Category Archives: Popular Culture

Encore: “Ethics Call To Arms: Fight the ‘Fuck You!’ Culture”

 

kid fu

[This happens sometimes with 5000 posts in the bank: some topic causes me to find one that I can’t even remember writing, and I realize that I still agree with it, and if I forgot about, everyone else probably did too. The previous post led me to link to this one, and I decided that the list of steps I recommended to try to halt the culture’s slide into permanent vulgarity and incivility was worth re-posting, especially since five years ago the blog got less than a fifth of the traffic it does today. Thus I am re-posting this one, slightly edited to remove a few rhetorical excesses and outdated references, from November 18, 2010.]

“Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.”

This was the very first edict in the list of civility rules memorized by George Washington as a child, rules that shaped his character and significantly influenced not only his life and career but the fate of America. Like most of Washington’s 11o rules, the first has universal and timeless validity, pointing all of us and our culture toward a society based on mutual respect, caring, empathy, and fairness.

Recently, however, there has been a powerful cultural movement away from George’s rules and the culture of civility that they represent. Rudeness has always been with us, of course, and public decorum has been in steady decline since the Beatniks of the Fifties, to the point where it is unremarkable to see church-goers in flip-flops and airplane passengers in tank-tops. Something else is going on, however. Like the colored dots of paint in a George Seurat painting, isolated incidents and clues have begun to converge into a picture, and it is not one of a pleasant day in the park. I believe we are seeing a dangerous shift away from civility as a cultural value, which means that we are seeing a cultural rejection of ethics. Continue reading

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“It’s Unethical To Be A Weenie,” Part I: The Lipreading NFL Fans

Preface: The Rise of the Weenies

Tom Brady, mid-"Fuck!"

Tom Brady, mid-“Fuck!”

Everywhere we look, it seems, we see the United States culture being threatened by weenies and the ris of Weenieism. In a nation founded on the principles of self-reliance and individual liberty, built and shaped by stunningly brave men and women who hacked civilization out of an uncertain and perilous wilderness, there is a growing mass of citizens—the cancer imagery is intentional—who are committed to giving the government near total control over every conceivable danger, threat, peril, offense, inconvenience or annoyance, real or imagined, as the role of individual Americans devolves into pointing and saying, “There! Fix that! I don’t like that! Arrest them. Fine him.” Increasingly, the primary motivation for public policy is fear, planted by activists and politicians to panic, terrify and mobilize the weenie base, who are ever eager to trade individual freedom for protection against, well, almost everything.

I know I am hyper-sensitive to the weenification problem right now, having spent three weeks reviewing the history of the American West and its portrayal by Hollywood in preparation for my Smithsonian Associates program last week on how the Hollywood Western shaped American culture. Around the same time that the Sixties exploded, the culture’s unified acceptance of traditional American values began to collapse, just as the primacy of the Western as an entertainment genre declined. Now weenieism is in its ascendency. There are those who claim that the name of a distant football team causes psychological trauma to Native Americans who don’t follow football. Blogger Andrew Sullivan (a candidate for Head Weenie) asserts that the United States should have the “courage” to do nothing about ISIS and allow it to run amuck (the ultimate goal of the Weenies: an Orwellian “Weenies Are Heroes” motto). Feminists insist that women are so vulnerable to male sexual predations on campus that due process, fairness, common sense and much of the respect as equals their predecessors fought for must be surrendered, in a new system that begins with the presumption that all men are potential rapists and all women simpering, helpless victims, even when they say “yes.” College students and other are demanding that books, stories, essays and blog posts contain “trigger warnings” to alert weenies that words and topics in the text might give them the vapours. Needless to say—I hope—this not a healthy development for the United States, or  our culture.

The resistance to Weenieism ought not to be a partisan issue. The obligation to help the weak, disadvantaged and powerless become stronger, overcome their handicaps and acquire power is part of the American tradition too. Somewhere, however, this obligation was distorted by the realization that in a system where the government is looking for victims to justify its existence, Weakness Is Power (Orwell again). Weenies—fearful, risk-averse, passive-aggressive citizens who shrink from conflict, confrontation and the messy process of democracy— have realized that they can mobilize power to satisfy their narrow biases and interests, often at the expense of their fellow citizens’ right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now the culture is tilting away from the uniquely American model that encouraged individuals to fight their own battles and succeed or fail on the merits of their causes and their own determination and skill, to one that rewards the perpetually offended, victimized, and passively unsuccessful.

It is unethical to be a weenie, and equally unethical to allow Weenieism to overcome what has been an American cultural strength.

