got called into his office where he proceeded to berate me for being a bad example to my staff & crew and for opening up the company to a potential sexual harassment lawsuit.

I explained to him that I realized he had just recently arrived at the company (having been an accountant at a real estate company in Chicago), but the behavior he was speaking about was pretty much standard operating procedure where I came from.  Creative people have a tendency to be a little more free around each other, I explained. 

He wasn’t buying it.  He said, “We’re not ‘where you come from’ and I’m going to have to write you up, take a statement from you and the producer, and see what happens from there!”

Needless to say, nothing “happened from there.”  The producer told them that she thought they were out of line. I told them that I wasn’t going to give them a statement. No one on the staff or crew thought anything was “out of the ordinary.”

After a lot of corporate posturing and huffing and puffing, the president said he would let the matter drop — but that it better not happen again!

The next time he was on the set I had all the producers and crew rubbing each other’s backs.

The president was fired six months later.