Category Archives: Literature

Oh, NO!!! “The Mikado” Ethics Again (Political Correctness Division)!

[Here...listen to this while you read the post.]

I am apparently the official protector of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” from ridiculous accusations of ethics offenses, so once again, I will charge into the breach. No thanks needed, Mr. Gilbert, Sir Arthur—I owe you debts that can never be repaid.

In a brain-endangering op-ed for the Seattle Times, expresses the opinion that the operetta is a “racial caricature,” and thus “every snap of the fan was a slap in the face.” The nature of the complaint has old origins: the original show in 1885 nearly caused an international incident, as Japan registered an official complaint to Great Britain claiming a grievous insult to its people. W.S. Gilbert, who was skilled at such things (a few years later he stifled French indignation over a song in “Ruddigore” that pretended to make fun of the French while actually ridiculing British bravado), explained that “The Mikado” in no way ridicules anything about Japan or its people, but is entirely a witty and original satire on everything British. This was true then, and is true now. Then, however, people, including the Victorian era Japanese, were able to see distinctions, and were not seeking victim status and leave to play public censor under the authority conferred by political correctness. Today, people like Ms. Chan are not so easily calmed.

Thus is art harmed, entertainment stifled, laughter stilled and music forgotten. A good argument could be made that “The Mikado” is the greatest musical comedy entertainment ever written.* It certainly caused the biggest international sensation (the closest rival is another Gilbert and Sullivan classic, “H.M.S. Pinafore”): it is estimated that by the end of 1885, at least 150 companies in Europe and the U.S. were producing the satire. As recently as the 1960s, it was credibly claimed that a “Mikado” was going on somewhere in the world every minute of the day.

The show is fun in every respect: comedy, music, lyrics, satire, characters. It is also fun to act in and produce, for children as well as adults. Unfortunately, several factors have led to the gradual scarcity of productions in recent years, from the cyclical (Gilbert and Sullivan go out of style, but always come back) to the ridiculous ( it seems like every production has to cope with some absurd controversy, like the 2011 Montana production that was accused of threatening Sarah Palin’s life). Political correctness aversion has been the biggest factor in making the very best G&S show rare while productions of Broadway musical junk flourish, however. Since the characters are supposedly “Japanese,” shouldn’t all the singers be Asian? Isn’t Asian make-up offensive like blackface? Oh, hell, let’s just do “The Pirates of Penzance.”

From Ms. Chan: Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, History, Journalism & Media, Literature, Popular Culture, Race, U.S. Society

A Proposed Guide To Spoiler Ethics

"It SINKS??? You spoiled the ending!!!"

“It SINKS??? You spoiled the ending!!!”

I was just admonished on Facebook by a friend (a real friend, not just the Facebook variety), for referencing the end of the last episode of Season One of “Orange is the New Black.”  He hadn’t finished viewing the season yet, and this was a breach of spoiler ethics. Or was it?

Ever since I encountered for real someone who was angry with me for “spoiling” the end of “Thirteen Days,” ( “Yes, World War III started and everybody died”), I have been dubious about spoiler etiquette. The advent of DVDs and Netflix has made this all the more annoying. If I’m in a group of five, and one individual hasn’t kept up with “House of Cards,” are the rest of us obligated to censor our discussion? As a devotee and fanatic devourer of popular culture, I admit that my first instinct is to say, “Keep up, get literate, or pay the price.” If I actually live by that rule, however, I will be a walking, talking, writing, spoiler machine.

Chuck Klosterman, “The Ethicist” in the world of the New York Times, recently pronounced himself an anti-spoiler absolutist:

“I’m an anti-spoiler fascist. I don’t believe that any conversation, review or sardonic tweet about a given TV show is more valuable than protecting an individual’s opportunity to experience the episode itself (and to watch it within the context for which it was designed). I’ve never heard a pro-spoiler argument that wasn’t fundamentally absurd.”

Even Klosterman, however, excepted sporting events (the question posed involved mentioning World Cup scores to a friend who was annoyed that the game had been “spoiled” for him) from his fascism, writing, reasonably:

“I must concede that live, unrehearsed events are not subject to “spoiler” embargoes A live event is a form of breaking news. It’s not just entertainment; it’s the first imprint of living history. …Because this guy is your buddy, you might want to avoid discussing the games’ outcomes out of common courtesy — but not out of any moral obligation. It’s his own responsibility to keep himself in the dark about current events.”

For once I agree with Chuck. But what are reasonable ethics rules for dealing with the other kind of spoiler, involving literature and entertainment?

