A post yesterday described the outrageous conduct of the management at the Six Flags Over Texas theme park, which declared a local man named Jerry Henderson person non grata and kicked him out of the park because he “looked too much like Santa Claus” (they want him to shave his white beard to resume his park privileges). He also gave candy canes to children after their mom asked him to pose with her kids for a photo.
A regular Ethics Alarms commenter related this 180 degree variation on the story:
My kids take swimming classes at our local park authority pool, and last week, while we were signing in, one of the managers came out of the back office dressed as Santa. However, he was doing it as a gag for the other employees, not for the kids. (About 80%+ of the people there were children.) My kids went running up to him shouting, “Santa, Santa!” He did not acknowledge them or the other kids, didn’t even say hi, and just walked into one of the workout rooms.
I thought my kids were going to cry. I had to tell them that Santa was busy right now, but not to worry, we would go see him tomorrow when he had time to talk to them.
Your “Bad Santa”-themed Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:
If you look like Santa Claus, are you ethically obligated to act like Santa Claus?
This pre-Christmas season has already had at least one Bad Santa episode. In North Carolina, a 9 year-old boy was allegedly told by a mall Santa after the child recited his list, ‘Lay off the hamburgers and french fries!'” The child started crying. (Did you know that Santa is an anagram for SATAN???)
My answer to the quiz lies in part with the rarely cited variation of the Golden Rule known around the Ethics Alarms offices as “The Rifleman Variation.” In a notable episode of the Sixties Western TV series “The Rifleman,” a show with frequent ethics themes, hero Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) got into all sort of trouble because an evil look-alike (Chuck Connors) was breaking the law and bullying people. This conduct was unethical anyway, but it would have been especially unethical if the Rifleman Clone had known that his conduct would hurt the reputation of his good-guy avatar.
Anytime you intentionally impersonate an icon, a celebrity, or even a fictional hero that people care about, there follows an obligation not to harm your model. The Golden Rule question: “How would I like it if someone was impersonating me and acting like a jerk?”
The other part of the answer is the necessity of practicing Ethics Chess, which is thinking ahead about the likely or possible ethical consequences of our conduct. Santa attracts children, especially around Christmas. If you look like Santa, you have to consider that you may have interactions with children You are obligated to make sure you don’t harm the reputation of the merry old elf, or shatter an innocent child’s illusions.
Unless you’re at Six Flags, of course.