Ethics Dunce: Steve Martin (Coward, Too)

Life imitates art.

Shame on Steve Martin. He is a comedian. He tweets jokes. He tweeted a joke that was not racist in the least. (Everything that comments humorously on cultural quirks isn’t racist.) The political correctness bullies jumped on him too, because they nailed Phil Robertson and destroyed Justine Sacco. Martin, a novelist, a playwright, a TV writer, a comic and an actor, should have the integrity to stand up to this suffocating and unethical phenomenon. He has the stature to make a difference. He doesn’t have that integrity. He took the path of least resistance. He is a coward. He groveled. He apologized. The Blaze headlined that he “had to apologize,” No he didn’t. What he had to do was show some principle and strength of character when being manipulated and unfairly attacked, and he wasn’t up to the task.

By giving them what they crave, Steve Martin made the censors, bullies, cyber mobs and political correctness dictators more powerful, and hungrier still.

Without champions who will fight for free thought and expression, we will lose them. Martin and people of his intelligence and credibility have an obligation to be such champions, and he failed us all.


Spark and Pointer: The Blaze

19 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Steve Martin (Coward, Too)

  1. … What he had to do was show some principle and strength of character when being manipulated and unfairly attacked … Martin and people of his intelligence and credibility have an obligation to be [champions who will fight for free thought and expression] …

    No, although it would undoubtedly be very helpful, nobody is under any such obligation, ever, unless they have previously and separately incurred it. Otherwise it’s comparable to “let’s you and him fight”, and not only does it take no account of that person’s possible other priorities and resource constraints, it’s on a par with imposing a positive duty of care comparable to requiring people to intervene to save other’s lives (though, obviously, not of quite the same order). A judiciously worded apology that is not actually untruthful is quite in order, say a statement regretting any unintended offence that might have been experienced.

    • Nope. I couldn’t disagree more. A person in Martin’s position can either make things better or worse, and there is no middle ground, We all have an obligation not make things worse. There is, in fact, an obligation to stand up for basic human and societal rights and decency. You are not only excusing cowardice, but endorsing it.

      • Beep.

        You’re conflating positive and negative. Sure, he is under an obligation not to make things worse – but he didn’t make things worse, he simply tried to calm things down, leaving such attitudes around rather than taking the positive action of trying to make things better by making a stand. Any action incurs obligations in this respect, if it makes things worse or better, but simply getting out of the line of fire and leaving things unchanged – no, that does not, unless some obligation was separately and previously incurred. Any other view compounds the fragility of ethical behaviour.

        • Huh? It’s like capitulating to kidnappers, extortionists or terrorists.You either validate the tactic by doing what they want (making things worse by empowering wrongdoers) or you fight, and refuse to let them win….making things better for others. There is no neutral position.

    • I’m sure if enough critics of ethnic stereotypes claim to be offended, then he’ll apologize. Then there’s the cognitively challenged, whom he insulted in “The Jerk.” I was personally offended by his singing and acting in “Pennies From Heaven”…

      • I vaguely recall SM saying, “I was born a poor black child” in one of his movies.
        It may be “The Jerk”.
        Guess that’s not PC, either.
        How stupid Americans have become.

  2. The bullies you describe certainly exist (Google “social justice warrior”) but how can you be so certain there weren’t people genuinely hurt? In which case, wouldn’t a polite apology be just normal courtesy?

    A quick and rough touchstone would be whether the people who complained were African-American themselves or were instead stuck-up white people.

    • How “genuinely hurt?” Any one who claims to be hurt by a general facetious joke they didn’t get by a comic they’ve never met—how is that “genuine’? Or “hurt”? What is the substantive damage? It’s mistaken, imaginary or manufactured injury, or a sign of mental or emotional deficiency—in any of these, not the speaker’s fault or problem.

      • I’m white, and the first interpretation that came to my mind was that he was joking about African-Americans being illiterate. If I imagine myself in the place of someone whose people have been told for hundreds of years that education is wasted on them because they’re too stupid to benefit from it, that joke would invoke the Sunburn Principle.

        If you haven’t seen that it discussions of the ethics of diverse populations, it’s a thought experiment. You slap someone on the back as a friendly gesture. and they start screaming and cussing at you.

        It’s an obviously disproportionate reaction and you might call them an idiot. You might apply reciprocity and observe that you wouldn’t have such a silly reaction to a slap on the back. You might accuse them of inventing reasons to claim victim status and manipulate you.

        Suppose they’re sunburned. You didn’t know it. Being yelled at will seem unfair because you didn’t cause the sunburn. In the case of an anti-racist like you, Jack, the analogy would be with someone who would actively work to prevent the sunburn. If they try to blame you for the sunburn, they really are idiots. If they use the word “privilege”, they deserve to be slapped again, though doing so would be unethical.

        Nonetheless you have actually hurt them. The only correct course of action is to apologize and never do it again. It’s still the correct course of action if they fail at their own ethical duty to react proportionally and accept your apology.

        A corollary to the analogy would be to imagine what it would be like if you’d never been sunburned yourself and only knew what it was like second-hand.

        • In fact, the joke referred to the current black community fondness for manes beginning with “La.” If someone didn’t get it, then Steve was too clever/sophisticated/subtle for them, and that’s not his fault. Or does someone want to try to argue that jokes involving the black community can’t afford to be subtle? Not me.

          It’s the niggardly problem, and unless the apology is “I’m sorry you weren’t smart enough to get my joke, an apology is inappropriate. The fact that Martin is, in effect, saying that in retrospect he should have realized that blacks wouldn’t get it is an insult. They should be able to get it. They’d rather claim racism…more useful.

          • Yes, you’ve thought this through with care in the “Niggardly Principles”.

            Either the first or the second could apply. You’re looking at the first, Steve Martin skipped to the second.

            Try another tack. The old definition of a British gentleman’s courtesy was that he “never gives _inadvertent_ offense”. That standard is obviously arguable (betcha we’re seeing the same arguments) but Steve Martin visibly failed it.

            Given the notorious difficulty of steering between Scylla and Charybdis, can we as a society choose the Scylla of oversensitivity over the Charybdis of under-sensitivity? We lose out on some decent humor that way, but that’s the least of the damage from our history of racism.

            Then we can continue working toward the day when sunburns have healed and we can slap each other on the back again. To leave nothing unsaid, Jack, you are doing that work. I’ve seen it here.

        • Precisely that once happened to me, except that there was nothing friendly about the slap anyway, when I was at the head of a queue in a bank and was slow moving to the counter because my sunburn made it uncomfortable to move freely. I did yell at the perpetrator, not only telling him why but also telling him that he was never justified in such a personal intrusion without consent, even if no harm had been done; as harm had been done, I was yelling rather than explaining politely – and I told him that, too.

    • how can you be so certain there weren’t people genuinely hurt?
      If people were generally hurt by the SM joke, then they need therapy.
      Just this week, a man in NYC threw his own 3 year old son, clad in Christmas pajamas, off of a roof and killed him.
      That is the kind of news that we should be genuinely hurt by.

      I guess if I joke with Mr. Marshall about our ancestors’ propensity for the drink and pub brawling he would be hurt and I would have to apologize.

      That is the new American sport, being offended.
      A nation of crybaby victims.
      Led by an arrogant, ignorant, lying fool.

      • And let’s not even get started on the Eastern European jokes (white they may be, but I don’t think anyone sane could call them “privileged” with a straight face).

  3. “I am offended my your remark” is the ace that liberal nut cases play because it works!! Who wants to be know as “offensive” and probably insensitive to ‘marginalized’ groups. America has lost it’s sense of humor.

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