Category Archives: Popular Culture

Memorial Ethics: Under Armour’s “Disrespect”

Underarmor

The Horror…

Just in time for Memorial Day comes this depressing example of how timid and wan Americans have become when free speech and expression are under attack. This is how acceptance of the Universal Veto of the Officious Offended will reduce the U.S. to a barren, humorless, imagination-free culture dominated by political correctness bullies and exploitive self-anointed, power-seeking “victims.”

Under Armour advertised a “Band of Ballers” tee-shirt showing a silhouette of men in backwards baseball caps raising a basketball hoop in the iconic pose of the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, in which combat weary soldiers are frozen in the act of raising an American flag after the Marine’s bloody victory at Iwo Jima.

There is nothing remotely wrong with this design. It is not disrespectful It is satire. It is a parody. It is using the status of the image to extol basketball; only a fool could read the image as an effort to denigrate veterans or the American flag. Personally, I think it’s clever, just as I like Charles Addams’ cartoon showing butchers wrestling with sausages in the pose of the famous statue of Laocoon and his sons being devoured by serpents…

Addams Cartoon

…or parodies of Washington crossing the Delaware, like this ad for HBO’s “Veep”… Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Citizenship, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, History, Humor and Satire, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, Sports, U.S. Society

This Is David Letterman’s Final Week On CBS. Good.

I have a hard time laughing at awful people.

I have a hard time laughing at awful people.

I will not be shedding tears or watching while biting my lower lip as David Letterman, Late Night Fick and ethics corrupter, finally leaves the pop culture scene, one hopes forever. The testimonials and accolades in Letterman’s case are nauseating; CNN spent almost 20 minutes singing his praises this morning. Every other late night talk show icon—Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno—managed to finish their tenures without making American society meaner, more divided, and less ethical in the process. Not Dave. He rode his stardom and the initially refreshing irreverent comic instincts that created it to test the limits of the King’s Pass, doing and saying things that would have gotten less lucrative performers fired or suspended. In the process he corrupted his network, his audience and his nation’s culture.

The fact that Letterman is a misanthropic, bitter, angry man should not be a surprise, for almost all the great comics are, and it has ever been thus. “Milton was a miserable bastard. We all are,” Sid Caesar once said to a shocked Larry King as he was trying to coax out some kind words about Milton Berle, who had just died. Sid was undeniably right, but most comic manage to keep their vile behavior out of the spotlight until someone in his inner circle cashes in with a tell-all book. Not Letterman. He cheated on his live-in girlfriend with his current wife, then had a son with his mistress six years before he deigned to marry her. Once whimsical, he became a broadcast bully, neatly choosing victims whom he knew he could abuse without his liberal audience—a bit older and less vulgar than Bill Maher’s—holding him to standards of decency.

In 2009, Letterman noted that Sarah Palin attended a Yankees game during a recent trip to New York City. First Letterman referred to Palin, then Alaska’s governor, as having the style of a “slutty flight attendant,” then said,  “One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game…during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.” The daughter accompanying Palin was Willow Palin, then 14-years-old. Sarah Palin, among others, sharply criticized the late night host’s choice of targets. The next night, Letterman unconvincingly claimed that he was really attacking Bristol, Palin’s older daughter.

Oh, well that’s OK, then. If he had made a similar joke about Chelsea Clinton, CBS would have suspended Letterman so fast he wouldn’t have had time to say bye-bye to Paul Shaffer. It wasn’t until later, after NOW weighed in on the inappropriateness of Letterman’s joke, that he finally apologized to all involved. See, the National Organization for Women matter–they’re not conservatives. Or Republicans.

NOW was strangely quiet, however, when it was revealed later that year that the recently-married Dave was a serial sexual harasser and running his show and production company like his own personal harem. Among his conquests was Holly Hester, who announced that she and Letterman had engaged in a year-long “secret” affair in the early 1990s while she was his intern and a student at New York University.  The official explanation for why no discipline of Letterman was forthcoming was, believe it or not, that Worldwide Pants, Dave’s  appropriately-named production company, had no policies forbidding superiors from boinking their staff members, who depended on them for their career advancement and livelihood. Gee, I wonder why? Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Popular Culture, U.S. Society

So What’s The Theory, SNL, That After 40 Years, It’s OK to Plagiarize?

SNL40

Saturday Night Live’s  “Draw Muhammad” sketch this week was very funny, but then, the cast knew that, since it had already been funny on a Canadian television satire show called “22 Minutes.” The skit, in short, was stolen. You can compare for yourself here.

