Tag Archives: music

Pop Song Ethics, Part II (The Dark Side)

We are coming up on the anniversary of my post asking for nominations for the most ethical pop songs from past decades. Both here and in my office mail box, I received excellent suggestion—so many, that I have not been able to find the time to finish the project. However, I am determined to have the final list ready by the anniversary date, November 14, 2014.

So there is still time to get your nominations in. Meanwhile, as I was driving home from a Virginia Beach ethics seminar and keeping myself occupied during the three hour drive with the Sirius-XM 50s-60’s-70’s and 80’s stations, I heard this song, by Leslie Gore, from 1964:

With the domestic abuser ethics issue still percolating in my fevered brain, it occurred to me, as it had not before, what a vile message the song sent to teenaged girls. “What else can” Leslie do about her abusive boyfriend? Dump him, that’s what. I wonder if Janay Rice knows this song.

Or sang it. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Childhood and children, Love, Romance and Relationships, U.S. Society

The Case of the Truant Prodigy and the Incompetent School System

Avery Gagliano is a 13-year-old student in the District of Columbia school system, and an acknowledged musical prodigy. She has won competitions and soloed with orchestras nationwide.She was one of 12 musicians selected from around the world to play at a prestigious event in Munich last year. All of this periodically disrupts her school attendance, and because the District continues to threaten treating her as a truant, Avery’s parents say they have been forced to pull her out of her classes, where she was a happy A student.

“As I shared during our phone conversation this morning, DCPS is unable to excuse Avery’s absences due to her piano travels, performances, rehearsals, etc.,” Jemea Goso, attendance specialist with the school system’s Office of Youth Engagement, wrote in an e-mail to Avery’s parents, Drew Gagliano and Ying Lam, last year. This a classic example of how bureaucratic rigidity, in the absence of employees or officials willing to take initiative and address a non-conforming anomaly, will lead to needless harm and absurd results. Nobody would, or if they did, they did so in such a dysfunctional system that it didn’t make any difference. Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Education, Family, Government & Politics, U.S. Society

“The Death of Klinghoffer” : The Metropolitan Opera Flunks Its Ethical Duty

Death of Klinghoffer

New York’s Metropolitan Opera is scheduled to present John Adams’s 1991 opera, “The Death of Klinghoffer” this fall. [Full disclosure: Adams, then an unknown, was one of my professors in college] The opera is a dramatization of the 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking,in which the Palestine Liberation Front murdered the wheelchair-bound Jewish-American businessman Leon Klinghoffer. The opera has always been the target of Jewish and other critics who believe that it is too sympathetic to the Palestinians, and is thus anti–Semitic. Predictably (although for some reason the Met seemed not to be prepared for it) the Anti-Defamation League and conservative pundits are condemning the new production, typified by the reliably simple-minded Michele Bachmann, who denounced the Met for sympathizing with terrorists.

This is, and I state this without moderation or equivocation, is anti-cultural, anti-art, anti-free speech political correctness bullying from the right. This is an opera, and it, like any work of art, stands for itself. Whatever the political message of “The Death of Klinghoffer,” it is secondary to the main purpose of any opera, which is music and entertainment. The Met, as an organization dedicated to music and opera, should not be held to any standard in producing it other than whether it meets the company’s standards of excellence. An arts organization like the Met is apolitical, and should never allow the political or ideological messages of the artists whose work is presented there change its programming in any way. This means telling critics like those of “The Death of Klinghoffer,” be they advocacy organizations, would-be public censors or embarrassments to Congress like Bachmann to go fly a kite when they attempt to dictate what art is or isn’t “appropriate.” Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Government & Politics, Religion and Philosophy

[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”?

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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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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

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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

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