Welcome, Ethics Alarms readers! It’s time for that exciting game show, “Desperate, Gallant, Or Offensive!,” where the audience judges whether its celebrity contestants have stayed within ethical boundaries!
Today’s contestant is celebrated actor William H. Macy, not to be confused with Bill Macy, who played Bea Arthur’s long-suffering husband on “Maude.” William H is one of the most honored and respected, not to mention versatile American actors. He has won two Emmy Awards, four Screen Actors Guild Awards, and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his memorable performance in “Fargo.” Since 2011, he has played Frank Gallagher, the main character in the Showtime adaptation of the British television series “Shameless.” Most relevant now, however, is his 22 year marriage to actress Felicity Huffman, who is about to be sentenced for her participation in the so-called “Varsity Blues” college admission scandal.
Ready to play? All right! Here is what loving husband William wrote to the judge preparing to sentence Huffman:
Is William’s entreaty to the judge desperate, gallant, or offensive?
Use the button on the panels in front of you to register your votes! You have 30 seconds!
It was a trick question, I’m embarrassed to say, because the letter is desperate, gallant AND offensive.
Most of what Huffman’s husband wrote is also irrelevant, or certainly should be. The fact that Huffman is or may be a devoted, loving mother shouldn’t have any effect of her penalties for using bribes and fraudulent methods to sneak her child into a college ahead of less wealthy students, without celebrity parents, who were playing by the rules. It is a loving letter, and that’s nice, and one cannot blame Macy for throwing everything he can think of up on the wall of the judge’s mind and hope that something sticks. Ethically, however, none of it should stick. Nothing he mentions about Huffman’s parenting changes what she did, and none of it should alter or reduce the consequences of what she did.
The section about how one of Huffman’s roles, her turn as a transgender woman, inspired others and helped the transgender community is especially offensive. It is blatant virtue-signaling, and it is also stupid. If anyone deserves credit for the impact of the film, it is the writers and producer; any competent actress could have taken the script and had the same impact with it.
What is the theory being advanced here, that actors who play heroes and admirable characters should be able to break laws with fewer adverse consequences than those who play fools, wastrels and villains? It sure sounds like it. That is a a destructive standard. We know that actor Robert Blake avoided a murder conviction despite overwhelming evidence because the jury remembered him as quirky good guy Tony Baretta on the hit TV detective show of the same name. We knowt O.J. got away with butchering his ex-wife and a friend because, among other things, the jury couldn’t imagine the happy football hero and the kindly security guard who rescued a cat in “The Towering Inferno” as a cold-blooded killer.
On top of it all, Huffman is facing at worst a month in jail and a $20,000 fine, unless the judge goes beyond what the prosecutors recommended, which is unlikely. To avoid that, Macy is arguing that actors should be sentenced according to what kind of roles they have played.
If that ever becomes the standard, I’ll say this: Bill Skarsgard, who essentially only portrays killers and sociopaths and is currently starring as the demonic clown Pennywise in the second installment of “It,” had better stay out of trouble between gigs.