Good whatever it is.
I guess I’m not as recovered as I thought: one high energy ethics presentation to a sluggish audience today and I was fried. This better not be encroaching old age, or I’ll be pissed.
1. Thank you for making the open forum this morning active: I wish you all had been in my audience today. I haven’t read any of it yet (I did finally get your excellent comment out of moderation, Michael R!); I’m trying to get my own posts up.
2. Stolen art ethics. No doubt: the looting of art from the Old World by American tycoons and museums is a long-time ethics scandal, and the international court battles settling the disputes will continue for a long, long time. The argument over a 2000-year-old bronze statue, known as “Victorious Youth between the Getty Villa and Italy, however, is not as clear as most. Italy’s highest court has ordered that the sculpture should be returned to Italy. Currently, it is on display at the villa on the outskirts of Los Angeles, which is part of the J. Paul Getty Museum. It was retrieved from Adriatic waters by Italian fishermen in 1964, and sold to successive collectors and dealers. After a decade-long legal battle, Italy’s Court of Cassation ruled that the statue should be confiscated and brought back to Italy, rejecting the Getty’s appeal. Getty is not giving in.
The ethics as well as the law is murky. This is not a case like King Tut, where Indiana Jones-style archeologists and adventurers, just uncovered foreign cultural treasures and took them home. Before acquiring the prized artifact, the Getty undertook a comprehensive, five-year study of whether the statue could be purchased legally and in good faith. Their due diligence extensive analysis of international, Italian, American and California law and of Italian court decisions pertaining to the work.
In 1968, Italy’s Court of Cassation ruled that there was no evidence that the statue belonged to the Italian state; after all, it is Greek. Although the fishermen took the statue onto Italian soil, the court did not find that its brief presence in Italy transformed the sculpture into a component of Italian cultural heritage. Eventually the statue made its way to a German art dealer who put the statue up for sale. According to the Getty, in 1973, acting on a request from Italy, German police initiated an investigation into whether the German dealer had received stolen goods. The investigation was dropped for lack of evidence of wrongdoing. In 1977, the Getty purchased the bronze in Britain for almost $4 million from a gallery affiliated with the German dealer. The bronze has now been publicly exhibited, studied and cared for at the Getty for 40 years.
Now Italian authorities are arguing that the purchase was invalid on technical grounds, because it left the country without a required export license. Under a 1939 Italian law, when antiquities and archaeological works are discovered in that country, the authorities must be notified and the artifacts are not allowed to leave Italy without one. “At the very least, the museum should have been more prudent in their purchase,” Italian officials claim. “They bought a statue lacking the export permit.”
Some experts are siding with Getty. “Under principles of international law, illegal export is not, absent a treaty provision to the contrary, actionable in the courts of another country. Since 2001, Italy and the United States have had such an agreement but it does not apply retroactively,” writes Stephen K. Urice, an expert in international cultural property. He continues,
“In recent years, the Justice Department has assisted many countries (including Italy) in recovering illicitly acquired works located in the United States. That assistance is appropriate (and good public policy) when there is solid evidence of wrongdoing.
But in the case of the Getty Bronze, the expenditure of American taxpayers’ money and the deployment of the Justice Department’s limited resources would be a mistake. In acquiring the bronze, the Getty relied on a decision of Italy’s highest court and acted in good faith. Unless Italy provides compelling new evidence, the best future for this victorious youth is to remain in the only permanent home he has known since his discovery 54 years ago — in Los Angeles, at the Getty.”
3. More on Tucker. I seemed to upset some Tucker Carlson fans here when I wrote that his Daily Caller’s continuing trivialization of female sexual predators in grade school was one of the reasons why I do not watch his popular political commentary show on Fox News. They seemed to ignore that I said “one of many reasons” I didn’t watch the show. Here are the others:
- I have watched portions of the show on occasion, usually via YouTube.
- I don’t watch any shows on Fox News if I can avoid it. I put them in my MSNBC/Breitbart/Gateway Pundit box long ago, when the network stood by Bill O’Reilly. Hannity is as much of an embarrassment as the worst of the MSNBC hacks. It’s a sloppy, pandering network, and the Fox Blondes remind me that the sexism and misogyny at the network run deep.
- Carlson is insufferably smug. Not quite as smug as Rachel Maddow—who is?—but still, I can’t stand smug.
- Like Hannity, he fixes his fights. I know the best and smartest journalists and progressives won’t go on Fox, because discrediting the one network that isn’t actively promoting the Democratic Party is part of the grand plan, but Carlson’s guests are usually wild-eyed freaks and crackpots who are incapable of winning any debate on facts or logic. This is the same tactic used by MSNBC, the Daily Show, and others, including Sean Hannity.
4. “To Kill A Mockingbird” ethics. When I last visited the controversy over Aaron Sorkin’s (“A Few Good Men,” “The West Wing”) stage adaptation of “To Kill A Mockingbird, ” the project was in doubt.Harper Lee’s estate had filed a complaint in federal court in Alabama, the adaptation violated a contract between Harper Lee and the producers that stipulated that the characters and plot must remain faithful to the spirit of the book. The contract stated that “the Play shall not derogate or depart in any manner from the spirit of the Novel nor alter its characters.” The producer, Scott Rudin, told the New York Times that “I can’t and won’t present a play that feels like it was written in the year the book was written in terms of its racial politics: It wouldn’t be of interest. The world has changed since then.”
I asked, “How can the adaptation ” not derogate or depart in any manner from the spirit of the Novel nor alter its characters” and yet reset the cultural orientation of the book?”
Well, Harper Lee is dead, and her estate is equally interested in making money and protecting the book’s legacy. Maybe even more the money. The two sides compromised, and the “woke” “Mockingbird” is in previews, and will open this week. Writes the Times,
[The] play will open on Broadway, without many of the elements that concerned the estate, but with dramatic changes — a new narrative structure, black characters who express anger and frustration, and a running tension between civility and confrontation — that could make the story resonant for contemporary audiences….
Because the case was privately settled, with neither side describing the terms, and Mr. Rudin has declined to release a script, only now that the play is in previews is it possible to assess how the lawsuit — and the questions it raised about how the book’s generations of die-hard fans might view a contemporary stage adaptation — affected the play’s development. (The play could be further tweaked before it opens Thursday)….The biggest changes from the book are structural — the play uses the trial as a narrative scaffolding from which everything else hangs — but there are also shifts in thematic emphasis. In the play, other characters question Atticus’s insistence on seeing goodness in his racist neighbors (“Being polite is no way to win a war,” counters Atticus’s son, Jem), and introduces an impatient yearning for social change expressed by both Atticus and Calpurnia.
With litigation threatening the future of the production, each side made concessions, according to public remarks by the writer, Aaron Sorkin, as well as comparisons of the words now being spoken onstage with quotations from the draft script cited by the estate in a letter detailing their objections.
The production dropped depictions of Atticus drinking alcohol, keeping a gun in his house and using the name of God disrespectfully; now, as the estate wanted, he is a clean-living hero throughout, who is described in the play’s opening moments as the “most honest and decent person in Maycomb.”
That, I think, is what would have mattered most to Harper Lee. Atticus, after all, was her portrait of her father.
Copyright holders who keep too tight a leash on a work will often guarantee its eventual obscurity. We have the novel; we have the movie. There is already a popular, if pedestrian, stage version. I see no harm in letting Aaron Sorkin place his spin on the material.