Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/26/2018: Our Amazing, Evolving, Contentious Culture

Good Morning!

1. Outrageous Self-Promotion Dept.: Just in case you live in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., AND are interested in the cultural impact of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan in the U.S., AND would like to see me (and three long-time friends and colleagues who will periodically join me in performing some selections from the brilliant satirical operettas) discuss this rich and wide-ranging topic (Politics! Satire! Movie scores! Broadway musicals!) over a three-hour session that will fly like the wind, all it will take is a mere 50 dollars (just 35, if you are a Smithsonian Associates member) and your attendance. I’d love to see you. The program is Gilbert and Sullivan in the 21st Century, this Saturday, June 30, at 9:30 a.m. Here are the details.

2. Speaking of culture…If you want to feel better about the state of U.S. culture, I recommend watch a Beach Party movie. I just saw the first one all the way to the end for the first time—to realize that it was easily the best of its line (there were six—SIX!!!—more) is mind-boggling all by itself—and found it immediately uplifting. The 1963 William Asher-directed relic looks like it’s from some particularly demented parallel universe, depicting a weird place where 30-year-olds pretend to be  loitering teenagers who do nothing all day but gyrate to frenetic versions of the Twist, listen to awful surf music that makes the Jan and Dean sound like Brahms in comparison, do some surfing themselves (but just the males), and interact with B-list comics like Morey Amsterdam and Harvey Lembeck. The songs and their hackneyed lyrics make you yearn for the nuanced hip-hop musings of Kanye West; the comedy makes “Big Bang Theory” seem like Oscar Wilde, and to speculate on what kind of populace would actually enjoy such badly-conceived and sloppily-executed crap is to risk madness. If this was America in 1963, a) Good riddance, b) How did we survive? and c) No wonder the Soviet Union thought they were going to win!

No blacks are to be seen; indeed no skin color of any shade but glistening white is visible anywhere—didn’t these people even tan? Here’s a typically clueless exchange to ponder:  Annette Funicello: “The professor got his robe from the chief of the Tokyo Fire Department!” Random 30-year-old teenage beach bum: “Great! I’ll call him if my rickshaw catches fire!”  [laughter]. In the hilarious motorcycle gang, where all of the actors appear to be at least 45, the male members’ leather jackets say “Rats” on the back, and their female cohorts’ jackets say “Mice.” None of the”girls” have any function in the film, and no higher purpose, than to moon after the guys and gyrate in their faces.  Accepted conduct is for every male youth to gawk, pant, and emit some sound the equivalent of a wolf whistle every time a shapely female passes. The romantic lead (of sorts), teen idol Frankie Avalon, trying to make virginal, had-to-get Annette jealous, grabs a generic Scandinavian waitress and just starts kissing her. It’s like a magnet. Just kisses her He doesn’t  even wait. When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Then he tells her he loves her so she’ll make out with him until Annette loosens up. This is the hero, remember.

They should show this film in every junior high school American History class. I’m very serious about this.

3. An abject lesson in how the news media uses language to manipulate public perception: Virtually every news report about the Trump administration’s actions at the Mexican border described them, and are still describing them, in headlines as “family separation.” The cumulative effect of this is to make casual, not fully-engaged readers and listeners think that family separation is the objective of the policy. The objective of the policy is to enforce current immigration laws while obeying other legal requirements, such as the one that forbids children from remaining with federally  detained parents.  This is, under the Ethics Alarms definition, fake news: deliberately deceitful reporting that conveys a false impression. The equivalent would be characterizing the imprisonment of African American men convicted of felonies as “the Trump policy of making black families into single-parent households.”

4. All sides acting badly. From the National Review:

In the district-court proceeding in Whole Woman’s Health v. Smith, abortion providers are challenging a provision of Texas law that would require them to bury or cremate fetal remains—and they are abusing and harassing the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops in order to try to get their way…The plaintiff abortion providers contend that the legal provision requiring them to bury or cremate fetal remains imposes an “undue burden” on abortion in violation of the Roe/Casey regime. In January, Judge Ezra issued a preliminary injunction blocking the provision from taking effect.

