can I discuss NSFW shows at work? — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

In this age of streaming, it seems like every show I watch is very, very R-rated. I feel a little uncomfortable talking about these shows during normal coworker chit-chat about what everyone has been watching lately. I wondering how best to navigate these conversations.

Here are two specific examples that I felt uncomfortable discussing for different reasons:

– Curb Your Enthusiasm: I have absolutely loved this show for years. Its final season recently came out, which was a big deal in our household. I mentioned it to coworkers when asked if I’ve been watching anything good lately, but afterwards, I felt a little nervous because probably 90% of that show’s jokes would be inappropriate for work. Larry David is basically a walking HR violation! What if a colleague watched that show based on my recommendation, and then thought, “Oh my word, does she actually agree with these offensive jokes?”

– Big Little Lies: This show is set in the same area where a colleague lives (our company is fully remote, so people live all over the country). I would ordinarily have mentioned it to the colleague, along the lines of, “I watched this show set in your town — it looks so beautiful there! Is that what your area is really like?” It would’ve been nice to use that as a conversation starter. However, that show includes a lot of really horrific domestic violence. It would feel weird to mention that show without mentioning the disturbing elements of it, but then again, it would also feel odd to utter the words “domestic violence” in my work setting. So, I never brought up this show with the colleague who lives where the show is set, even though I wanted to!

Maybe I’m overthinking it, but I worry about the inappropriate elements of shows following me around at work. (“Does she agree with these offensive jokes? Does she think intense violence is no big deal?”) The result is that I feel I can’t talk about any shows I watch. Is there a better solution? Maybe I can discuss these shows, as long as I give a quick content warning heads-up?

You are overthinking it! But also, this is a topic where it’s better to overthink than under-think, so you are fine.

People talk about R-rated movies and shows at work all the time without delving into the R-rated elements themselves. (Good lord, think about Game of Thrones, if that’s not too dated a reference at this point.) The nuance you want is this:

Curb Your Enthusiasm is funny because Larry David is a walking HR violation. He’s not being presented as a model of good behavior. The joke is that his behavior is bad. Someone would have to have never encountered humor before to conclude that you recommended the show because you found him an exemplar to follow. There are examples of comedy that I’d avoid recommending at work, like comedy that punches down about race or gender (where the joke is more “this might be subversive to say but it’s true, amirite?”). But this isn’t that.

As for Big Little Lies: with any show with highly disturbing material, it’s good to give people a heads-up about that element (always, not just at work). Someone otherwise could turn on Big Little Lies thinking it was going to be a fun, gossipy show about rich women in Monterey and be utterly blindsided by some of the upsetting scenes. (It’s kind of remarkable how that show still managed to be a fun, gossipy show about rich women in Monterey while also tackling intimate partner violence so … brutally? deftly? both?)

This answer is specific to the two shows you mentioned, but you can extrapolate the same principles pretty widely.

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