Part I: The Lipreading NFL Fans

Several TV viewers who watched the NFL’s  New England Patriots-Green Bay Packers made official complaints to the Federal Communications Commission because they could see Patriots quarterback Tom Brady saying “fuck” repeatedly on the sidelines in frustration over his own play.  They couldn’t hear it, mind you: they were just able to read his lips. This was so horrible that they felt that the Federal government needed to investigate and take remedial action.

One complaint was from an Indianapolis parent who wrote that their “6 year old children know how to read lips.” Another was from a Pennsylvania grandparent who complained to the FCC,  “My 8 year old grandson was watching the game with me and even commented that he should not have said that.”

The Horror. Law professor Jonathan Turley opined on his blog,  “I do not believe that this was a good thing for a NFL QB to be doing.” Well, sure: he should be picking his nose of grabbing his crotch, either, but this isn’t scripted, and its a football game.  The whistle has to be blown for Federal retribution for mouthed obscenities to nobody in particular, as these sensitive parents and grandparents happily allow their delicate charges to cheer men in the process of maiming themselves and risking that their children will be changing their fathers’ diapers in the disturbingly near future?

The really frightening thing is that our regulatory morass encourages such attempts at censorship. Continue reading

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“Beverly Johnson And The Bill Cosby Scandal”: NPR’S “On Point” With Michel Martin, and Me, Among Others

old-microphone

//embed.wbur.org/player/onpoint/2014/12/16/bill-cosby-beverly-johnson-assault

The panel segment starts after the interview with Johnson, about halfway in. You can also listen on the WBUR website, here.

My comments regarding the discussion are here.

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Ethics Quote Of The Month: Aaron Sorkin

“You want the truth? Well, you can’t have the truth because I’ve decided that it isn’t newsworthy!”

“I understand that news outlets routinely use stolen information. That’s how we got the Pentagon Papers, to use an oft-used argument. But there is nothing in these documents remotely rising to the level of public interest of the information found in the Pentagon Papers. Do the emails contain any information about Sony breaking the law? No. Misleading the public? No. Acting in direct harm to customers, the way the tobacco companies or Enron did? No. Is there even one sentence in one private email that was stolen that even hints at wrongdoing of any kind? Anything that can help, inform or protect anyone? The co-editor in chief of Variety tells us he decided that the leaks were — to use his word — “newsworthy.” I’m dying to ask him what part of the studio’s post-production notes on Cameron Crowe’s new project is newsworthy. So newsworthy that it’s worth carrying out the wishes of people who’ve said they’re going to murder families and who have so far done everything they’ve threatened to do. Newsworthy. As the character Inigo Montoya said in “The Princess Bride,” I do not think it means what you think it means.”

—-Acclaimed screenwriter, playwright and Hollywood liberal Aaron Sorkin, reprimanding the news media  for publishing material from the Sony computer hacks in an Op-Ed in the New York Times.

There are many other titles for this post I considered, like “Jaw-dropping Hypocrisy of the Month,” “Self-serving Delusion of the Month,” and “This Is The Tragedy of Partisan Delusion: Won’t You Give Generously To Help Aaron”?

I’ve got to give the man credit: it takes world class gall for to write something like this self-serving for international consumption. Self-righteous, Freedom of the Press-promoting (Sorkin is the creator and writer of “The Newsroom” series on cable) Hollywood liberals applauded and screamed for blood when a near-senile billionaire’s private comments made in his own bedroom were surreptitiously recorded by his paid female mistress and plastered all over the media, because the private, private, private words suggested that he held racist attitudes, and no matter what he actually did (which was sufficient to be named an NAACP “man of the Year,” a distinction Aaron Sorkin has never earned),  that meant that he had to be publicly humiliated, fined millions and stripped of his business. We didn’t hear Sorkin protesting that this wasn’t newsworthy. Nor did the Sorkins of an earlier generation protest when the very same newspaper carrying his essay published criminally stolen Defense Department documents that, whatever was contained in them, were part of a sincere effort to win a war. Continue reading

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Reminder: It’s A Wonderful Ethics Movie!

It's_a_Wonderful_Life

I’m watching “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Frank Capra’s ultimate ethics movie. Don’t forget to review its ethics dilemmas, conflicts and conundrums with the handy

Ethics Alarms Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide.

