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My Mother Sent Me an NSFW Clip

The next morning she emailed me "IMG_0087.MOV," a humorous skit about a man on a tram that keeps suddenly stopping, causing him to repeatedly ram his face into the large-breasted woman seated across from him.

by Jimmy Chen
Feb 20 2015, 9:00pm

Still from the opening shot of 'IMG_0087.MOV'

For years, my mom had been talking about getting an iPhone, mainly to use chat apps with which she could text her friends, who have been haranguing her to get with the times. One of them, Angela, believed my dad had conspired to keep her off WeChat, an app predominantly used in China, to keep her from receiving gossip, presumably about himself. She finally bought an iPhone 6 Plus, which has the effect of an iPad in her small hands. The last time I visited (primarily as a field-service technician), she asked me to show her how to email a clip directly to someone in her contacts. The next morning, she emailed me "IMG_0087.MOV," a humorous skit about a man on a tram that keeps suddenly stopping, causing him to repeatedly ram his face into the large-breasted woman seated across from him. The 44-second clip ends with her face finally ramming into his crotch, followed by an erection, which he abashedly covers with a handbag.

The following is the subsequent email thread between my mom and I, slightly edited for privacy:

My mom lives in a gated 50-and-over retirement community with my father, who sleeps in front of a 65" HDTV blasting CNN most of the day. Her sole contact with the outside world, aside from a few neighbors, and me, is now the internet. She's joined the world at large, we the distracted and connected, ceaselessly forwarding content in some state of existential curation. I'm solemnly lifted as her face brightens with each sound notification. "Someone texted you," I say. "I'm so busy!" she says cheerfully.

As her direct line to truth, it is my responsibility to tell her what is photoshopped, and what is not; what is spam, and what is not; who is literally a homosexual, and who is merely fabulous. At some point over the years, we have switched roles—I am now the parent, and she the relentlessly curious child. I remember when I was in grade school, asking her about the world outside, about its made-up rules, its mean people, scared to venture more than a few blocks away. She must have grown back into a little girl at the same rate that I became a grim man. She asks me what cocktail to order on the cruise happy hour; I immediately respond with an old fashioned, and she worries about my drinking. I ponderously explain the difference between her WiFi and 4G, how the latter can take her anywhere—away from her home, even at Safeway, and into the internet; she asks me if that includes pics.

English as a second language gives Gertrude Stein a run for her money. There's a certain naive earnestness to my mom's appeals, the authority she has granted me. I was being facetious, but she had been taking the conversation way too seriously for me not to perversely explore. "Sexually funny" is my new favorite phrase.

Would you fire me for viewing a man face full in tits? Probably not. Would you make me meet with HR in the conference room, fill out some forms? Maybe.

NSFW presupposes a puritan work ethic—as first introduced in Max Weber's 1905 book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, from which free-market economic theory arguably arises—in that we, as an unsafe populace, are assumed to all be at work. Such a caveat betrays our greatest fear, that we'd be fired, or at least reprimanded, by a prudish management for our prurient ways. Most of the content tagged NSFW is fairly mild: maybe a sparkling thong, a politician's middle finger, or a bare ass here and there. As hardcore porn, school bullying, gang rape, and ISIS-beheading videos become more and more ubiquitous online, placating trigger warnings flash everywhere, as if by such means we were exercising some moral control in an increasingly insane world. For every anti-climactic celebrity nipple, thousands are slaughtered unseen for religious, economic, or psychotic reasons. I suppose if we can only protect one thing, may it be our sensibilities.

She has yet to reply. Maybe she finally saw through my petty sarcasm and bitterness, and couldn't summon the energy to raise me anymore.

My mother may be contacting me from some void, from a large house that isn't really a home. They installed an automatic fountain in the inner courtyard, which they leave off, waiting to host a party. I am gone, and Dad is asleep. Lately I've begun to text her just to make sure there's always a little ping that pings, waking her iPhone into its soft light on the kitchen counter—this sudden notification that I imagine her leaving her room to check. I hope I'm not a disappointment.