One obstacle to the plaintiffs’ undue-burden claim is that the Catholic bishops in Texas have offered to provide free or low-cost burial of fetal remains. Neither the Catholic bishops nor the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops are a party in the litigation. But in a transparent effort to punish the Catholic bishops, the plaintiffs served a massive third-party subpoena on the Conference that called for it to provide:

  1. All Documents concerning EFTR [embryonic and fetal tissue remains], miscarriage, or abortion.
  2. All Documents concerning communications between [the Conference] and current or former employees of DSHS, HHSC, the Office of the Governor of Texas, the Office of the Attorney General of Texas, or any member of the Texas Legislature, since January 1, 2016.
  3. All documents concerning the Act, the Amendments, or this lawsuit.

…The Conference provided 4,321 pages of documents, including all responsive documents involving communications with people outside the Conference. But the plaintiffs insisted on obtaining some 300 internal Conference communications among the bishops and their staff. On the afternoon of Friday, June 8, a magistrate ordered the Conference to file any motion to quash the subpoena by 9 a.m. the following Monday and set a hearing for Wednesday, June 13. Even before the magistrate had ruled on the motion, Judge Ezra somehow saw fit to enter an order shortening the time for the Conference to appeal the magistrate’s ruling from the usual 14 days to less than 24 hours. The magistrate denied the Conference’s motion to quash, and the Conference appealed the denial to Judge Ezra.

Here’s where things get really bizarre: At 12:01 p.m. on Sunday, June 17, Judge Ezra rejected the Conference’s appeal and gave it only 24 hours to comply with the subpoena.

Ugh. Of course the required burial provision is a transparent effort to undermine the Constitutional right to abortion. Texas has attempted a series of these. But it is also pretty clear that the judge is setting out to punish the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops for siding with the antiabortion Right. As Ed Whelen writes,

“The Conference’s emergency motion (prepared by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and local counsel) presents a persuasive account that enforcement of the subpoena would severely intrude on internal church affairs and violate the religious liberty of the Conference and the Catholic bishops of Texas.”

On the other hand, the Conference placed itself in the cross-fire by sticking its holy nose where it didn’t belong. Whether the burials or cremations are free or low-cost, the law does place an additional burden on abortion providers, and that was the obvious intent. The bishops are just muddying the Constitutional waters. It takes quite a bit of gall for a religious organization to deliberately enter a political dispute, and then claim that the resulting dust-up interferes with religious liberty.

5. No, The Red Hen issue is not civility. Anyone making it seem so is deliberately trying to minimize the offense and distort the ethical values involved. The issue is bigotry, along with invidious discrimination, degrading the American principles of freedom of thought and association, respect for American institutions, the duty to preserve a functioning pluralistic society, and deliberate promotion of hate and intolerance of opposing views.

Most of all, it is about the Golden Rule.

20 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/26/2018: Our Amazing, Evolving, Contentious Culture

  1. #2 I’m not too sure that the movies back then were really an accurate representation of the actual “culture” of the USA, just like “Valley Girls” weren’t an accurate representation of the culture in the early 80’s, etc, etc. I think they are more exaggerations of stereotypes found within culture, not an accurate representation of culture itself.

    That said; I tried watching old Andy Griffith Show from episode one and couldn’t stand the sexism. I didn’t notice it when I was a kid. 😦

    • Oh, of course it’s not intended as a literal representation–Good Lord. The fact that anyone would watch such idiocy, or make it expecting someone to buy a ticket, is the amazing part.

      • Jack wrote, “Oh, of course it’s not intended as a literal representation–Good Lord.”

        I think I might have misunderstood the implications I got from this statement, “If you want to feel better about the state of U.S. culture, I recommend watch a Beach Party movie.”. I took that as implying that the movie was some kind of accurate representation of the culture in the early 60’s.

        • More like: “Any culture that produces something this stupid and expects the public to watch it—and the public DOES!—is in deep trouble.” (And, you know, we were in trouble, as The Sixties amply proved.

          • The forties and fifties had the 3 stooges, then came Elvis and hormones go wild movies in the 60’s, the 70’s had Blackula and Death Wish. Without even going to the Girls gone Wild videos and 2 1/2 men or Quentin Tarantino, I think we can safely say their is a big market for gratuitous sex and violence. Nothing has changed except how far the envelope is pushed.

  2. # 2 You don’t have to go all the way back to 1963.

    Out of innocent…um…cultural curiosity, I watched 1986’s Malibu Bikini Shop after Siskel-n-Ebert awarded it one of the most scathing reviews I’d ever heard.

