Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/27/18: It’s Video Thursday!

Happy inevitably confusing and disorienting period between Christmas and New Years!

1.. Is this a racially problematic TV ad, or an encouraging one that signals progress?

For me, the commercial raises the question: Have we reached a point when depicting an entire black family acting as moronic as white people are routinely depicted on TV is permissible and white people are allowed to laugh at it?

It made me uncomfortable. Am I alone?

2. Charley Parkhurst. The New York Times project to catch up on all the significant and remarkable women who never received the recognition of an obituary in its pages has been fascinating, and there has been no more interesting entry than this month’s remembrance of Charley Parkhurst, 1812-1879. Parkhurst was a famous driver of six-horse stagecoaches during California’s Gold Rush, a challenging job requiring strength, skill, and unusual honesty. Parkhurst was described as “short and stocky,” a hard-living whiskey drinker, cigar smoker and tobacco chewer, who wore  a patch  over the empty eye-socket where a horse had kicked out the eyeball. Charley was also universally regarded as male until a doctor discovered, post mortem, that she wasn’t. At a time when a women’s options  were severely limited, Parkhurst decided at a young age to live as a man, and was mighty good at it. She even registered to vote in 1868, and some give her the distinction as the first woman to vote in a Presidential election, though there is scant proof of it.

Looking at and thinking about a women “identifying a male” in a different cultural context is fascinating. Was Charley a woman, a male, trans, gay, a fraud, a hero (a heroine?), or just an opportunist and a gutsy realist who did what she wanted to do the only way it was possible for her to do it?

And does it matter? Should it matter?

We are told that Charley also was a lumberjack for a time. I wonder what she would have thought of the Monty Python song?

3. An Althouse quote:

“…I can barely read the news these days (and I absolutely cannot watch it on TV). The negativity toward Trump is so relentless, cluttering up everything. It’s crying wolf times a thousand. If anything is worth taking seriously, I’m afraid I won’t be able to notice.”

I have come to the conclusion that this feeling, which I share in all respects, is a strong indication that the speaker or writer has managed to avoid a form of mass hysteria and ethical short-circuiting. A commenter on the post writes in part,

They do it because it works. Facts, actual dates, times, and other information are only important if they reinforce the narrative. Look at any news aggregate site, like Google News. Remarkable that all the headlines, about Trump, all use the same key words. When 30 or 40 or more papers all do that, it isn’t news anymore, it’s propaganda. Pravda and Peoples Daily never managed such a complete take over of the ‘truth’ like the MSM has done..It is really shameful behavior, and makes it difficult to tell what is actually happening.

Bonus: Here is a viral video  introduced by the cretinous statement, “Mueller should arrest Trump. Retweet if you agree. Then listen to the song we did titled: “We wish you a Mueller Christmas,” sang by patriots in The Resistance.” Wrote cyber-nerd prognosticator Nate Silver in response, “This is why Trump won (re-election).”

Of course, if I try to share my commentary on Facebook, it will be blocked. Social media must do its part too.

I’ll be writing more about this later on today.

4. “Mary Poppins Returns” violates the first rule of remakes. At the end of “Scream 4,” which was a shameless rip-off of the original despite a funny film-within-a-film-within-a-film opening sequence, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), the heroine/victim of all four movies, says, as she shoots the killer in the forehead (exactly as she killed the FIRST  “Ghostface” stabber in “Scream”),

You forgot the first rule of remakes, Jill. Don’t fuck with the original! 

Incredibly, “Mary Poppins Returns, which opened last week,” does just that, undermining the original classic to justify a lazy knock-off. (Oh all right: SPOILER ALERT!, if you are foolish enough to want to see this fiasco.) Remember how, in “Mary Poppins,” the greedy, materialistic bankers try to persuade little Michael Banks that his tuppence should not be spent on frivolous, childhood things, but invested in their bank?

Michael’s refusal to let these grasping capitalists take his money precipitates his father’s firing. Then the neglectful father has an epiphanal experience, realizing that whimsy,  fun and childlike innocence are crucial as well. Michael spends his tuppence on “paper and strings,” and his father helps him make, and fly, a kite. Even the soulless bankers see the light! They re-hire and promote Mr. Banks, and start flying kites too!

Now get this: in the long-awaited sequel, now-grown Michael’s problems are solved because the bank really did get his tuppance to invest all those years ago (contrary to our understanding at the time): it was invested, and made him just enough money to save the day!

See? Screw kite-flying: let’s build those portfolios, kids!

I am quite confident that Walt would have never allowed this.




38 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/27/18: It’s Video Thursday!

  1. 2-I’ll go with “just an opportunist and a (DAMN!) gutsy realist who did what she wanted to do the only way it was possible for her to do it”

    At about the same time Cathay Williams (AKA: William Cathay) pulled off being a Y-Chromsomal Unit with a higher degree of difficulty: as an enlisted…um…man in the U.S. Army.

    One more thing; she was also Black and began life as a slave.

