Saturday Ethics Aftermath, 11/14/2020: Art And Ethics

Brussels statue

1. Movie plot ethics. It’s clear that I have watched far too many movie and TV programs. I am now at the point where certain routine plot and directorial devices not only annoy me, they insult me. I regard these now as disrespectful and incompetent, and in that sense, unethical. I’m not talking about the cliches that still work with the young and uninitiated, like how the apparently dead/injured/ betrayed/ rejected or abandoned character you forgot about is always the one who shows up to save the day. (Among the reasons I love the “Magnificent Seven” so much is that when the one member of the team who had quit shows up to rescue his pals in the final gun battle, he is shot and killed immediately.) I’m referring to tropes that are self-evidently stupid and should seem so for any viewer over the age of 12.

For example,  if there’s a vicious, murdering psychopath chasing you, and you knock him cold with a steel pipe or incapacitate him in other ways, you don’t assume he/she/it is dead and leave the killer there to revive and slaughter you. You make sure the manic/monster is dead. Beat his head to a pulp; heck, cut it off.  This is often paired with another idiotic scene, the ill-timed hug. The world is going to blow in seconds, zombies are coming, crazies are beating down the door: save that passionate embrace for later, you morons! The same applies to long, emotional conversations in the midst of disasters when every second counts. Which is worse, I wonder: the long debate in “Armageddon” between Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck when they have literally seconds to save the Earth from an asteroid apocalypse, or the even longer argument among three fire fighters in the middle of a burning building?  That was in “Backdraft,” and I never quite felt the same about director Ron Howard after that.

2. Statue ethics again.  A new London  sculpture dedicated to Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th-century writer and feminist hero (and the mother of Mary Shelley) is attracting much hate from art critics and the public.

MW memorial

The work by the British artist Maggi Hambling features a small, naked woman standing on a pillar silvered bronze, set on a cube of dark granite. The overall form is just larger than an average person, and sits well with the park: “Why is Mary naked?” critics are demanding. One Twitter user said: “I had no idea Mary had shredded abs.”

Morons. Read the statue’s base: “For Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797.”  This is not intended to be a likeness of, but a tribute to,Wollstonecraft, whose most famous quotation from her “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” published in 1792, appears on the other side of the base:  “I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”

Before one starts criticizing anything, it is essential, fair and responsible to know what one is talking about. Every day I send to Spam Hell comments from Ethics Alarms critics who obviously didn’t read the post they are commenting on. I once went to great lengths to get a local theater critic fired who reviewed a show I directed after I saw her walk out before the second act.

On the other side, as a stage director who made being clear my prime directive, I hold the artist partially responsible when a large proportion of viewers don’t understand what is being communicated.

3. Then there is this:

Truth Be Told

In the Hudson Valley village of Kinderhook, N.Y., artist Nick Cave created his “Truth Be Told.” Black vinyl letters measure 21 feet high and stretch some 160 feet across the facade of the 1929 red brick building that now serves as a branch of Manhattan’s Jack Shainman Gallery. The art aims to inspire conversation about racial justice and police brutality. But the Village of Kinderhook says it isn’t an artwork, it’s a sign, and hence in violation of a local code.

Aren’t a lot of signs art? Isn’t the famous “Hollywood” lettering (originally “Hollywoodland”) both an artwork and a sign? The iconic Citgo sign over Fenway Park’s Green Monster was preserved on the theory that it had become art over time. Yet some of the arguments for Cave’s sign are unconvincing. One advocate says,  “Like any art, it makes people think.” Well, so does a “No crossing” sign, one hopes.” Cave’s art/sign makes me think that this is about the level of nuance and consideration that has been applied to the George Floyd Freakout: almost none.

New York art law specialist Thomas Danziger told the New York Times  that the dispute was an example of how “zoning regulations were not intended to address what is or is not a work of art.” He also noted that “there are plenty of artists whose work is just words, like Lawrence Weiner and Barbara Kruger.” Plenty of sign-painters too. Aside from his reliance on Rationalization #1, “Everybody does it,” is the lawyer suggesting that if an artist paints “Shop at WalMart” it’s art, but if a sign-painter does the same thing, it’s just a sign?

If Cave had put a small portrait of George Floyd in the middle of the “O” would that sufficiently convert the sign into art?

It’s tempting to conclude that if an established artist creates a mass of letters across an Art Gallery, it should qualify as art. Then Cave played the race card, and claimed that the village’s pushback on his work was “another indication of where people stand.”

It’s also tempting to say that an artist commissioned to create an artwork who delivers only block letters and a facile cliché was phoning it in for an easy payday.

Truth be told…

5 thoughts on “Saturday Ethics Aftermath, 11/14/2020: Art And Ethics

  1. #1: Oh, I’m much easier to tick off than you:
    . The highly competent subordinate with the incompetent boss who is always out to get them.
    . The misfit group of shady characters who never really get on properly but who have hearts of gold and all pull together when needed to save the world/verse/whatever.
    . The zero to hero who, having been a complete dofus looser all their life, suddenly has the skills and determination to ‘save the world’.
    . The subset of the above, where the CDL is a a kid who can suddenly fly the supersonic fighter, save the universe as a ball turret gunner – or whatever – and do so better than everyone else in the universe.
    . The ‘humans are the salvation of the universe’ trope.
    . The kids are always right and the idiot, mealy mouthed, self serving, arrogant, prejudiced adults are wrong trope.
    . And the over the top action movies that are soooo ludicrous, but aren’t played for humour. That is the action isn’t played for humour, not just some corny one liners – yeah, yeah, some of them are funny but they are adjuncts to the immortal mortal hero! (That was intentional btw.)

    Yes, some, perhaps many of them, are watchable, and even entertaining. They are designed to sell and these are the things that titillate the masses and so make money, but I do wish the people who are paid to be creative could come up with something creative from time to time.

    [Rant off]

  2. 3. “Truth be told” has as much meaning as “Long story short,” an annoying phrase a former friend of mine favored. As his brother eloquently explained to me, “The first thing [the former friend] always does is remind you he’s smarter than you are, then he tells you exactly how so.”

  3. Regarding Movie Plot Ethics- Yesterday i watched 3 movies/tv programs. In each, there was a scene where two men standing at urinals were conducting in-depth conversation or contracting business deals. I, therefore, pose two questions: 1. When did this become a required scene in entertainment? 2. Does any man really conduct business with the guy at the next urinal mid micturation?

    • DL – In various “unconscious bias” training I have experienced this example has been used to illustrate when women are excluded from business opportunities. e.g. there is a break in a meeting/hearing, etc. and business is discussed at the urinal or a junior is mentored by a senior, etc. The movie/tv trope is a likely source of this. Seriously, who talks like that in real life?

      There is no arguing against it of course. And one cannot suggest that women not go to the loo together.

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