Yes, what SNL does every week is incredibly stressful, difficult and risky. Writing, rehearsing and performing more than an hour of new material week after week is the equivalent of walking a tightrope with rabid weasels following you. I wrote and directed two original satire stage shows, and it was like riding a roller coaster that crashed every other time you buy a ticket—and you can’t stop riding. So I am sympathetic, very sympathetic. The temptation to swipe proven material from another source must be very strong when time is short and the ideas aren’t coming. Neil Simon, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and Larry Gelbart never stooped to plagiarism when they had to churn out new comedy classics for Sid Ceasar to perform every week on “Your Show of Shows,” but then they were Neil Simon, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and Larry Gelbart. I understand.

Nevertheless, this is a high breach of comedy writing ethics, especially for Saturday Night Live. After 40 years, it is an icon now. It has the status as an elder statesman of satire, a role model for Comedy Bang Bang! and Funny or Die and Archer and every other show written by people who have been watching SNL all their sentient lives. For this show’s writers and cast to cheat validates comedy plagiarism, or, perhaps, invalidates Saturday Night Live.

It will be better, but still unethical, if it turns out that the show bought the skit. For 40 years, SNL has built a reputation as brave, irreverent comic kamikazes who present brand new, original, daring, up-to-the-minute topical material never tested in front of an audience before. If its writers are now recycling the work of other less storied satire shows and their less well-remunerated writers, what does that mean? Is the grind becoming too much? Is the show unable to meet the expectations its previous incarnations created?

Or has it been cheating all along?

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Popular Culture

Emoji Ethics…Oh, All Right, I Won’t Be Coy: The Unethical Firing Of Chad Franks

Screen-Shot-2015-04-28-at-10.50.42-PM

Would you fire someone based on that tweet? Is it so horrible to you, so seering to your senses, that it warrants harming a human being’s career and welfare? Can you even detect what it was that got its author fired? Could the person doing the firing believe that he or she would deserve firing for such a tweet, as in, say, The Golden Rule?

Has the world gone mad?

First the basics: What the hell is an emoji? From Wikipedia:

“Emoji (絵文字(えもじ)are the ideograms or smileys used in Japanese electronic messages and Web pages, the use of which is spreading outside Japan. Originally meaning pictograph, the word emoji literally means “picture” (e) + “character” (moji). The characters are used much like ASCII emoticons or kaomoji, but a wider range is provided, and the icons are standardized and built into the handsets. Some emoji are very specific to Japanese culture, such as a bowing businessman, a face wearing a face mask, a white flower used to denote “brilliant homework,” or a group of emoji representing popular foods: ramen noodles, dango, onigiri, Japanese curry, and sushi. The three main Japanese mobile operators, NTT DoCoMo, au, and SoftBank Mobile (formerly Vodafone), have each defined their own variants of emoji. Although originally only available in Japan, some emoji character sets have been incorporated into Unicode, allowing them to be used elsewhere as well. As a result, emoji have become increasingly popular after their international inclusion in Apple’s iOS in 2011 as the Apple Color Emoji typeface,which was followed by similar adoption by Android and other mobile operating systems. Apple’s OS X operating system supports emoji as of version 10.7 (Lion).Microsoft added monochrome Unicode emoji coverage to the Segoe UI Symbol system font in Windows 8 and added color emoji in Windows 8.1 via the Segoe UI Emoji font.”

In short, they are tiny pictures increasingly used by Twitter freaks to jazz up their tweets. If you don’t look for them, you may miss them. They are, essentially, cartoons.

Chad Shanks, who ran the NBA Houston Rockets’  Twitter account as the team’s digital communications manager, posted the above tweet to celebrate the impending end of the first-round NBA play-off series with the Dallas Mavericks. The emoji of a pistol pointed at a an emoji of a horse’s head—the Mavericks’ mascot is some kind of a horse-human hybrid monster—in the upper left-hand corner was deemed by management so vile that Shanks’ head had to metaphorically roll. The shocking, PTSD triggering tweet with its reference to cartoon violence was deleted and sent to cyber Hell, and Shanks grovelled an apology, writing, via Twitter, of course, that he was no longer with the organization:

“I did my best to make the account the best in the NBA by pushing the envelope, but pushed too far for some and for that I apologize….Sometimes you can go too far. I will no longer run @HoustonRockets  but am grateful to the organization that let me develop an online voice.” Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Sports, The Internet, U.S. Society, Workplace

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Dunces: Ten Prominent Doctors, Surgeons and Med School Professors Who Want Columbia To Kick Dr. Oz Off Its Faculty”

The late Prof. George Wald, the best teacher I ever had. In biology, not political science. George did not acknowledge the distinction.