Luckily, this is not new territory, though it is evolving territory. The underlying ethical principles include fairness, trust, consideration, compassion, and empathy, which means that the Golden Rule is also involved.

Back in 2010, an erudite blogger calling himself The Reading Ape proposed a draft “Guide to Responsible Spoiling.” That blog is defunct; the promised successor is not around, and so far, I haven’t been able to discover who the Ape is. Whoever he is (Oh Aaaaape! Come back, Ape!) , he did a very good job, though some tweeks might  improve his work, especially in light of the emergence of Netflix.  (I have edited it slightly, not substantively…I hope he doesn’t mind, or if he does, that he’s not a big ape.) His approach is to frame the problem as an ethical conflict, in which two competing ethics principles must be balanced. I think that’s right.

Here is his “draft”—what do you think?

“A Brief Guide to Responsible Spoiling”

by The Reading Ape (2010)

The objective is to balance two ethical principles:

I. The Right to Surprise: The inherent right of any viewer or reader to experience the pleasure of not knowing what’s
going to happen next.

II. The Right to Debate: The inherent right of any viewer or reader to engage in public discourse about the content of
a given work of narrative art.

Part 1: When Spoiling is Fair Game

In the following circumstances, one can discuss crucial plot details and reveal endings with a clear conscience. Continue reading

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The Obama Outhouse Float: Not Racist, Just Wrong

Racist float? Why not? Well, a) Bill Clinton's not black b) it's not a 4th of July parade, c) this is in Germany and d) it's not Obama.

Racist float? Why not? Well, a) Bill Clinton’s not black b) it’s not a 4th of July parade, c) the parade is in Germany and d) most important of all, it’s not President Obama.

It was almost a year ago that a rodeo clown donned an Obama mask, and the NAACP demanded that the Secret Service investigate him, and the clown lost his job. It is considered acceptable that in the nation’s capital, five people in  big-headed costumes depicting the Mt. Rushmore Presidents (and William Howard Taft) race around a baseball stadium as the crowd laughs at their antics, but any mockery of the current President of the United States will be immediately attacked as “racist.”

Thus an appallingly stupid, tasteless and inappropriate float in a Norfolk, Nebraska Independence Day parade is further straining already damaged race relations in this country, because it depicted a distressed man coming out of an outhouse labelled the  “Obama Presidential Library.” The Norfolk Odd Fellows Lodge, which coordinates the annual parade, is defending the float, which was entered as political satire (it even won an award). Others, however, have condemned it as, you guessed it, racist.  Here it is:

Obama float

It isn’t racist. Although many media reports have described the zombie-like figure exiting the outhouse as a representation of the President, it clearly isn’t. Does President Obama use a walker for support? The float’s designer, Dale Remmich, who does use a walker and dresses like the figure on the float, explained that the figure was meant to be Remmich himself, tinged green out of disgust for, among other things, the Veterans Administration fiasco. As for portraying Obama’s future library as an outhouse, that’s not racial imagery, though it is obviously a statement communicating criticism and disrespect. The same imagery would not have puzzled anyone if it had been used to criticize any other recent President; nobody would have looked at the exact same float except with the label “George W. Bush Presidential Library” on the outhouse and said, “I don’t get it. Bush isn’t black.” That’s because it isn’t the design of the float that makes it racist, just as it wasn’t the use of a mask that made the rodeo clown’s act racist, in the eyes of those making the accusation. What makes it racist is the criticism and the mockery, its target. Criticism and mockery of other Presidents went with the territory. Criticism of the first black President is by definition racist. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Citizenship, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Literature, Race, U.S. Society

Ten Movies For Independence Day Weekend

fireworks

I wasn’t going to do this until I ran across a few lists of “Most Patriotic  Films” that made me fear for the taste and the values of my fellow citizens. “Independence Day” ? “Armageddon”? “Rocky IV”?  When did “patriotic” start meaning “crappy”? “Born on the Fourth of July”? If Oliver Stone is your idea of patriotic fare, you and I are going to have a problem.

Here is my very personal list of ten favorite films that bring a patriotic lump to my throat and a remind me of how lucky I am to be born and raised in the U.S.A. Don’t mind the order: it was hard enough narrowing the list down to ten.

1. Apollo 13  (1995)

The only one of the movies on my list that I saw on the others today. Like many of the films here, it makes me wistful for American boldness and confidence that seem to be in retreat today. When the  Apollo re-emerges from radio silence, and Tom Hanks says, with perfect inflection, “Hello, Houston. This is Odyssey. It’s good to see you again,” I lose it, every time.

