Category Archives: Popular Culture

No, I’m Not Going To Write About Ethics And #Gamergate

Whatever.

Whatever.

I keep getting emails asking when I’m going to discuss Gamergate on Ethics Alarms. Several readers have sent me extensive links to bring me up to date. I’ve read them, or at least tried. Not since I was assigned the tome Peace and War by Raymond Aron has any text bored me more.

Gamergate appears to have all the markers of an ethics train wreck, but to me, at least, the train might as well be in Mongolia. I can’t contribute anything of value on this topic, because gaming is not part of my life, skill-set or interests in any way. This is a culture I don’t understand, and frankly, don’t have the time or interest to understand. I make a yeoman effort to keep up with popular culture, because I think once it gets too far ahead of you, your ability to understand the world around you is severely limited. But triage is essential. Just a few years ago, I knew who all the celebrity contestants on “Dancing With The Stars” were; this year, I never heard of half of them. More than half the stories on TMZ lately are about “celebrities” that are completely off my radar screen. I am confident, however, that in about six months, most of these stealth celebrities will be where Snookie and “The Situation” are now, which is obscurity, has-been Hell, or maybe jail.

There are ethics lessons to glean from this endless gamer scandal, but Ethics Alarms will just have to glean them elsewhere. For those who feel neglected, I highly recommend the recent post by Ken at Popehat, along with his links. It hits most of the salient ethics issues, and Ken, I gather, follows this stuff, as do his Popehat colleagues. My hat’s off to him, and them. But #Gamergate is one ethics controversy that I am not qualified to explore, and don’t want to be.

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Popular Culture, The Internet

Cowardice, Censorship And Betrayal At Maiden (N.C.) High

Almost Maine

Here is a strong candidate for teacher/blogger Rick Jones’ annual Curmie Awards on his blog Curmudgeon Central. He recognizes the most despicable conduct by teachers and school administrators, and while this year’s award may go to some fourth grade teacher who sets autistic kids on fire, I know he will share my disgust at this story.

The theater club at Maiden High School in North Carolina was in production of John Cariani’s newly-popular stage dramedy “Almost, Maine,” a series of vignettes about bittersweet love and romance. A brief scene touches on a budding same-sex relationship, and this so worried school administrators that before green-lighting the production, Principal Rob Bliss and Catawba County Schools Superintendent Dan Brigman decreed that every student wishing to audition or assist with the production must turn in signed parental permission letters. Only one student was prevented from auditioning through this screening process, and production commenced. The club to reserved the rights, rented the scripts, cast the parts and began rehearsals.  The local churches learned that that the show contained (Ewww!) gay people, and the school abruptly reversed course, cancelling the production. Principle Bliss issued this weasel-worthy statement:

“In regards to the request for students to perform the play “Almost Maine,” careful review and consideration was given to the contents of this play. The play contained sexually-explicit overtones and multiple sexual innuendos that are not aligned with our mission and educational objectives. As principal of Maiden High School, I have an obligation to ensure that all material, including drama performances is appropriate and educationally sound for students of all ages.”

He did not mention that the production had already been approved, and that he and the school caved to community censorship by right-wing bullies, intolerant religious jerks, or local jerks who didn’t have the resources to go to New York City and picket “The Death of Klinghoffer.” He had one, and exactly one, response available to him once complaints began rolling in from anti-gay, anti-same sex marriage citizens of fair Maiden. It would be this... Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Education, Government & Politics, Leadership, Popular Culture, Professions

Ethics, Fish, “The Twilight Zone” and Renee Zellweger’s New Face

Rene 1

Reene Zellweger, the squinty-eyed, chipmunk-cheeked actress who achieved fame in such films as “Jerry Maguire” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” emerged from a period of relative seclusion this week looking like someone else entirely. The consensus was that the 45-year-old had undergone radical cosmetic surgery—not the face destroying kind that actresses like Meg Ryan or Priscilla Presley inflicted on themselves, but the “I don’t care if my mother won’t recognize me, at least I don’t look old” kind. When an actor or an actress does this, since their faces are their trademarks, it is bound to make an impression, and it has.