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Vice President Biden May Be A Boob, A Hypocrite And An Ethics Dunce, But He Understands The American Culture Better Than Most Of His Party

I’m late to the blog today, because I spent it giving a special program for the Smithsonian Associates called  “From Stagecoach to Django Unchained: The Hollywood Western and Its Influence on American Values, Aspirations and Culture.” It consisted of me talking, a terrific Powerpoint presentation by the gifted Grace Marshall, and almost three hours of clips from classic Westerns—the whole session was five hours. My primary message is that anyone who is not literate  regarding the Hollywood Western really doesn’t understand the myths and archetypes that powerfully influence U.S. culture to this day. Within that “anyone” are the majority of pundits and journalists, a large percentage of citizens under 50, and the vast majority of women and minorities. This is a problem.

For example, no one can consider the vast influence of the Western genre on American culture and be the least bit surprised that gun control has an uphill battle with the American public. No other culture has as its primary source of heroes, legends and lore figures and events so dependent on firearms as a means to right wrongs, protect the innocent, and punish evil. Frankly, if a pundit doesn’t understand why John Wayne (who died in 1979) just set a Harris poll record by being included in its annual list of top ten most popular movie actors for twenty consecutive years, from 1994 to 2014, I don’t think they can comprehend the nation sufficiently to opine on it.

Joe Biden, however, understands. I have been critical of Joe, as he is frequently an embarrassment, and there was a lot wrong with his comments today as he was honored with the “Voice of Solidarity” award by Vital Voices, a women’s rights charity, at their event celebrating “men who combat violence against women.” Still, Biden proved that whether he knows it or not, he is more atuned to U.S. culture than most of his colleagues. He deserves credit for that, if nothing else.

You see, Biden told a fascinating personal anecdote from his childhood. He related:

“I remember coming back from Mass on Sunday Always the big treat was, we’d stop at the donut shop…We’d get donuts, and my dad would wait in the car. As I was coming out, my sister tugged on me and said, ‘That’s the boy who kicked me off my bicycle.’ So I went home—we only lived about a quarter mile away—and I got on my bicycle and rode back, and he was in the donut shop.”

Biden said the the boy was in a physically vulnerable position,“leaning down on one of those slanted counters,” so he took immediate advantage:

“I walked up behind him and smashed his head next to the counter.His father grabbed me, and I looked at his son and said, ‘If you ever touch my sister again, I’ll come back here again and I’ll kill your son.’ Now, that was a euphemism. I thought I was really, really in trouble… My father never once raised his hand to any one of his children—never once—and I thought I was in trouble. He pulled me aside and said, ‘Joey, you shouldn’t do that, but I’m proud of you, son.’”

The lesson, Biden said, was that one should to “speak up and speak out” to correct wrongdoings. Like much of what come out of Biden’s mouth, this was nonsense in the context of his own story, and was not what the lesson was at all. The lesson was that force, punishment, violence and intimidation is sometimes necessary to stop bullying, discourage misconduct, protect the innocent and vulnerable,  set standards, and give more than lip service to core values. Little Joey Biden didn’t “speak up”: he bashed a bully’s head and threatened to kill him. Apparently it worked, too. America, Americans, the culture and our history—as well as the Duke–have long believed that sometimes violence is necessary to stop violence, and send important messages, and can therefore be virtuous and ethical.  Biden understood that when he was ten, and somewhere deep in that mess of mush he calls a mind, he understands that now. Continue reading

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On Peter Pan, Pippi Longstocking, And Ethics Of Applying Political Correctness To Art And Literature

Cultural events earlier this month brought to light, on two continents, the problem of maintaining the integrity of art and literature under the onslaught of political correctness.

In Sweden, a controversy has erupted over the re-broadcast of a 1969 television adaptation of the Pippi Longstocking books, the children’s classics authored by Astrid Lindgren. The Swedish national TV station, SVT, announced that it is revising a scene from the 1969 television series about Pippi  which she says her father is “king of the Negroes,”a direct quote from one of the stories. Believe it or not, this has set off a contentious national debate.

The family has approved the station’s  desire to change the TV version, but is keeping the term in future editions of the books. In 2006, the family added a preface explaining that today, the word is considered “offensive,” but that when the books first appeared, “Negro was a common expression for people with black skin who lived in other parts of the world than ours.” That’s a sensible solution. Period and context is important in art and literature: the urge by some to constantly purge the world of any reference, word or attitude in past creations that seem out of place now leads to a form of cultural self-lobotomy. Erik Helmerson, a columnist at Dagens Nyheter, an influential Stockholm newspaper, called the changes a form of censorship. “I’m very sensitive to the fact that people are offended by the N word,” he said in an interview. “I’d never use it myself.” He even called revising the TV series  “a huge interference into freedom of speech.”  “Where do we draw the line? What do we cut and what do we keep? Who should decide? Who needs to be offended before we cut a word?” Continue reading

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