1 Following a day in which various exigencies and responsibilities, plus fatigue and distraction, caused me to whiff on getting up at least three posts I thought were worthy of consideration, yesterday I failed to get any up at all. This makes me very unhappy, and I apologize. A fly-in, fly-out assignment in New York City had me up early and back late, whereupon I had my son’s birthday to acknowledge, the World Series to scrutinize and some aching feet to attend to. Priorities can’t be ignored, and being able to recognize when something you want to do and are devoted to doing just cannot be done well in the time allowed is a matter of life competence. Yet I hate failing loyal readers who care about ethics issues and rely on Ethics Alarms to explore them, and feel negligent when this occurs…fortunately, not very often.
Still too often, however.
2. The emergence of Hollywood director James Toback as a serial sexual harasser (at least) had me preparing a post about why theatrical directors are especially prone to this conduct. The gist of it was that in college, where participation in theater is often more social than aesthetic, directors forming romantic relationships with their cast members is neither taboo nor typically exploitative. Similarly, in community theater such relationships are not unusual or unethical, unless they interfere with a director’s artistic duties: casting an inferior performer because she’s your girl friend or because you want her to be is per se unethical. These are the cultures that produce many directors, and they enter professional theater, and later films, with bad habits that cannot be tolerated or continued in a professional context. Similarly, performers also come out of that culture. It may be difficult for some of them to comprehend that what is arguably acceptable in amateur settings is becomes unconscionable in a professional one.
However, this cannot explain Toback’s conduct. An astounding 200 plus women now say they were harassed or assaulted by him, and the list filled up in less than week. Compared to Toback, Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby seem restrained.
Actress Selma Blair, for example, says her agent arranged for her to meet Toback for a possible role in one of his films after her career had begun with promise. Blair says the meeting was scheduled at a hotel restaurant, but when she arrived the hostess told her that Toback wanted to meet in his hotel room. There, Toback asked her to perform a monologue nude, directed her to have sex with him, and said he would not let her leave until he “had release.” Then the actress says, he simulated sexual intercourse on her leg.
I begin my sexual harassment seminars by stating that the problem is one of ethics. If you have respect for human beings regardless of gender, if you are fair to people you interact with, if you are caring toward them and obey the Golden Rule, if you apply the three basic ethics alarms checks (“Does this seem right? Could I tell my mother about this? Would I want this on the front page of my local newspaper?”), then you won’t be a harasser. But I can’t begin to explain how someone reaches the point of depravity and utter contempt for women that he would behave the way Blair describes Toback behaving. This is, to understate it, uncivilized. Was he raised by wolves? I suspect even wolves would be horrified by his behavior. My father never had to sit me down at 13 and say, “Jack, it’s time for a talk. It’s never right to simulate sexual intercourse on a woman’s leg when she has come to interview for a job.” I didn’t need to be told this. Who needs to be told this who isn’t already a dangerous sociopath?
Somehow, the culture of Hollywood devolved to such a state that abuse of power and women became a social norm, and even conventionally acculturated adults had their values erased and replaced. That is the only way the Tobacks and Weinsteins could come to exist. That culture is now too sick and entrenched to be wiped clean by a few scandals. It is going to take a long time to change it, if indeed it can be changed.
3. Even when I’m too tired and swamped to attend to ethics controversies, they seek me out anyway. In last night’s World Series game, Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel slammed a Yu Darvish fastball down the left field line for a solo home run that sparked Houston’s winning rally. In the dugout, exuberant after his success against the Dodgers starting pitcher, the child of a Japanese mother and an Iranian father, Gurriel was caught by a Fox camera pulling his eyes into the burlesque sSlant-eyed” expression. (I bet you did it when you were about 7.) See:
Reports say “he then appeared to say chinito, which translates to ‘little Chinese.’” I’ll take their word for it, but I saw the gesture, and I think “appeared to say” should be “appeared to say to three lip-readers familiar with Hispanic anti-Asian slurs.”
Now social media is on-fire with indignation, Asian-American groups are demanding Gurriel’s head, LA sportswriter want to use the episode to turn America against the Astros, the Commissioner of Baseball is saying that the incident will be investigated and that MLB will “consider discipline,”and ESPN is paying more attention to a player’s jerkish gesture when he forgot that he might be on camera than to the Series itself. But that’s ESPN.
- Stipulated: It was an ugly, juvenile thing for Gurriel to do. He apologized after the game. This should not shadow his career and make him a pariah in the sport, in society, or for the rest of his career. There are people, however, who will try to make this single incident define him until the day he dies.
That is far more wrong than what he did, and far more significant.
- Players have to learn that anything they do during a baseball game is likely to be caught on camera, and that they have a professional obligation to act accordingly. Thus some kind of significant fine from MLB is appropriate to make an example of Gurriel.
Conceding that, I will state again that I am uncomfortable when a communication between individuals is made public and then treated as if it was a public exchange rather than a private one. I am also troubled when a speaker faces substantive punishment for words and expressions not intended for everyone to see and hear. This is a threat to freedom of expression and a free society, and a slippery slope that I am loathe to see polished. I wrote about the issue, not for the first time, when Blue Jays centerfielder Kevin Pillar was suspended for calling a pitcher a “faggot” after Pillar was quick-pitched.
- Darvish tweeted his official reaction, which was the correct and ethical one. He wrote,
“No one is perfect. That includes both you and I. What he had done today isn’t right, but I believe we should put our effort into learning rather than to accuse him. If we can take something from this, that is a giant step for mankind. Since we are living in such a wonderful world, let’s stay positive and move forward instead of focusing on anger. I’m counting on everyone’s big love.”
This would be how the episode would have been handled before political correctness and the concept that bigotry was the single most important problem in the world jointly ate our culture’s brains. Darvish would be gracious. Gurriel would apologize publicly and also to Darvish, in private. Guriel would learn. Player would remember to be civil, tasteful, and not to act like assholes during games. Parents would explain to their children that it’s not nice to mock racial characteristics, even in jest.
- Later, after his ethical tweet, Darvish told Japanese sportswriters that Gurriel should be punished. This is called “talking out of both sides of your mouth” in any language. Where’s that big love, Yu?
UPDATE: Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended Gurriel for the first five games of next season, costing him, oh, $150,000 or so. For making a racially demeaning gesture to a fellow player that was caught on camera. That he immediately apologized for.
Yes, I think that’s excessive, and extreme pandering by MLB.
4. I began yesterday’s ordeals by arriving at Reagan National Airport in plenty of time, only to find my flight, an American Airlines shuttle to LaGuardia, unlisted on the “Departures” boards. This caused me major anxiety, as it was a flight I had to make in order to arrive on time to hold my seminar. American’s flights are now scattered all over the place, so I began traveling up and down the terminal looking for some hint of where my flight was boarding, or if there even was a flight. The hunt took almost 30 minutes. By the time I got through security, I was just able to make it on time before the gate closed.
First, however, I had to ask the American employee at my gate why the heck I couldn’t find any information regarding my flight, and why I had to dash around panicked until I finally found an lone American agent who could point me to the right gate. The gate employee literally shrugged, and said, “That’s the airport. Yes, they weren’t listing our flights for some reason. American has nothing to do with that.” No apology, no acknowledgment of responsibility.
What do you mean, “American has nothing to do with that”? It has everything to do with it. I paid my money to you, not the airport. My boarding pass has no gate on it; that means that you are letting me rely on the information I get when I arrive at the airport. I’m your customer; I’m not the airport’s customer. If the airport isn’t doing the job you have allowed to be delegated to it, then it’s your obligation to fix the problem so your customers, including me, are not penalized and inconvenienced, as I just was.