Thursday, 13 December 2012

Dear Dalkey: "it's satirical" doesn't make you funny, it's the passive-aggressive bigot's stock reply

Dalkey Archive are a wonderful small press I've often mentioned in my "small presses doing great things" spiels. Yet two days ago in an act of career suicide that showed just why they're so desperate to get someone in to do PR they posted a job advert so crass it's had the internet and even figures in a publishing world not exactly known for its espousal of intern rights up in arms. Here's the ad. I can't imagine they'll leave it up so here are some key lines:
"The Press is looking for promising candidates with an appropriate background who: have already demonstrated a strong interest in literary publishing; are very well read in literature in general and Dalkey Archive books in particular; are highly motivated and ambitious; are determined to have a career in publishing and will sacrifice to make that career happen; are willing to start off at a low-level salary and work their way upwards; possess multi-dimensional skills that will be applied to work at the Press; look forward to undergoing a rigorous and challenging probationary period either as an intern or employee; want to work at Dalkey Archive Press doing whatever is required of them to make the Press succeed; do not have any other commitments (personal or professional) that will interfere with their work at the Press (family obligations, writing, involvement with other organizations, degrees to be finished, holidays to be taken, weddings to attend in Rio, etc.); know how to act and behave in a professional office environment with high standards of performance; and who have a commitment to excellence that can be demonstrated on a day-to-day basis. DO NOT APPLY IF ALL OF THE ABOVE DOES NOT DESCRIBE YOU.
      We certainly seek people with relevant experience, but just as important or more so, we seek people who know what a job is, are able to learn quickly, are dedicated to doing excellent work, can meet all deadlines, and happily take on whatever needs to be done. Attitude and work habits, along with various skills, are just as important as experience and knowledge.
    Any of the following will be grounds for immediate dismissal during the probationary period: coming in late or leaving early without prior permission; being unavailable at night or on the weekends; failing to meet any goals; giving unsolicited advice about how to run things; taking personal phone calls during work hours; gossiping; misusing company property, including surfing the internet while at work; submission of poorly written materials; creating an atmosphere of complaint or argument; failing to respond to emails in a timely way; not showing an interest in other aspects of publishing beyond editorial; making repeated mistakes; violating company policies. DO NOT APPLY if you have a work history containing any of the above.

We will not be able to acknowledge receipt of applications or provide feedback about your application. We will contact only those people whom we wish to ask further questions of or that we intend to interview. Do not contact us about your application."

But it gets worse. John O'Brien from Dalkey felt the need to explain that YES, there is a job but don't get so uptight because it was all written in the spirit of satire. Here's a piece for the Irish Times.

Now, in this explanation he breaks several rules - never explain a joke, but most important never make an explanation that will make you look worse than what you're explaining. As several commenters there point out, he hardly shows a great attitude towards internships.

But my real concern is with the original piece. I will brush over the fact that the last paragraph flagrantly plays fast and loose with people's entitlements under data protection law. What is so awful is the "get a sense fo humour" defence.  "it can't be prejudice because I said it in a funny voice and where's yer sense of humour, whoops was that your bottom I pinched, gotta larf" as I put it on a Facebook thread. This is wrong for several reasons. 

First, and obviously, it's what we associate with sexist dinosaurs who don't get why people don't all just laugh when they've been called demeaning names and had their bottoms pinched. And there's a reason that kind of dinosaur resorts to that kind of defence - they have to because their action is indefensible.

Second, this is passive-aggression at its worst. And bullying thug mob mentality. It's saying "stop whingeing you spoilsport can't syou see how you're ruining everything." It's the kind of exclusionary belittling tactic that has seen political correctness, health and safety, and rights swathed in negative connotations when I can't actually think of three things more fit for celebrating. it's the kind of attitude that leads to people telling the victims of cyberbullying to log off and shut up. It narrows the horizons of the vulnerable at teh expense of the free ranging swagger of the culturally colonial.

Third, this seems to be actually to breach the Equality Act. Not everyone can easily distinguish what's humour and what isn't. Satire is a complex social and psychological mechanism and some people are completely at sea with it. But that wouldn't stop them being amazing interns. They are entitle to take what they see at face value. This isn't a piece of creative writing, it's an advert for a job with a person specification. And whilst Mr O'Brien may think it's amusing, for the person who's just been put in the WRAG group for ESA and is in danger of losing their home and their dignity, this real job (as he's so keen to point out it is) may just make the difference between self-respect and a step on the path to a brighter future or not. Why on earth would he think it funny for them to be forced to pass it over because they just didn't get the humour?

Sorry, I realise I shouldn't even be saying this. I should get my sense of humour bypass looked at instead.


  1. It's meant to be funny!!! Do they really think anyone desperate for a job is going to see the funny side of this - I'm with you on this, Dan, this looks like shooting-oneself-in-the-foot humour to me.

  2. Call that a funny advert? (As Crocodile Dundee might have said)
    This is a funny advert:

    An offer you can't refuse.
    Come and work for us
    we won't pay you money
    and by the time we're done
    you'll be walking kind of funny.

    If you don't have relations
    or friends or any life
    or a cat a dog or a small pet frog
    or a partner, child or wife
    or anybody on the planet
    who might spot you're gone
    You might be right for us
    to place our muddy feet upon.

    You'll need to be available
    every moment of your day
    and if we wake you in the night
    you must come in straight away.
    If we ask you to lick our boots clean
    you must do it with elan
    and never ask our purpose
    or suspect our evil plan.

    So if you have no self-respect
    (also known as self-esteem)
    send in your application
    and welcome to the team!

    banana_the_poet 13.12.12

  3. quite, Jo - the timing when so many people are so desperate is so insensitive (though many of those are desperate because they want to support those they love, and we know they're not interested in them!)
    Banana, that's fabulous!!

  4. The "its just Satire" Xcuse is Xactly why I'm going after VICE Magazine. A Big, Public Display of BIGOTS ADMITTING THEY'RE BIGOTS AND APOLOGIZING. This Article was Spot on.

  5. excellent - we should be calling bigotry out each and every time