Tag Archives: music

[Update] Mission Accomplished, NPR: Classic American Folk Song Censored

turkey in the straw

In May, National Public Radio carried an essay arguing that the old American folk tune “Turkey in the Straw,” long the melody of choice for ice cream trucks, was really “horribly racist.” Of course, a tune can’t be racist unless it is intended to communicate a racist message, which is impossible if nobody who hears the music discerns racial animus. NPR took care of that in a hurry. As soon as that new bit of imaginary racism surfaced, I knew that this grand old tune, a standard for square dances, country fiddlers, blue-grass bands and of course, the Good Humor truck, was on the way to oblivion. I wrote..

“You know the next step, though, because it is so familiar. Some race-huckster…will seize on NPR’s piece, and organize a Good Humor boycott, and the weak and principle-free corporate executives will fold immediately, issue an apology, and change the tune played by the trucks…”

Shortly after the appearance of the NPR piece and its progeny, Audi began running a TV ad that involved an ice cream truck playing…”Turkey in the Straw.” Someone, I don’t know who, maybe my predicted race-huckster, maybe some internal political correctness watch-dog, maybe an NPR fan, intervened, and now, “Turkey in the Straw” is gone, replaced by  the melody of “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

Mission accomplished, Race Grievance Hit Squad, NPR, Cultural Censors! American musical culture heritage is diminished, and a piece of music that entertained Americans of all races for centuries is on the way to extinction. You must be so proud.

I’m curious: what’s next on your hit list, “Huckleberry Finn”?


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Journalism & Media, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, Race, U.S. Society

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


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

No, NPR, The Ice Cream Truck Isn’t “Racist,” But I Know Why You Want Us To Think So

ice cream truck

“Racism! Come and get your delicious racism!”

I will not be surprised to see a formal course of study emerge in the near future in our institutions of higher learning, teaching the skills necessary to become a certified race-grievance manufacturer. One would be trained in such classes as Advanced Race-baiting, Historical Distortions, The Uses of Paranoia, and The  Permanent Victim Mindset, and a typical honors thesis would be exactly like the essay featured on NPR’s website, by Theodore Johnson III, but with footnotes. Come to think of it, maybe that’s where Johnson’s article did come from. If so, I’m sure he got an A.

And, as was the objective, other race-baiting lackeys, like RYOT’s Viola Knowles, picked up the baton by taking Johnson’s thesis to the next level, with her opus, “So It Turns Out Your Beloved Ice Cream Truck Is Actually Super Racist.” Like its origin, the piece is a lesson in confirmation bias and intellectually dishonest research. Also like the NPR piece—and tell me again why my tax dollars support an institution that encourages racial distrust—it is sinister in intent. “If you’d rather I not crush all of your beautiful childhood memories with ugly racism then you may want to leave now,” she begins ominously. For NPR has discovered that the jingle traditionally played by the friendly neighborhood ice cream truck—“or the racist truck,” she says, is “one of the most racist songs in America.”

Here, in brief is Johnson’s thesis— Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Race, Research and Scholarship, U.S. Society

The Fake Japanese Beethoven And Musical Cognitive Dissonance

Not a composer, not deaf, and maybe Irish, female, and 12-years old, for all we know.

Not a composer, not deaf, and maybe Irish, female, and 12-years old, for all we know.

There need be no debate about whether this was unethical, or why. It is obviously one of the great arts hoaxes of all time.

Mamoru Samuragochi, the composer sometimes known as “The Japanese Beethoven,” was exposed this week as being more like a Japanese Milli Vanilli. A double fraud, he didn’t compose the works that made him Japan’s most popular classical composer, and he isn’t even really deaf, which was a large element of his fame and notoriety. Samuragochi has perpetrated a long, elaborate, audacious hoax, hiring a musical ghostwriter to compose for him over nearly two decades. The Man Behind the Curtain revealed himself as Takashi Niigaki, a  lecturer at a Tokyo music college, who admitted to writing more than twenty compositions for Samuragochi since 1996, receiving the equivalent of about $70,000.  Samuragochi’s  most famous works include Symphony No. 1 “Hiroshima,” the theme music for the popular video games “Resident Evil” and “Onimusha,” and especially the “Sonatina for Violin,” which is the program music for the Japanese Olympic figure skater Daisuke Takahashi.

What interests me most about this strange story is how it illustrates the power of cognitive dissonance in the arts. Continue reading


Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Character

Pete Seeger Was No Hero, But That’s OK

“Was Pete political? Of course,” wrote singer Tom Paxton in a featured Washington Post salute to folk legend Pete Seeger, who died this week at the age of 94.“He was political as Walt Whitman was political, as Clarence Darrow and Woody Guthrie were political; as, for that matter, all of us should be political. He felt that ordinary people deserved protection from bullies of all stripes and his was the gift of being able to express this belief in music and in the way he lived his life.”

