The recent post about Madison Avenue continuing its effort to coarsen the popular culture and society with gratuitously vulgar commercials, in this case Book-Of-The-Month Club believing that it is hilarious to fake out viewers into thinking they are watching a tampon commercial, was not one that I felt would ignite much controversy or varied comment. As is often the case, I was wrong. The essay generated several surprising threads, including a comment by prolix, controversial blog warrior Alizia, whose commentary here ranges all the way into another post, the article about a high school musical casting controversy and the school’s unethical response to it.
She also raises the question of whether Ethics Alarms should engage more frequently in meta-ethics and philosophy. One reason I selected her comment as a Comment of the Day is that I’m interested in other readers’ views on that topic, not that I’m interested in turning in that direction. My focus as an ethicist has always been practical ethics, and the posts here about grand ethics issues of the sort that have been debated to no productive end for centuries have been incidental and few. Frankly, those topics don’t interest me very much; certainly not enough to devote the blog to it. About a year ago an erudite young woman briefly submitted some provocative comments here but want to argue about competing philosophical theories. She was shocked, indignant and angered when I refused to engage, and after yelling at me for a while, left the forum. For those seeking what she sought, I recommend going here.
Abstract and scholarly ethics have undermined the subject of ethics to the degree that it is not one most people can tolerate or understand, effectively removing ethics from public education and general discourse, and thus undermined the goal of an ethical society as well. They are still relevant to the discussion; I just know from hard experience how philosophy tends to send normal people fleeing like the Tokyo crowds in a Godzilla movie.
Here is Alizia’s Comment of the Day on the post, KABOOM! So It Has Come To This: The Book-Of-The-Month TV Commercial:
One things I noticed and have mentioned a few times in respect to the Ethics Alarms blog and, naturally, the people who participate in it, is that it often clearly distinguishes a situation or event in which an ethical issue is brought out and then it successfully and interestingly provokes an examination of the problem or issue. Yet what I notice as well is that the issue is not brought out in a larger context. Or, the larger context is rarely explored. The reason why it is not explored is more interesting and it seems to me more important than what is allowed to be explored or what is acceptable. I can think of two instances and I will mention them.
In this present instance it is noticed that advertising is incorporating vulgarity. But it is really far more than that, at least as I see things. What is the real issue? The real issue is the pornographication of culture. It is, I think this is true, coming about because this is the sort of things you-plural have allowed to go on. It is certainly true (as I have scoldingly said) that ‘it is your generation that has allowed these levels of moral and ethical corruption to creep in’ and I think that this is a necessary stance to take. In my view, though it is not appreciated much here, ‘the pornographication of culture’ connects to sexual expression of many sorts and also extends to ‘the homosexualization of culture’.
There is an active agent, either in the business culture itself, or perhaps in academic culture, that has set in motion these pornographic processes. And just as media culture and Hollywood has gotten continuingly infected with this material (which I assume *you* find titillating and exciting and do not oppose), similarly one can now notice the insinuation of homosexuality into the culture-productions. It becomes visible, included, and influential thereby. Normalized. But behind these appearances, behind this increasing in-flux, stands something far more raw, far more brutal, far more elemental, far more powerful and influential, and that is ‘the pornographic’, a truly ugly and vile *world*. And what *you* do has world-scale ramifications.
It is a destructive infection of culture that has astounding effects and implications. But this statement, which should be understood facially as true, is not seen that way at all. Just yesterday there was an article in the NYTs that proposes courses, according to the article, to help kids to critically examine what is brought to them through pornography. But there you have the normalization of pornography and it admits that porn and all that is attendent on it is now a feature of the culture, has now been normalized.
That’s today. And what will happen, because there is no one and no force to put a stop to it, to challenge it, is that the entire process of the unleashing of sexual passion (what should it be called?) will simply and inevitably continue. This cannot be understood as a healthy process, nor can it be described as a ‘good’, and it is doubtful that there will be an upside. It will simply go on from this point into different and now-forbidden categories.
Why is this happening? Who has put it in motion? What exactly happened that has allowed this and so many of the attendant features of aberration to become manifest and powerful? If one cannot see that, describe it and understand it, what use is a local and topographical conversation about the ethics therein? There has to be a more philosophical praxis and certainly a moral one.
My other example has to do with the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” casting issue. Depending on how one frames a conversation about it, and what about it one allows to be included or excluded, the issue will be topographic and limited, or meta-cultural and meta-political. Today, also on the front page (of my iPhone in any case), there is an article that reports on the fact that “The Daily Stormer” and other web-based message boards picked up on this local Ithica event and are seeing it in a specific light. It had been discussed here on EA but very superficially. But I would suggest that the core issue is far larger and more important, and cannot really be brought out for discussion, because it deals on a very uncomfortable and discomfiting topic.
To conclude I therefor suggest that if one is to consider, really consider, an ephemeral ethical issue, one must take into consideration and allow into the discussion a great deal more than what is allowed and not only here on EA but within these sorts of conversations in all media, on all blogs and forums. I suggest that the entire conversation needs to become philosophical.
Therefor and once again I refer to a new movement within politics and culture which, as should be evident now, is gaining ground. Before it was unknown. Now its influence is being felt and noticed. The New European Right has influenced the New American Right, and this movement and the people in it are beginning to come forward in culture and to have their say about things. But in order to have this large and important conversation the confining limitations imposed on this conversation need to be be breached. The present ‘establishment’ does all in its power to restrain the conversation, to control its limits. It is easy to see: they refer to the ideas and views being explored as ‘far-right’ or ‘extreme’ (and neo-Nazi et cetera et cetera).
In order to have a really meaningful conversation about these two topics, those I just broached (and many many others), all the restraints need to be be removed through conscious choice. And when this happens, I further suggest, a meaningful battle will come out into the open. It is not one that will be without effect. It is not one that will simply be ‘pleasantly discussed’, but rather when the real conversation gets articulated one will have to take sides. And since it is, really, a meta-political struggle and civilizational struggle it will not be free of conflict and veritable enmity.