2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Yes, this is Capra-corn at its corniest, but from Harry Carey Sr.’s sage and heroic Vice -President, to the power of the people triumphing, to the press trying to expose corruption rather than abet it,  this film reminds us of the best ideals of our government. When we get too cynical to enjoy Jefferson Smith’s struggle to make Washington work the way its supposed to, it will be time to pack it in.

3. The Longest Day (1962)

Longest Helm

Yes, it’s not just about Americans, but it is a great film about one of our country’s  finest achievements, all true, and inspiring without a lot of flag waving and sentiment. Best war movie ever—and my Dad’s favorite. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Citizenship, History, Humor and Satire, Literature, Popular Culture, U.S. Society, War and the Military

Nobody Should Be Cheering The Poll Showing President Obama As Regarded As “The Worst President Since World War II”

News Item:

“In a new Quinnipiac University Poll, 33% named Barack Obama the worst president since World War II. Only 8% named Obama as the best president.”

Comments:

1. The conservative blogosphere, and I assume conservative radio and Fox News, are crowing about this. That’s revolting. No citizen or patriot should rejoice at a failed Presidency, which this one surely is.

2.The United States desperately needed–and needs—a uniting, skilled, strong and non-ideological leader with the ability to solve problems while maintaining a positive image of his (or her) iconic office and the United States itself.  That a President who promised so much and created such hope has proven to be none of these is no less than a tragedy, and quite possibly a catastrophe.

3. Polls aren’t always meaningless. This one is important, I think, because it shows that the American people are paying attention, and that the incredible covering, bolstering, spinning and enabling efforts by the mainstream media to prop up President Obama and blame others for his inadequacies have failed. This is good news.

4. The bad news, in addition to what I already mentioned above is… Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Government & Politics, History, Incompetent Elected Officials, Journalism & Media, Literature, U.S. Society

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Kiefer Sutherland

“I’ve been mystified by this. You have to understand that we’re not writing foreign policy. This is a dramatic television show, and Jack threatening to blow someone’s knees off because he wants information is a dramatic device to show how urgent or desperate a situation is. It should not be taken as this is what we think the CIA should be doing.”

—–“24” star, as “Jack Bauer,” Kiefer Sutherland, expressing his bewilderment at criticism of his show for depicting a hero who resorts to torture repeatedly, in an interview with United’s in-flight magazine, “Hemispheres.”

jack_bauer_tortureWe shouldn’t criticize actors for not being rocket scientists, or even ethicists. Nonetheless, this comment shows a remarkable ignorance of how a society passes on values and virtues, and the role played by literature, legends and pop culture.

Sutherland is the hero of his show, one of the good guys. What our society depicts the good guys as doing, the values they hold, the virtues they display, the goals they seek and the methods they use to achieve them, both reflects the values of our culture and sends the message that these are the kinds of conduct that the culture wants to encourage. Celebrating as heroes individuals who routinely kill when they are not protecting themselves or the innocent, engage in cruelty, theft, or the abuse of others, or unapologetic law-breaking encourages our younger generations to regard such anti-social conduct as defensible, or even the norm. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Childhood and children, Citizenship, Ethics Quotes, Journalism & Media, Literature, Popular Culture, U.S. Society

Theater Ethics: The Big Daddy Affair

"Yes, why DON'T you want to make love to a young Liz Taylor, Brick? I've been wondering about that myself..."

“Yes, why DON’T you want to make love to a young Liz Taylor, Brick? I’ve been wondering about that myself…”

It is convenient when the perspectives of my longtime dual personas as a stage director and an ethicist are simultaneously relevant, so I couldn’t pass up this juicy story.

From the LGBT blog of the LA Weekly:

A Southern California production of the Tennessee Williams classic “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof” was canceled today after a homophobic outburst in the audience led to a physical confrontation, the firing of an actor, and an apparent cast revolt….the Repertory East Playhouse… announced in a statement today that the run of the play was “suspended” …as a result of “cast members leaving the show with no time to adequately re-cast their parts … “[A] man in the audience was allegedly drunk and heckling the performers during Saturday night’s performance….The heckling had been building up, …with whistling and cat-calling aimed at the character Maggie, as if the heckler and his friend “were at a strip club.”….at the moment Brick is asked why he rejected a kiss from Maggie….the heckler called out something like, “Because he’s a fag,” according to the director. At that point the actor playing Big Daddy, John Lacy, went into the audience to confront the man…”

“It was almost like he [Big Daddy] was still in character,” another actor told the LA Weekly blogger, Dennis Romero. He and a third actor then left the stage, and helped subdue the drunken audience member and his friend. Apparently the audience applauded the scene—does this remind anyone else of “My Favorite Year”?—and the play continued. Said a cast member: “The rest of the play has more resonance than ever.”