Reading Paxton’s dewy-eyed remembrance and the formal obituaries and tributes from most of the news media, one would never suspect that Pete’s belief in protection against all bullies didn’t stop him from being a fervent supporter of and an apologist for one of the worst bullies in human history, Josef Stalin, and not just momentarily, but for most of Seeger’s life. The fact that supposed news organizations nearly unanimously decided to gloss over that element of Seeger’s legacy tells us a lot about the Left, our journalists, bias….but not a lot about Pete Seeger.

If I followed my heart and my tapping foot but not my brain (and if all I knew about Pete was what I read in the newspapers and read from my theater colleagues on Facebook—And only in our Orwellian reality would someone of such incomparable achievement, one who displayed such overwhelming humanity, have been held in contempt of congress. An inspiring life,” wrote one, who should know better), I would have made Seeger an Ethics Hero Emeritus. He had some notable heroic moments, as when he stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee, refusing to take the Fifth Amendment while defying the Committee in defense of the First, and getting himself cited for contempt of Congress and blacklisted as a result. I was thrilled and proud of him in 1968, when fresh off the blacklist he appeared on the Smothers Brothers show and sang his “Big Muddy” song (which you can watch above) with anger and passion, condemning the Vietnam war in metaphor and calling LBJ a fool on national television at a time when such a direct insult against the President was taboo. I didn’t even completely agree with Seeger at the time, but this was brave protest art at its finest and most effective.

If only the hypocrisy of continuing to support a system of government and a regime that tolerated no freedom of speech and that would have squashed a protester like Seeger as if he were a maggot had occurred to the folk singer while he was doing these things. But it did not. Folk singers tend to be like that, and Pete Seeger, one of the greatest folk singers, was more like that than any of them. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society, War and the Military

Ethics Dunce: Justin Bieber Enabler, Adidas


You have to admit, the kid takes a great mugshot…

Sure, why wouldn’t a multinational athletic shoe company want an irresponsible, sociopathic drunken creep as the face of its product?

With any half-ethical company, the news that the celebrity it is paying a fortune to endorse its wares to consumers has just completed a six month period of embarrassments with an arrest for drag-racing under the influence would be followed immediately with a pink slip and an apology. Not Adidas.

No, despite the news of the continued unraveling of the 19-year-old Justin Bieber,—previously seen egging his next door neighbor’s home—who seems determined to emulate the worst of spoiled child idol cautionary tales, Adidas announced that Bieber is still their boy, which means that it is still promoting him as an icon and role model, and officially communicating the position that a teen’s impaired driving is no big deal—certainly nothing to lower the teen’s status in the eyes of a major corporation. The company also signaled that it doesn’t care if its ethical shrug amounts to enabling and rewarding The Bieb’s self-destructive behavior, increasing the burgeoning odds that he ends up in the gutter, on a slab, or wort of all, in a pathetic reality show before he’s 30.

I know, I know: the company is taking a wait and see stance, which only means it is venal and irresponsible, and if Jeffrey Dahmer was their official Adidas-wearing superstar, and the kids who buy Adidas shoes didn’t care who he ate, Adidas would keep paying him millions too.

In these situations you only get one chance to show that you care about the values and conduct you endorse, and Adidas already missed it. It has no values.

But I guess most of us already knew that.

(I saw this coming, you know…)


Sources: TMZ, The Province


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Dunces, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture

Before Christmas Gets Away: A Brief Note On The Most Insidious Christmas Song Of All

Drummer Boy

In response to my post about the decline of Christmas which included some comments on  the dearth of new religion-themed Christmas songs over the last half-century, some readers, on and off site, have pointed me to the 1977  duet between Bing Crosby and David Bowie from Bing’s last (and posthumously broadcast) TV Christmas special, where Bing sang “The Little Drummer Boy” (yechh) and Bowie sang some doggerel about world peace in counterpoint. Aesthetically, as one who yields to no one in admiration for the copious talents of Der Bingle,  I found the song atrocious when I saw it. Philosophically, politically and ethically, however, it is even worse.

Here are the lyrics of Bowie’s section: Continue reading


Filed under Around the World, Education, Government & Politics, Popular Culture

Hall of Fame Ethics… Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,That Is

Cat Stevens

Conservative blogress Kathy Shaidle pleaded with voters not to enshrine Yusuf Islam, a.k.a Cat Stevens, into Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and then, when they added him anyway, expressed her disgust. Her objections were not based on music criticism (as would be justified with nominees like Yes), nor on Cat’s honor blocking more worthy nominees (like, say, The Zombies). She objects to Yusuf Islam on political and ethical grounds, complaining that during his activist days and perhaps even now, he qualified as a Muslim radical.

