1 I’m giving an ethics talk to a Boy Scout troop this afternoon. Figuring out how to use example that are appropriate to ages 11-14 while avoiding hot-button issues like race, sexual orientation, police, guns and politics in general is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. What pop culture reference points will work is also a conundrum. What movies are they likely to have seen? In the Sixties, I could have referred to Westerns, many of which routinely embodied ethics lessons. But they also often involved shooting people, and kids don’t see Westerns now. In the Eighties, I might have sent Boy Scouts to episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” which was virtually all about ethics. But Patrick Stewart is just an old guy doing commercials now, and there have been four TV incarnations of the franchise since Data packed it in, not counting the movies. Pixar movies are usually ethics-rich, but a lot of kids will bristle at being presumed to be cartoon fans. Superhero movies? The ones that raise ethics issues usually do so badly, or the issues are too complex—or too dark– for a Boy Scout Troop. Here we see the serious cultural problem of declining cultural literacy and deteriorating cross-generational communications as a result of the loss of common experience. and interests.
Well, it’s early. I’ll figure out something.
One approach I considered was to suggest they practice ethical analysis by reading the newspaper, picking out the ethics dilemmas and controversies that appear, thinking about them and arguing about them. Of course, that was foolish: they would probably ask, “What’s a newspaper?” However this morning’s Sunday Times is a perfect example. I could teach a four hour ethics seminar based on the stories in this edition alone. Look…
2. The baker who refused to sell a cake to a gay couple is back on the front page, thanks to the case winding its way to the Supreme Court. This time, the focus isn’t on Freedom of Religion (in this case, freedom to act like a jackass using your religion as an excuse), but Freedom of Speech. The government cannot compel speech, nor will the law compel specific performance of an artistic nature. The baker claims that his cakes are artistic creations, and he doesn’t have to make them for anyone or anything if he doesn’t want to. The gay couple says that they weren’t asking for him to create an artwork, just to sell them a wedding cake. If the cake is a commodity, then the bake shop should be a public accommodation, and subject to applicable laws. Then the baker has to sell his cakes to anyone. If the cake is an “artistic creation” made specifically for the couple, then the law cannot force the baker to make it, or punish him if he refuses. Art is speech.
I hate these kinds of cases, and I’m sure the SCOTUS justices do too. A cake is sometimes just a cake, and sometimes a work of art. The confrontation should have been handled with ethics rather than law. The baker is a bigoted jerk, that’s all. I think he has a right not to make a cake for a gay couple, but exercising that right is cruel and insulting.
3. In the Sunday Arts section is a story about the cultural issues faced by the re-boot of “Will and Grace,” the early 21st century sitcom that made gays funny, for once, in a positive way. [Aside: How long, do you think, before Mel Brooks comedies are banned from TV for their nasty gay stereotypes? Mel’s generations thought gays were inherently ridiculous, so we have the absurdly gay, cross-dressing director in “The Producers” and his creepy assistant, the long gay chorus sequence with Dom Deluise in “Blazing Saddles,” and the especially unfunny gay flasher bit at the beginning of “High Anxiety.” I wonder. Those made me wince when the films were new.]
When the show was still on, I was at a GLAAD awards event (my theater was nominated for reviving “The Boys in the Band”), and Harvey Fierstein, an honore, attacked the show as fake and hypocritical. He objected to the use of gay stereotypes for humor, and he particularly objected to the gay male lead being played by a straight actor, who, he said, was obviously straight. (I agree with Harvey on that part.) Queries the Times story:
It’s about four privileged white people. The characters, in particular the plain-spoken and politically incorrect Karen, occasionally crack racially tinged jokes. Although the lovably uptight gay character at the center of the show, Will, played by Eric McCormack, is best friends with Grace, played by Debra Messing, he sometimes makes quips that could come across as misogynistic in today’s climate. In rehearsal for the third episode, writers had Will joking, “It’s all in the book ‘Men Are From Mars, Who Cares Where Women Come From.’”How will swishy, stereotypical Jack go over? That character, however hilarious, made some viewers wince the first time around. Mr. McCormack is straight. Will the fact that he’s reprising his role earn him a pass from those who think gay characters should only be played by gay actors?