  2. Re: No. 1:

    I don’t see anything racial in this ad. An ad is intended for one purpose: generate interest in and promote something such as a company, a product, and choice. GEICO’s ad campaigns are very well done. They are funny, bordering on silly, but funny all the same.

    In fact, GEICO has a history of pretty amusing ads, from the English-accented gekko to the creepy cavemen (I never totally understood why a bunch of Cro Magnon cavedwellers needed car, home and rental insurance; maybe my understanding of insurance products is limited to the post-Renaissance and shipping contracts). I say, “GEICO, make more silly ads. We need more humor.”


  3. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), the heroine/victim of all four movies, says, as she shoots the killer in the forehead (exactly as she killed the FIRST “Ghostface” stabber in “Scream”),

    How wrong I was, I always thought that was Jennifer Love Hewitt.

  4. Bonus: Here is a viral video introduced by the cretinous statement, “Mueller should arrest Trump. Retweet if you agree. Then listen to the song we did titled: “We wish you a Mueller Christmas,” sang by patriots in The Resistance.” Wrote cyber-nerd prognosticator Nate Silver in response, “This is why Trump won (re-election).”

    Of course, if I try to share my commentary on Facebook, it will be blocked. Social media must do its part too.

    I wonder if they remember Ken Starr?

  5. #1 I saw the advertisement the other day and thought it was one of the most ridiculous pieces of crap ads I’ve seen in quite a while. I didn’t think it was entertaining at all and I couldn’t tell you what they were trying to sell without watching it again and paying attention to it.

  6. We are told that Charley also was a lumberjack for a time. I wonder what she would have thought of the Monty Python song?

    I picture her sitting at bar stool, whiskey in hand, bent over in a roaring laughter watching that clip….

  7. #2 Charley Parkhurst story is an interesting story that I didn’t know. Too bad she couldn’t have just been herself and live her life the way she wanted, she was definitely a product of her time.

  8. #3 Everyone is being worn out by the crap in the news. The political left, especially Progressives, have always tried to get their opposition to walk away from the fight in utter frustration so the left can win by default, because let’s face it, the left hasn’t been able to “sell” their ideology (whatever it might be that day) to anyone that’s got a critically thinking brain all they have is their political antiology. So what does the left do, they refuse to actually discuss policy and just endlessly attack their opposition, that’s exactly what they’ve been doing with Trump.

  9. #1. Thanks for the post, Jack. It clarified what was going on. I just had a “what the hell” response; the “making them comfortable” idea is still kind of stupid, but that’s Geico. And this could be a watershed event in the nation’s race relations. I once saw a quote by someone significant that we would have our racial divide closed when someone could criticize a black person for something they did and not be called a racist (and ignoring the activity that spawned the criticism).

  10. 1. Not quite retro, but a little old-fashioned. The new thing is to have a family of one-of-each, but I expect Geiko to have multiple races displayed in single file. If that’s the first of a series, then they will be praised for putting black first; if not, it will depend on how many people (more than two, I guess) feel uncomfortable watching people shake and eat at the same time and wonder who will be first to have to leave and go heave.
    2. Sounds normal for my neighborhood.
    3. (I’ll wait for the full story. So far it seems … messy/)
    4. The first story fits the book better as you say, but not very well – as per Disney-usual (the whole Dick vanDyke character and others, for instance, are Dizinventions to fit that paarticular movie). You can always tell when a Wikipedia article is self-authored: “It is loosely based on the other seven Mary Poppins books by Travers, and expands beyond them.” I am in love with the idea of “expands beyond them.” It Is Expressed Further And Better Than The Truth should be saved for #100 on the rationalizations list.

      • Read the books: Mary Poppins was a tough, old (centuries, millennia old) spinster broad, strict as they come, who rewarded kids with sugar and magic, knew the craziest people, crossed class lines and allowed the likes of Dick Van Dyke to court her … from a worshipful distance. The first movie killed off unique characters like the Banks twins — the most interesting of the children: infants who had the ability “all babies had” to speak to and be understood in their gurgling by the, birds, mice, presumably roaches, whatever creature came in view from the crib. They would lose this ability the moment they learned to speak. And they did. Nobody ever knows this but the reader. And Mary. The first Pop-In gave us The Bird Woman, a criminal who inveigled the Banks children into aiding her crime: creating a flock-destroying, bird-seed addicted, avian dependency that left her victims overfed and inbred. Naturally. she’s not in the sequel — both she and all her birds died obese and isolated. (or so I believe). The Pop-In 2 has many (too many) “new” characters, most just to sell the movie to adults the promise of a chance to catch a glimpse of Streep, Lansbury, and others in cameo (blink! was that really…?), and a charmingly rickety Van dyke who does a little jig at 93. (He’s pretty cool, actually.)The secret of these characters is that they were pulled from the other six Poppins books. Unlike Tolkien’s stories, they were not going to get any better, so no one is going to be jumping up to make more Pop-In movies though I won’t lay real money that they won’t anyway. Logically, a “real” Broadway musical should be next. Travers was a poor writer with a good imagination that she dumped in a book as fast as she could think it up, so the sequels fail as her ideas grow stale, a step or so below the fate of the13 trailing Oz books. Point is, I guess, that Travers scarcely knew what the inside of a bank looked like, much less how it worked. It’s all another outside addition to hold the attention of the grownups and keep them from drowning in treacle and gaud. Saving grace in Pop-In 2 for this grownup? The choreographers who did “Chicago,” some of the finest dance movement ever in a musical. I could go on but it’s too too campily awesomely awful.