The theater fired Lacy after the show.  Anton Troy, the actor playing Brick who had been heckled, then announced on Facebook that he was quitting the production in protest, saying in part, “I will not support homophobia or an establishment that doesn’t support its talent. Hate in any form is not something I choose to subscribe to. John is a seasoned professional and an honorable man. It should never escalate to a point where the talent has to handle an unruly drunk in the audience themselves regardless of the outcome. Producers dropped the ball..”

Other actors quit the production as well, and the entire run, which was to have included a tour, was cancelled.

Wowsers.

Here are some ethics observations: Continue reading

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KABOOM! Susan Rice, Serial Liar; The Obama Administration, Disgrace…

headexplode

Nothing like ending a long day with a head explosion.

What does it say about an Administration when it uses its U.N. Ambassador and its National Security Advisor to mislead the news media and lie to the public?

What does it tell us when the U.N. Ambassador and its National Security Advisor so employed is the same individual?

Susan Rice’s complacent complicity in the mid- 2012 campaign efforts by the White House to blame the fatal Benghazi attack on an anti-Muslim video well after the CIA had concluded that the attack was planned and coordinated by Al Qaeda elements sent her to five TV news shows with a tailored lie. That deceit cost her the Secretary of State job, as it destroyed her credibility. So Obama defiantly made her his National Security Advisor.  In this role, she is also, apparently,  expected to continue to serve as White House liar.

Silly me: I can’t shake this habit of wanting to believe Presidential spokespersons in high positions. So when Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor, went on ABC and said this...

“Sergeant Bergdahl wasn’t simply a hostage; he was an American prisoner of war captured on the battlefield. We have a sacred obligation that we have upheld since the founding of our republic to do our utmost to bring back our men and women who are taken in battle, and we did that in this instance.”  

and that Bergdahl…

“…served the United States with honor and distinction…”

…I actually assumed that was true!

What’s the matter with me? What’s the matter with the news media? Most of all, what the hell is the matter with the President of the United States that he treats the public and the truth with such utter contempt? Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: Pasco High School (Dade City, Fla.)

Graduate

I need this story to get the previous post out of my head.

In Mark Harris’s novel “Bang The Drum Slowly,” best known as the inspiration for the film that introduced Robert DeNiro to the movie-going public, a major league baseball team exhibits uncharacteristic kindness toward a third-string catcher who is dying of Hodgkin’s Disease. The book, like the film and the stage adaptation, is about kindness and the Golden Rule, an ethical value that seldom inspires literature or art. Kindness is not particularly exciting, but it may be the most ethical of all ethical virtues. The serious illness and impending death of someone in our life often brings the importance of kindness into sharp focus. “Everybody’d be nice to you if they knew you were dying,” says the doomed catcher, Bruce Pearson, to his room mate and champion, star pitcher Henry Wiggen.  “Everybody knows everybody is dying,” Wiggen replies. “That’s why people are as good as they are.”

Pasco High School student Vanessa Garcia  learned that she had an inoperable brain tumor when she was in elementary school. Until two years ago, treatment had kept the tumor  in remission, but the mass began growing again when she was 15. Undaunted, Garcia continued to go to school, work diligently, and keep a positive and uncomplaining outlook, earning the admiration of her classmates, teachers and school officials. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Education, Literature, Love, Quotes

John Paul Stevens’ Gilbertian Nonsense

 

The Lord Chancellor-Stevens

A rather long preface is in order. Bear with me, please…

In the great, underperformed Gilbert and Sullivan operetta “Iolanthe,” W.S. Gilbert, a lawyer by training, devised a satirical judicial solution to a dire turn in the plot. Iolanthe, a fairy, violated Fairy Law by marrying a mortal, who happened to be the Lord Chancellor of England (he never noticed her wings, apparently.) The transgression commands the death penalty, but Iolanthe received a pardon on the condition that she allow her husband to think her dead, which she does for a couple of decades, much of which she spends doing penance at the bottom of a froggy stream, on her head.…but I digress.

When she learns, however, that her husband of yore is about to marry the sweetheart of her half-fairy son, who, though the Lord Chancellor doesn’t know it, is also his son, Iolanthe reveals herself and the paternity to the Lord Chancellor, who is duly stunned. This again triggers the death penalty and just minutes away from the finale, it looks like Iolanthe is going to end up like Carlo in “The Godfather,” as the fairy equivalent of Clemenza waddles on to the stage. (That’s how I would stage it, anyway.) Then this happens: Continue reading

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