Advertising Ethics: KFC is marketing its new “Double Down” chicken sandwich by paying college co-eds—who must meet some secret standard of butt-comeliness—to wear sweat pants with “Double-Down” printed on the seats. The National Organization of Women objects: “It’s so obnoxious to once again be using women’s bodies to sell fundamentally unhealthy products,” says Terry O’Neill, NOW’s president. What an odd comment: is it all right in NOW’s view to use women’s body to sell healthy products? Is O’Neill saying that (not to give KFC any ideas) paying buxom co-eds to wear tight T-shirts advertizing fried chicken breasts would be wrong, but the same campaign for healthy, broiled breasts would be just fine?
I am tempted to say that any ethical condemnation of the “buns as billboards” method is attributable to the “Ick Factor,” not ethics. The women don’t mind people looking at their butts, they get some cash, men enjoy the view, and it irritates NOW: everyone benefits, right? That view is embedded in the “lighten up” side of my brain; the other side (the old fogey, spoil-sport side) argues that KFC is adding to our culture’s dignity and decorum deficit, and paying women to demean themselves. I think this time around the “lighten up” side wins.
Mascot Ethics: Brandon Henning, a University of Ohio drop-out, won himself the audition to be Ohio’s mascot, Rufus Bobcat, for the sole purpose of tackling the Ohio State mascot when the two teams played each other this year. And that’s what he did. In the realm of the ridiculous, it is hard to think of a more multi-lateral, selfish and stupid act. He got his job under false pretenses, assaulted an unsuspecting and peaceful Ohio State student in a Buckeye costume, disrupted the event, and embarrassed the school. Why? Because he “wanted to.” “It was the whole reason I tried out [to be Rufus] last year,” Henning told puzzled reporters. “I knew we were going back to OSU this year, and I wanted to tackle Brutus.” He wins the Trifecta: unethical, selfish, and dumb.
Motto Ethics: If Subway is going to continue to battle McDonald’s in the fast-food breakfast market, it will need better food and a new motto. “Eat Fresh” is appropriate and accurate to describe the peppers, tomatoes, lettuce and assorted produce one can stuff into their subs, but there is nothing “fresh” about the large, cold, flat pancake of gummy egg-like substance that sits on the shelf ready to be the main ingredient in Subway’s new breakfast flatbread sandwiches. It looks like joke shop plastic vomit, and in my sandwich, at least, came out too hot to eat on the sides and ice cold in the center. Yum. Hot or cold, however, that egg-thing is anything but fresh. Corporate slogans and mottos are promises to consumers. When it comes to breakfast, Subway’s is a lie.
Bill Maher Ethics: I’m kidding: Bill Maher has no ethics. The latest proof of this is his current snide stunt, threatening G.O.P. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell with a stream of embarrassing video clips until she agrees to appear on his HBO show and be sneered at and denigrated by him, as is his custom when faced with anyone whose political views would not be popular on the Berkeley College campus circa 1967. This is not technical extortion, but extortion it is, threatening to hurt a woman in order to bend her to his will. It is a bullying tactic, inherently unfair and mean-spirited, and obviously a tactic that he would never choose to have used on himself by another. Maher can invite O’Donnell to appear, and mock and criticize her for not appearing: that’s well within reasonable ethical boundaries. Using threats, however, is wrong…not that this has ever tempered Maher’s conduct or words in the past. Once, however, before he began taking himself seriously as a political pundit, he was actually funny.