It is a tragic spectacle illustrating the degree to which American culture elevates looks above accomplishments, individuality, integrity and character, especially for women. Zellweger, whom I foolishly assumed was immune to this sickness since she was so unconventional looking, is obviously a victim, but now she is part of a cultural contagion. A fish doesn’t know that it is in water, and culture is like that water, completely constraining our attitudes, culture and choices without our knowledge or control. When celebrities, who have influence far beyond what their wisdom, virtues and value should rightfully support, and who are seen as being experts in the matter of appearance, send the message to the young and contemporaries that even the forfeiture of one’s identity is a fair price to pay to avoid the signs of natural aging, that pollutes our water.

And poisons the other fish. Continue reading

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

Pop Song Ethics Flashback: “Why Do They Always Say “No?” by Lawrence Cook and The Jim Dandies

It probably isn’t the winner in the Ethics Alarms quest to identify the most unethical pop songs, but the 1949 ditty “Why Do They Always Say No?” is one of the most instructive nominations. The fascinating and essential feature of ethics is that our understanding of right and wrong evolves, changing and advancing with wisdom, cultural debate and reflection. This song is a tuneful reminder, arriving at our attention just as the culture, especially on campus, is struggling over exactly the dilemma the song celebrated. In 1949, however, literally no one thought about romantic or sexual gamesmanship as an ethical issue, or at least not a momentous one.

Have a listen (It’s on the B side of the record pictured, and starts playing at the halfway mark):

The lyrics are credited to Harry Pease, Frank Davis, Ed G. Nelson and Billy Glason. Only the latter has much of a footprint on Google, and none of them rate a Wikipedia entry. I doubt that it took four guys to write this song: It’s not exactly “A Day in the Life.” Glason (b. 1904) was probably the author. He shows up in the Encyclopedia of Vaudeville as a “singing comedian,” known for devising new punchlines for ancient  jokes, such as

Q: “Who was that lady I saw you with last night at that sidewalk cafe?”

A: “That was no sidewalk cafe! That was our furniture!”

Pease, Davis, and Nelson were all musicians, though it’s also hard to imagine that the elemental tune required three collaborators. The lyrics are more disturbing read than heard:

Why do they always say no
When they know they mean yes all the time
You ask a girlie for a kiss or two
She’ll let you know that’s something I don’t do
How can they tell such a lie
And still look you straight in the eye
Whenever they say no to you go right ahead
Cause it’s 10 to 1 that they mean yes instead
Oh, why do they always say no
When you know they mean yes all the time

Why do they always say no
When you know they mean yes all the time
You start to love them and they pout and fret
Down in their hearts they want all they can get
What keeps them acting that way
They don’t mean a word that they say
A girl that said she’d never marry me
She’s the mother of my happy family
Why do they always say no
You know they mean yes all the time

Why do they always say no
When you know they mean yes all the time
You ask your girlie for a kiss or two
She’s lets you know that’s something I don’t do
How can they tell such a lie
And still look you straight in the eye
Whenever they say no to you go right ahead
Cause it’s 10 to 1 that they mean yes instead
Oh, why do they always say no
When you know they mean yes all the time

You know they mean yes all the time.

“You know they mean yes all the time.”

Sure you do.

_________________________

Special thanks to my volunteer scout Fred, whose wife found this piece of musical ethics archeology.

 

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Education, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Popular Culture, Romance and Relationships, U.S. Society

CNN’s Smoking Gun Ebola Gag

Ebola joke

The photo above was deemed so cute and hilarious that CNN’s “New Day” senior producer John Griffin tweeted it to the world. CNN brass, at least those among them who are not demented nor insane, immediately ordered it taken down, but of course it was too late.

We now we know. We’ve known for a long time, those of us who were paying attention at least, but now we know for certain. The photo is smoking gun evidence of a tragic fact with frightening implications for all of us. Broadcast journalism, the occupation that Edward R. Murrow believed would transform and enrich America by creating a better educated, more knowledgeable, more civically literate and involved public, can no longer claim to be a profession, a pursuit dedicated to the public good. It is nothing more than entertainment, and not very professional or sophisticated entertainment at that. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Health and Medicine, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture

