Sunday, February 10, 2008

German Porn Law in Practice & Bombs

It's been a rather long time since I last wrote in my blog, but to be perfectly honest, nothing extraordinary has happened. Christmas was fun because Tracie came to visit and we celebrated with Christian and his family. We mainly kept busy doing tourist stuff, drinking Glühwein, and visiting Christmas markets. It was a good Christmas. Then I spent another New Year's in Berlin with Christian and friends Timm and Patricia, which of course, was a blast.

In January, I was in Dresden for a week for my program's mid-year seminar. There were 24 other people there and it was really great seeing some familiar faces again. Dresden is a beautiful city and we were also in Leipzig for a day, where I would've liked to spend more time, but that will be for the future.

Two weeks after I was in Dresden, I went with David and Paige (two friends not in Köln, but they were for the language course phase) to Valmeinier, France, to go snowboarding for a week. It was my first time outside of Germany since arriving in August, and it made for a very relaxing, fun trip. We had some really good powder because one day it snowed a bit and the visibility was really poor. However, the next day, one mountain was fantastic with really wide, long runs. I also finally realized riding a board the right size for me is a lot less strenuous (I mean, this is a huge "duh," I know, but I like my board at home) and therefore, I will have to get a new board for next year. For the week, I think I spent less than 650€, all expenses included, even the fondue (the best fondue I've had in my life) and raclette that we had.

To make a long story short, fast forward to now. Last week, the final phase of our internship started. I had to start work on Monday, even though it was Rosenmontag, the biggest day for Karneval. If you don't know why this is significant, let's just put it this way: Köln is THE city to celebrate Karneval (Mardi Gras over a few days) and when I told people I had to work Rosenmontag, they all asked, "Spinnst du??" (Are you crazy??) For a better description of Karneval, read my blog entry from two years ago in Düsseldorf.

The company I work for is Clipfish, a German competitor of YouTube and subsidiary of RTL, the biggest TV, radio, and production company in Europe. Unfortunately, you can't access the website if you're living in the U.S., so you can't see the stuff that I deal with. The reason for it is that there is a "Sexy Videos" category that would be considered pornographic at home and I guess it's easier to just block the entire site, rather than having to make sure everyone consents to the content.

This actually brings me to an interesting point about my internship. One task I have to do is read through complaints, whether they have to do with copyrighted material, videos that might be considered "too brutal," videos that are "damaging" to your person, videos that are considered "immoral" or "pornographic" by some users, etc. I have to sit and watch the videos that people complained about, deciding whether or not they should be taken down or not. The pornography complaints are interesting because of the fact that most of the "Sexy Videos" offend my American sensibilities and I would just automatically write them off as pornographic in the U.S. However, because I am in Germany, I usually ask the other intern if they're a little more extreme and always attach "Sorry to ask you again, but as an American, this is porn, but what do you think?"

Now, if you know me personally, you know that the main topic of my senior thesis was comparing pornography law between (the former) West Germany and the U.S. during the Sexual Revolution. You would think that this would help me with my job sifting through the videos. Yes, it does, but putting pornography law into practice on the internet is much different than with film and printed material today. Additionally, the fact that I grew up in a society where pornography is easy to spot makes it difficult to say if something here is or isn't (basically, boobs are a good indication and anything below the belt is definitely porn) . For example, German pornography law states that if a sexual organ is portrayed in a way that emphasizes intercourse (whether it is actual sex or masturbation), then it is pornographic. However, the important thing to know is that you can see a vagina or a penis on television if it's in a documentary, even if it is a documentary on sex drive, masturbation, or having kids. For me, the area that gets really gray is when there are videos that have a girl stripping down naked and shows her crotch, but it's not a close up or anything. As I already said, that's definitely porn in the U.S., but here, it's pretty difficult to say yes or no, and that's when I ask the other intern. (The picture I posted is a screenshot of the "Sexy Videos" page I made for those of you who can't access Clipfish from the U.S. It'll give you a vague idea of what I am talking about and it's probably NSFW if you click on it to make it bigger. I made sure to make it small enough if you're reading this page that you don't get in trouble.)

On a completely different note, I had an interesting experience on Friday when the building had to be evacuated. The reason? "Bombenentschärfung," or in English, a bomb needed to be defused. Have no fear, it wasn't a terrorist looking to blow up RTL's offices. Instead, construction workers nearby found a bomb from World War II not too far away from the offices that had never exploded during the war and therefore, needed it to be defused because it could theoretically still explode even though it's more than 60 years old. I thought it was a completely crazy idea, but apparently this happens now and then throughout Germany and for Germans, it's nothing new. In fact, it was just a pain in the ass, a disturbance to the normal work day. We had to stand outside the building for about 2 hours (the other interns and I sat around talking and played word games) and then were allowed back in.

All in all, an interesting first week...