Monday, July 25, 2005

You think you have a lousy job?

One of the job titles I have tucked in my pocket is “content inspector.” A more flippant way to put it might be “porn checker.”

About four years ago, I worked for a large, nation-wide mail order photo processing lab. We were the second largest in the food chain of film processing at that time. Thousands of rolls of undeveloped film passed through our lab each week, and anyone in this business can tell you that these photos aren’t just handled by noisy machinery.

Aside from checking each set for color, tone and clarity ~ one of the lab’s functions was to red-flag anything that you wouldn’t pass around the dinner table at grandma’s house on Sunday.

Anything worthy of a red flag came to my desk for further inspection. I was the lab’s only porn inspector. ...

So why did we have to inspect naughty pictures? Because we were in the mail-order business and it’s a felony to pass pornographic materials through the U.S. Postal Service. The unprocessed film could come to us without breaking a law, but it could not be processed and returned. Understand that there were a million guidelines I had to follow in order to determine what could and couldn’t pass through.

Sounds like a way cool job, eh? Not so cool at all when you consider the rest of the job. I’ll try to be as tactful as possible with this stomach churning topic.

Imagine this scenario. You come into work in the morning, sit at your desk, crank up the computer, sip your tea and open paper wallets filled with images of beastiality, battered children, child porn, or … on the lighter side though still not my favorite breakfast viewing material ~ vegetable sex. ...

The lab wasn’t a prudish outfit. They simply had to stay within the legal boundaries, or be put out of business. Tasteful nudity was fine. Touching or otherwise “interacting” was not. Brutality was never fine; animal or human (I’ve seen both types of photos). Photos revealing any type of underage sexual posing were never fine.

My job, after inspecting full roll content of any questionable shots, and determining that a law or ten may have been broken, was to call in the U.S. Postal Inspectors … (a.k.a. the Feds). Upon their arrival to our office, we’d sit in a conference room and fine-tooth the photos going over every detail of every background and foreground in each shot. Sometimes, I was wrong. I misjudged. But the general rule of thumb at our lab was “if in doubt, call.”

If the Federal Inspectors deemed the photos unlawful, they would carry through by sending undercover agents to the location of the sender; even to Alaska if need be. These agents would show up under the guise of “brown truck” delivery drivers, with photos in hand. (“Good morning Mr. Jackass, you’ve been busted.”)

I had never been summonsed to court, but my predecessor had been. She had to fly to Washington D.C. for a child molestation trial. She had to testify that we received the unprocessed films along with a check signed by the criminal.
....there were some completely hilarious photos of people in their 80s posing for one another in their birthday suits, complete with wine goblets in hand, or sporting Frederick’s of Hollywood style attire; comical pictures of women and men who had no business being naked alone in a dark room let alone proudly displaying themselves on picnic benches or at beach clubs; and of course, we had what my predecessor dubbed, “the vegetable of the month club.” I swear ~ I’m sure I haven’t but I could almost bet I’ve seen it all.

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