Monday, October 12, 2009

Life in Antarctica is full of drama

The Denver News had an interesting story last week about the tricky situations some bloggers in Antarctica have gotten into as the result of their posts. It apparently surprises some people to learn that people expected to work long hours in close quarters in one of the least inhabited places on earth get up to some PG-13 or R-rated hijinks. The publicizing of large shipments of condoms, or pastimes such as naked Jell-O wrestling have caused Raytheon, the company that provides a lot of the support services for Antarctic research stations, to try to crack down on the more salacious postings. The company even once disallowed a day off for the Midwinter Festival, which is an event many staffers anticipate for weeks and plan for extensively, causing much grumbling and unhappiness.

On the one hand, it seems heartless to deny people cooped up indoors for months the opportunity to vent to the outside world - sometimes communicating through the Internet can be just as satisfying as in-person communications, particularly if you feel as if you're interacting with new or different people. But it's also easy to understand that Raytheon may want to avoid the impression that it hires people who are merely marking time at their Antarctic jobs until the next big drunken orgy will occur. Nevertheless, as the article notes, there used to be a greater effort to keep station personnel occupied, but now bingo night is supposedly banned because small amounts of real money were involved.

Essentially this is a publicity issue. I don't imagine that in the pre-Internet days that Antarctic researchers and support personnel only participated in good, clean fun. But without much outside communication, nobody knew about what went on. Raytheon will have to strike a balance between permitting its employees to be human and ensuring that its contracts with the government are not in jeopardy. In the meantime, Antarctic bloggers might be wise to consider their time on the ice to be like a visit to Las Vegas, and keep some of the more salacious details to themselves. Not because there's anything wrong with Jell-O wrestling, but because those who haven't had to decide between braving -100 degree weather and staying inside for a 50th consecutive day won't really understand why sometimes it's really your only option.

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