My guess: the reboot is doomed. Tribal hyper-sensitivity and a powerful sub-culture that currently thinks that only jokes denigrating the President of the United States are funny will strangle the show, and fast. Gays are no longer acceptable stereotypes in comedy; indeed gays who intentionally project stereotypical speech and habits demand to be taken seriously. [Listen to the Broadway channel on Sirius-XM. I dare you.] Nerds (but only white nerds), like in “Big Bang Theory”? Sure. Bimbos (but only white bimbos), like in “Two Broke Girls”? Of course. But not gays.
4. In the SundayReview, which is really having a hard time digging for anti-Trump stories this week, the closest being a column by an Obama speechwriter who says that Trump isn’t funny enough to be a good President (whereas Obama, I submit, wasn’t a good enough President to be funny), the best article for an ethics discussion would be the whiny and ignorant column by B-actress Amber Tamblyn, called “I’m done with not being believed.” It’s well-written and passionate, and also a horrible example of the “special privileges for women” genre: Tamblyn, like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s Education Department, believes that women should be uniquely exempt from the basic requirements of evidence, fairness and due process. There is no reason to doubt her assessment of how sexual harassment is tolerated and enabled in her world, show business, but projecting the same degree of misogyny on the rest of the culture is either dishonest or spectacularly naive. For an actress, she sure hasn’t done her movie history homework. I strongly suggest that someone make Amber watch “Rashomon,” which explains memorably how two people can perceive the exact same episode completely differently. No, Amber, just because you are certain you are telling the truth doesn’t mean anyone has to believe you unless you can prove it.
Among the many ethics misconceptions the author displays, she seems to think it is fair to try to embarrass actor James Woods by relating an embarrassing exchange between them decades ago to attack him for his recently tweeted opinion criticizing older men who have relationships with under-aged women. She writes in part,
“Mr. Woods has been known to date much younger women…I was reminded of a memory from when I was 16. Mr. Woods attempted to pick me and a friend up when we were at Mel’s diner in Hollywood, seeing if we wanted to go to Las Vegas with him that very night. I informed him of my age, to which he said, “Even better.” I told this story publicly as a way to back up the claim that Mr. Woods was, indeed, a hypocrite. Mr. Woods called my account a lie. What would I get out of accusing this person of such an action, almost 20 years after the fact? Notoriety, power or respect? I am more than confident with my quota of all three.”
First of all, Woods criticizing now a practice that he might have engaged in when he was younger is not “hypocrisy.” We are not ethically obligated to keep endorsing out prior misconduct or bad habits. There is nothing hypocritical in any respect with criticizing behavior one has engaged in the past. Not only is Tamblyn showing her won ignornce, she is perpetuation a misconception that is pervasive and misleading. (A Times editor should have made her fix this.)
What would she out of accusing this person of such an action? That’s easy: exactly what she got out of it—a way to attack the credibility of someone she disagrees with.
After reading Tamblyn’s column, I’m less likely to believe her than I was before. Good job, Amber!
5. Finally (there are more ethics discussion-worthy pieces, but this Warm-Up threatens to become a Wear-Out), the Times gives us yet another pathetic interview with Hillary Clinton. When will a credible, progressive, female commentator have the courage and integrity to point out that when the first woman ever to gain a major party’s nomination for Presidential becomes the first defeated Presidential candidate (there have been over 60) to publicly bellyache, blame, complain, accuse and otherwise be the opposite of professional and gracious, constantly and repeatedly while her victorious foe is in office, it reinforces stereotypes that women are temperamentally unfit for leadership? What a coincidence: the only woman to be defeated in a national election for president is also the only defeated candidate in 250 years to behave like petulant, disappointed prom queen.
Hillary Clinton had a duty not to behave this way. My sister says that Hillary doesn’t care; she’s angry and so there.
This tells me how much she really cares about paving the road for a successful female candidate. She doesn’t. She’s putting potholes in that road, because she’s angry.