It doesn’t matter. Cat Stevens belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because of his art, not his character. His character is irrelevant to the reach, influence and value of his art, as are his politics. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes no pretense of making difficult measurements of an artist’s character, unlike the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, which has come up on Ethics Alarms frequently. Baseball players are cultural icons and societal heroes, whose symbolic exploits on the field of play evoke and inspire young people as well as the rest of us, embodying positive traits like courage, perseverance, fortitude, sacrifice, team play, loyalty, honor, fairness and honesty. As derided as it is by sportswriters and jaded fans who would like to see both the baseball Hall and its rosters filled with enabled and highly paid cheaters, felons, thugs, miscreants, deadbeat dads, and worse—like those of professional football and basketball—the character clause holds baseball players, at least those who want to be remembered as great ones, to a higher standard. And that higher standard is relevant to the game they play and our appreciation of it.

The character of artists, however, are simply accompanying trivia to the artist’s contributions to society. If there was a character clause in the Crooner’s Hall of Fame, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby might be barred from entry, meaning that it would then be the Imitators of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby Hall of Fame. For entrance to the Classical Composers Hall of Fame, Mozart and Wagner (and a lot more) would need to buy a ticket. Don’t get me started on the Novelist’s Hall of Fame, or the Hall of Fame for American Playwrights. Beautiful, transcendent, moving and immortal works have issued from ugly, warped, cruel and diseased minds, and it has always been thus, in Rock and Roll as well as every other art form. Picking on Cat Stevens, among all the others, smacks of anti-Muslim bigotry to me. Sure, I hated Cat’s politics; I hated John Lennon’s politics too.

It’s the art, and only the art, that matters.


Sources: PJ Media 1, 2


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Popular Culture, Professions, Religion and Philosophy, Sports, U.S. Society

Here Is A Law Suit To Root For

birthdaycake1The continuing charging of licensing fees for commercial use of that most public of songs, “Happy Birthday,” has been an annoying anomaly for as long as I can remember. Why did TV families always sing some lame approximation or substitute when a character had a birthday? Just last week, I expressed my chagrin when Tom Selleck’s extended family on “Blue Bloods” brought out  granddad  Len Cariou’s birthday cake, blazing with candles, as they sang, “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow!” Who sings that at a birthday party today? People who don’t want to be held up for the licensing rights for a song over a century old, that’s who. I believe the first time this issue imposed itself on my consciousness was when they sang some lame birthday song stand-in on “The Flintstones.”

Jennifer Nelson, a film-maker, has had enough. She was producing a documentary movie about the song, and naturally wanted it to be performed at one point in her film. Like many before her, she was told she would have to pay $1,500  via a licensing agreement with Warner/Chappell, the publishing arm of the Warner Music Group, which acquired the rights to the song  in 1988.  Nelson’s company paid the fee and is now seeking certification for a class action law suit arguing that “Happy Birthday”  is in the public domain, and has been. Warner/Chappell collects about $2 million a year in licensing fees for it, and the suit seeks return of the  fees it collected over  the last four years. The lawsuit cites the research of Robert Brauneis, a professor at the George Washington University Law School and the author of a 68-page article titled “Copyright and the World’s Most Popular Song.” In the study, Professor Brauneis demonstrates, to his satisfaction at least, that the Hill sisters,  Mildred and Patty, wrote a song in the late 1800s with the same melody called “Good Morning to All.” Nobody is certain who wrote the lyrics referring to a birthday, but it was in popular use as early as 1911. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture

Oh, Shut Up, Kate: Let’s End The Obligatory “God Bless America” Rendition


My father hated “God Bless America.” He particularly hated jumbo 40’s singer Kate Smith’s rendition of it, which he believed exploited patriotism and combined it with sentimentality and schmaltz to get ratings and sell records. Smith had an unadorned clarion belt that particularly suited Irving Berlin’s blunt melody, and for 30 years she used the song as her signature, as much as Judy Garland used “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Whenever Smith appeared on a TV variety show like The Hollywood Palace, he would order me to change the channel (yes, I was the family remote) for fear that he would have to hear her sing that song.

I assumed that was the reason why I have felt queasy about Major League Baseball’s 7th inning stretch ritual, installed in 2001, of having a recording of Kate or a live singer ring out the Irving Berlin standard at every major league baseball game since the Twin Towers fell.  In today’s Washington Post, however, a Methodist minister—my father was also a Methodist, as much as he was anything—explained why he refuses to stand for the song. He nailed it.

James Marsh writes, Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Citizenship, Religion and Philosophy, Sports, U.S. Society