    If anything, they pulled their punches.

  3. #3 What’s happening on the border is also being hyped up as a “humanitarian crisis”. They are intentionally trying to re-frame the narrative around all things Trump using propaganda. It’s all about building an impenetrable wall of absolute demonization around all things Trump in a continuous effort to justification of their eventual final solution.

  4. 1. I’m actually surprised you don’t do this more often. It is after all your website. If I was in the D.C. area I would love to attend.

    2. “It’s like a magnet. Just kisses her He doesn’t even wait. When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Now I know I’ve heard this somewhere… I’m sure it will grab my attention later…

    3. I was looking at a snopes fact check on Obama separating families and they made the claim it “rarely happened.” They cited a source from 2015. Not only does that source never make the claim, but one get’s the sense it happened quite frequently under Obama. The sad thing is, I highly doubt most will read the snopes article let alone the citation. They will just note the “false statement.”

    5. The rationalizations regarding this issue have been quite terrible. A lot of my friends who are moderates having been saying this is the kind of thing that makes them want to vote for Trump.

  5. I’ve been told that “family separation” is the point and that quotes from administration members (all of them in response to leading questions) about the potential deterrent effect prove it, that it’s a “lie” to say this is “enforcement” when no law requires that children be separated from parents who cross the border illegally (but there is law that prevents children from being jailed with parents!), that the administration is “kidnapping” to inflict maximum cruelty and prevent people from seeking asylum in the US and therefore undermining international asylum rules (never mind that asylees can go to legal ports of entry where they won’t be arrested, and no one can tell me exactly how many improper entrants are seeking asylum), that the children are being held “hostage” to force Congress to acquiesce to Trump’s anti-immigration demands (in fact, the family separation issue was used to force the administration to acquiescse), that the children are kept in “cages” “indefinitely” (the “cages” are only at Border Patrol processing facilities, where children are held no more than a few days before they are handed over to HHS custody), and that I am credulous for disputing any of these “facts.” Someone even tried to argue that a hearing for someone charged with improper entry would be a civil immigration hearing, not a criminal proceeding. “Think of the children!” is really a very effective strategy for short-circuiting people’s critical faculties.

  6. Jack: “More like: “Any culture that produces something this stupid and expects the public to watch it—and the public DOES!—is in deep trouble.” (And, you know, we were in trouble, as The Sixties amply proved.”

    Have you looked at a TV guide lately?

    I’m going to assume you haven’t burned valuable air on watching ninety percent of the actual programs!

    Similarly, I’m not sure whether the drop in movie watching is a purely a result of their political activism or of their crappy, derivative, plot hole riddled attempts at a movie.

    • No, Paul, I have. The dumbest reality show is still more intelligent than “beach Party.” I watch EVERYTHING, always have. In general, there is more good TV right now than ever before, and no scripted shows even as dumb as “Gilligan’s Island.”

  7. 1. When I was a child and there were only 3 television networks and our television received only 3 stations to watch them on, one of those stations ran movies every Saturday at noon, under the name “Masterpiece Theater.” (I wonder if the later PBS show paid them royalties.) As I recall, they showed an endless loop, year after year, of Abbott & Costello, the Three Stooges, the Gidget and Tammy movies of Sandra Dee, and the Beach Party movies. I watched all of them at least a half dozen times. I suspect that my sour disposition is caused at least in part by the failure of my life to match the expectations that were generated by the Gidget/Tammy/Beach Party nexus.

    Two things that I just learned from looking at IMDB: First, the Tammy movies are supposedly “iconic.” I would like to know who thinks so, because I seriously doubt that more than a handful of people under the age of 60 remember them at all. Second, Tammy was played in the four movies by three different actresses — Sandra Dee, Debbie Reynolds and Debbie Watson. I don’t think I ever noticed that they weren’t all the same person.

    (4) I’m surprised you think that way about the Catholic bishops. The issue of disposition of fetal remains is one of grave and long-standing importance to the Church. If the legal objection to the Texas statute is that the requirement to bury or cremate the remains is burdensome, and the bishops offer to make it not burdensome, how is that “sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong,” especially given that they believe (as you do, I think, but with the fervor of religious conviction) that the aborted children are human beings whose remains should be treated with dignity and respect?

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