        • Correction. Not a stage musical, a TV sitcom centered on a nanny who twitches her nose and … no … takes her orders from the parrot on her umbrella handle.

  11. Looked through the comments on the Geico video, and nobody’s accusing them of racism, or making racist jokes themselves. Also, the video has 1.6K likes and only 64 dislikes at this moment, so yeah, if a black family can be depicted acting as silly as a white family without offending anybody, then I think we’ve made progress.

    • But wait, there’s more!! Just pay the additional shipping and handling and….

      I just saw a Geico ad that was formatted like one of those infomercials for “best of” music albums (disks, now, I guess). A couple extolling the various Geico ads from over the years, and telling us how to get the disks… all while showing out-takes from the commercials… I don’t know if it is just another of their odd ball ads or if they are really selling disks containing their ads…

  12. 1) The decision is not an either or, it is a very big AND. It is one of a great number of ads showing THEIR customers as being dumb, and we should buy their product so we can look dumb too? Why don’t ads show how cleverer we’d be and better lives their products will make us? This is the first I’ve seen use this trope with a stereotypically black family, which is not any improvement.

    So the ad fails across the board: it makes ALL their customers look dumb, in racially sensitive period- it doubles down and makes black customers look dumb, it’s not funny, and the resulting cognitive dissonance lowers the company’s rep. You are not alone in your unease.

    2) Charley could have been a hero, those heroic actions are no more or less heroic when you know nothing about her sex. Fraud? I doubt she did much to make Charley different; even if it started as a role, she became the role. From this distance it is difficult to know how she identified for gender or sexuality. That should be left for her privacy. It’s really none of our business. She was a gutsy realist who made and took the opportunities for a more adventurous life than would have been allowed. For all she gained, she also had to give up many things. Sex probably was one of many, all it would take was careless or mean comments to ruin the life she worked for. More importantly, she accepted those costs for the life she led. Many today want to do wild things but will not accept those costs.

    I admire her willpower. She got the adventure she must have craved and did not give it up when the going got tough.

    3) Uggh. If they were doing this to subvert all-spend/encourage saving it would have been better if his father or wife had set up a tiny trust while alive if it was that important, instead of implying the kid was browbeaten over a few pennies. Then the surprise money would have been a caring bequest rahter than old bullying. (I think magic money that retcons the earlier story is cheap storytelling, and they could have done better. (that would have made for a richer story instead of poorer.)

    • Marie, Like your point about Charley not being a role model. I know too many people who lived a lie for a long period in their lives. The hardest part, they say, is that the loneliness always looms, threatening to weaken their resolve even and not balancing the benefits, especially when the coming-out means facing real danger. She had to have had a lot of compensation in doing her job.
      About your #3 (I think you meant #4): you and Michael West may be taking this whole banker business too literally. You can see the little boy’s POV in the clip as they all — including his own father! — back him into a corner and (your word) brow-beat the poor kid with the “F” word (fiduciary). This is the movie moment you get in children’s stories that kids love and parents hate – the child-in-peril – but with few exceptions I would say that that they all know in the back of their minds that Mary will come to the rescue – that’s what she’s there for – but that’s not what happens. Even daddy’s on the Other Side. The “bankers” are, collectively, not bankers at all but the Monster in the movie that allow the boy to stand up and show courage, to refuse to release his two pennies, his only treasure, held now in his hand (bird-in-the-bush style) — not in some unimaginable future. He wasn’t learning anything about finance, he has facing a Monster and defeating it. With a new-found Poppins’-injected confidence, and no magic at all. It’s Michael’s big moment: he is a superhero. For kids, it beats Superman stories.

  13. It made me uncomfortable. Am I alone?

    I don’t know, but it didn’t make me uncomfortable. In fact, I hadn’t considered any racial context to it until you mentioned it. It still doesn’t register, they just look like commercial actors to me, and I consider that a good thing.

    The only time I ever really notice race in commercials is when it appears gratuitous, or an obvious attempt to equalize racial participation.

        • (but I am biased, as I think that type of Naked Gun-ish humor is the funniest humor on the planet with a close second being the genre of witty banter between straight men and comic foils)

            • That’s unfortunate because they specifically chose June cleaver to be completely out of place for speaking “street” slang along with well dressed men with apparent wealth as plane tickets then weren’t cheap. I think the scene poked fun AT racism more than it relied on racism to be funny (though it did rely on stereotyping…which frankly can be funny if done right)

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