The late Prof. George Wald, the best teacher I ever had. In biology, not political science. George did not acknowledge the distinction.

Commenter Alexander Cheezem, who has quite a bit of expertise (also passion) on such matters, weighed in on the current controversy over the “quackery” of daytime TV star “Dr. Oz.” This time I’ll hold my comments until the end; here is Alex’s excellent Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Dunces: Ten Prominent Doctors, Surgeons and Med School Professors Who Want Columbia To Kick “Dr. Oz” Off Its Faculty:

I’m going to have to both agree and disagree with you here. First off, I applaud Columbia University’s response and agree that the principle of academic freedom is applicable here… to a point.

Secondly, however, I’m going to have to disagree with you regarding the parallels. Linus Pauling was an embarrassment to medicine, not chemistry. Wald was overly passionate about politics, not biology. Nagel’s views on biology are an embarrassment, not his views on what he’s supposed to be actually teaching. Chomsky’s forays into political science may be an embarrassment (personally, I regard them as something of a mixed bag), but that’s not what he was the professor of, is it?

Kass, McKinnon, Harper, and Singer are closer parallels, of course, but there’s still one rather huge difference: Dr. Oz is a doctor… and runs his show as one. It is, as the comedian John Oliver put it, the Dr. Oz Show, not “Check This Shit Out With Some Guy Named Mehmet”. This is quite relevant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that offering medical advice is within the scope of what doctors do. Offering that advice while invoking his medical license as a relevant qualification, simply put, can be considered part of the actual practice of medicine. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Professions

Comment of the Day: “Now THAT Was A Rape Culture…”

Blogger and esteemed commenter here Rick Jones shares my passion for theater and is also, like me, a stage director, but seldom has a chance to weigh in on that topic. My post about the troubling lyrics in “Standing on the Corner,” the best known song in Frank Loesser’s “The Most Happy Fella” gave Rick a chance to swing at a pitch in his wheelhouse, as the baseball broadcasters like to say, and he didn’t disappoint.

I want to clarify something from the original post. Having noted the lyrics, I was no way  criticizing them or the song, or the musical itself. Older shows are valuable and fascinating in part because they serve as windows on past cultural values and attitudes—that was one of the reasons for the ambitious, important and doomed mission of the theater I have been artistic director of for the last two decades. Such politically incorrect references should never be excised in performance.

“The Most Happy Fella” is a slog, however. Ambitious, sure, but too long, too sentimental, and with too many unavoidable “wince points,” as I call them, to make the show worth the huge investment in talent, money and time that it takes to produce competently. Any time the best songs in a musical are the ones that have nothing to do with the plot (“Standing on the Corner,” “Big D,” and “Abondanza!”, which in in the clip above) it’s ominous. The 1925 Pulitzer Prize-winning hit play this pseudo-opera was based on, “They Knew What They Wanted” by Sydney Howard, is much better.

Here is Rick’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Now That Was A Rape Culture…”: Continue reading

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Now THAT Was A Rape Culture…

I just happened to be surfing past the  Broadway Channel on Sirius XM, and found myself startled at the tone of the lyrics of that Hit Parade smash from the 1956 musical, “The Most Happy Fella,” by the great composer/lyricist Frank Loesser, “Standing on the Corner (Watching All The Girls Go By)”—especially at the end:

Saturday, and I’m so broke
Haven’t got a girl, and that’s no joke
Still I’m living like a millionaire
When I take me down to Main Street and I review the harem parading for me there..

Standing on the corner watching all the girls go by
Standing on the corner underneath the springtime sky!

Brother, you can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking
Or for the “Woo!” look in your eye
You’re only standing on the corner watching all the girls
Watching all the girls, watching all the girls
Go by!

Nobody saw anything wrong with these sentiments in 1956. It was fun, it was cute, it was innocent! A bunch of guys hanging out, leering and ogling women as they walked on the sidewalk, with “woo”—that is, lust— in their eyes and illegal thoughts in their brains, and periodically wolf-whistling at “the harem.”

Sometimes we forget—sometimes women especially forget—that our culture’s ethics regarding sexual etiquette and respect does advance, and has, as much as self-serving activists would have us believe otherwise.

 

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Popular Culture, U.S. Society