“CSI” Ethics: Now THAT Was An Unethical Fictional Lawyer…

CSIWow. That was one unethical lawyer on CBS’s “CSI” last night, and I mean even before we found out that he had stolen a vile of an Ebola-like virus and used it to murder a doctor, almost setting off a viral epidemic in Las Vegas. (Gee, I wonder where the writers got the idea for that story? See, we don’t have to argue about politicians causing panic over Ebola: the entertainment media is way, way ahead of them.) Among the lawyer’s ethical transgressions:

1. He set out to use his law degree to gain access, through employment, to a company he blamed for allowing a deadly virus to wipe out his family in South America. Needless to say, this is a blatant conflict of interest, indeed, the worst one for a lawyer I have ever heard of in fact or fiction. He wanted to represent a corporate client so he could destroy it.  This is a clear breach of Model Rule 1.7:

(b), a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if:

(2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by… a personal interest of the lawyer.

Now, that conflict could be waived if the client were fully informed of the fact that its lawyer wanted to destroy it, and the client didn’t mind. That seems unlikely to me.

2. When it looked like his murder was going to set off a deadly epidemic, the lawyer decided to let CSI know that his client the biotech firm had lied about none of its supply of the virus being missing. He knew it was missing, because he had stolen it. The failure of a lawyer to remedy a client’s lie to police about a crime isn’t unethical in a criminal defense setting, but it is unethical if the lawyer would be aiding in another crime by doing so, which was the case here. Moreover, he is involved in the crime, unknown to his client. This would be a disqualifying conflict even if the one described above didn’t exist.

3, He also has an obligation under the ethics rules (Model Rule 1.4) to inform his client about matters relevant to the representation that the client needs to know, like “By the way, about that missing vial of deadly hemorrhagic virus you don’t want to tell the police about? I took it.”

4. THEN, he surreptitiously taped an employee and representative of the company who thought he was also representing her (if he wasn’t, he has an ethical obligation to make that clear—it’s called a “corporate Miranda warning.”) While it is legal in Nevada to secretly tape a conversation you are participating in, it is virtually never ethical for  a lawyer to do this with a client (That’s misrepresentation, violating Rule 8.4 in Nevada) , who is assured that her communications with her lawyer will be privileged, and held in strictest confidence under the attorney-client relationship.

5. Now, if the reason for the lawyer making the recording and handing it over to Ted Danson had been what CSI first assumed it was—that he was trying to save lives in imminent danger and deemed the revelation of a client confidence the only way to prevent it—he would have some support in the ethics rules, for there is an exception to the duty of confidentiality that can justify that.*  That wasn’t his motive, however, at least not all of it. He was also trying to make sure that the company—his client, which he was trying to destroy in revenge for his family’s deaths—was blamed for the virus that he had released. He had no justification for violating Rule 1.6, which says that a lawyer must keep client confidences.

6. Also, since he was representing both the employee he secretly taped and the company itself, he would have been obligated to report what she told him—evidence of a crime implicating the company–to his corporate client before reporting it to authorities, so the corporate client could report the lost vial itself, or at least have that option. If the attorney was going to exercise the “death or serious bodily injury” exception, he needed to tell the client that, too.

Yes, this was a very unethical lawyer.

Then there was that killing part…

* There was no reason to make the recording at all. This was a lame plot manipulation by “CSI.” Danson and his team used the biological residue on the recorder to prove that the same person who made the recording also stole the vial. But the lawyer could have just told the police about what his client admitted regarding the missing vial. No recording was necessary.

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Bioethics, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Professions

When A Reality Show And A Self-Promoting Billionaire Are More Trustworthy Than TIME, American Journalism Is Seriously Ill

astrology

This week’s print TIME and the magazine’s website has a story titled “Astrologer Susan Miller On Why You Should Pay Attention to the Lunar Eclipse.” The TIME writer, Laura Stampler,  promotes the astrologer as if she was Nate Silver,  a reliable, respectable expert in a legitimate field  who has something to teach us. Susan Miller is not a reliable, respectable expert. She is an astrologer, meaning that she is as legitimate as a palm reader, a douser, or the Amazing Kreskin. She is a fraud, in a fraudulent field, however ancient or popular. There is no scholarly controversy about this. There is more evidence of the existence of Bigfoot, Nessie, ghosts and flying saucers than there is that astrology is more than pseudo-scientific claptrap. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Education, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Science & Technology, The Internet