Cat Hands Ethics

witches hands

Having gone to great lengths to make comedy impossible, the political correctness police are now working to make drama impossible as well. Yesterday Ethics Alarms again visited this issue as it considered the brain-meltingly idiotic demands by progressives and group identity activists that only autistic performers should be cast as autistic characters. This is a subset of the disingenuous, contradictory and pragmatically impossible demand by the Army of the Woke that only performers with the same physical, gender, racial and ethnic characteristics should be cast in movies, plays and TV productions as characters with those traits….although minority actors should be cast as characters written as or traditionally played by whites whenever possible.

This nonsense has received new gusts of wind beneath its wings in The Great Stupid, which descended upon out culture hand-in-hand with the George Floyd Ethics Train Wreck. It is old nonsense, though. The white cartoon voice actors who announced this year that they wouldn’t give voice to cartoon characters of color hailed from the same progressive nut house as those who criticized the “Lord of the Rings” movies (and others) for using special effects to allow actors of normal height portray fantasy dwarves, or who chased Dwayne Johnson away from his planned “John Henry” film because he’s not black enough.

Critics of film remake of “The Witches” have even bigger and more stupid metaphorical fish to fry, it seems. Now the attack is focused on the tendencies of human beings to be frightened or wary of those who look or act different from what they are used to, and, by extension, artists’ exploitation of that hard-wired human reaction to move, entertain, and communicate with audiences.

In its article giving disability rights advocates more respect on this topic than they deserve, the New York Times writes,

“For as long as there have been stages and screens, disability and disfigurement have been used as visual shorthand for evildoing — a nod to the audience that a character was a baddie to be feared. But disability rights advocates say this amounts not just to lazy storytelling but stereotyping, further marginalizing an already stigmatized community that is rarely represented onscreen.”

It is tempting to just dismiss this with a curt, “OK, well let’s see the disability rights advocates make their own action movies and horror movies and see how those do at the box office. They want to make “Frankenstein” with a monster that looks like a male model? Good luck to them, and the backers who provide millions of dollars for the production. If they can remake “Phantom of the Opera” and explain why he wears a mask if he doesn’t look like this…

phantom-of-the-opera

…bravo!”

The Times solemn article about the “Witches” “cat hands” controversy is titled, “‘Scary is how you act, not look,’ disability advocates tell film-makers.” If the Times wasn’t virtue signaling, it would have followed this with “‘And what the hell do you know about it?,'” film-makers reply.

The problem with “The Witches” is that it depicted Ann Hathaway’s villainous head-witch “with hands that were wizened and disfigured, with two fingers and a thumb on each,” as the original story described them. They were intended to evoke cat claws, but disability activists saw them as a slur on ectrodactyly, a deformity that afflicts approximately 1 in every 90,000 Americans, or .001%.

I wonder how many Americans suffer from “Phantom Face”?

Intones the Times,

For as long as there have been stages and screens, disability and disfigurement have been used as visual shorthand for evildoing — a nod to the audience that a character was a baddie to be feared. But disability rights advocates say this amounts not just to lazy storytelling but stereotyping, further marginalizing an already stigmatized community that is rarely represented onscreen….

“Playgrounds are where kids are sometimes the cruelest, and kids absorb what they learn, be it through stories we tell or what they learn from their parents,” said Penny Loker, a Canadian visible difference advocate and writer. “They have carte blanche to be cruel to people. I was called a monster, and I was called whatever the name of the monster was from the movie that was popular at that time.”

That’s a shame, and the solution is to teach children about kindness, empathy and the Golden Rule, not to eliminate crucial tools of story-telling and drama, which include the use of stereotypes, one hopes creatively. The “Thing From Another World” was played by 6’7″ James Arness and not Mickey Rooney because big people are more menacing than small people. (This is also why the T-Rex in “Jurassic Park” wasn’t played by the GEICO gecko.) The big moment in “Phantom of the Opera” is when the heroine rips off her strange mentor’s mask, and the audience just wasn’t going to scream if he looked like this…

cary_grant

Disability activists can complain and demand, and Canute can try to stop the tide from coming in, but human nature is a reality, and artists must deal with their audiences as they are, not as the Woke would like them to be, indeed are prepared to force them to be.

More from the article:

“Using disability or disfigurement as shorthand for evil goes back centuries in Western culture, said Angela Smith, director of disability studies at the University of Utah. In both lore and real life, physical differences have been read as warnings of danger, symbols of evil, or evidence of sinning or witchcraft….It’s also a long standing trope in fairy tales and fantasy and horror stories. Monsters are given characteristics — the way they talk, behave, look or move — that are meant to seem threatening or grotesque, Smith noted. This carries onscreen, where physical differences are often revealed dramatically as visual shorthand for evilness or immorality: think of Freddy Krueger’s brutally burned face in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” films. All of which, Smith said, subtly shapes perceptions about an already marginalized community…”

Summary: “Life can be unfair.”

It is the delusion of the Left that all unfairness can be eradicated by fiat, shaming and declarations of indignation. “Obviously, we don’t want a culture where everyone’s outraged about everything,” the article quotes Ashley Eakin, a writer and director, as saying. Really? I see a large contingent of society seeking exactly that, because with offense comes power. Hathaway immediately grovelled an apology. The studio that made “The Witches,” Warner Bros. humina-humina-ed that it worked with the film’s artists to create what author Roald Dahl described as “thin curvy claws, like a cat,” and didn’t intend for viewers to feel represented by the “fantastical, nonhuman creatures” onscreen. Well, there is always going to be .001% of any group that objects to something. Give that group the power to veto what entertains everyone else, and you homogenize the arts into pablum.

Of course, there is an agenda behind the outrage.

Disability rights advocates said the whole matter could have been avoided if more disabled people were in the entertainment industry, be it in front of the camera or behind the scenes. “If there were writers, directors or other crew members with disabilities, they, might have seen it and said ‘Huh, maybe this is an issue,’” said Lauren Appelbaum, vice president of communications for RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting the stigmatization of people with disabilities.

Ah, yes, that’s the solution! Affirmative action in the arts for the disabled! It all makes sense now. One of the disabled performers interviewed by the Times explains that it’s okay for a villain to be disabled or disfigured if a disabled actor is playing the character, “so long as the disfigurement is not what makes them evil” or when the evil person being portrayed is a person who has a disability in real life, but only if a disabled actor is cast.

Oh, great. Rules for what is acceptable art.

There is nothing unethical, wrong or unjust about artists using the natural human instinct to regard that which is strange, unusual or ugly as unsettling in the construction of entertainment. It is unethical, wrong and unjust to try to constrain art of any kind for narrow interests or political agendas.

41 thoughts on “Cat Hands Ethics

  1. Disability has been a mark of evil, difference, or trauma since Shakespeare gave Richard III a hump and a withered arm to make him that much more repulsive to his Tudor audiences (the real Richard did have a curvature of the spine, but not enough to be visible through clothing). The idea was a deformed body = deformed mind, and that idea of the deformed or wounded villain has stuck with us – either someone who suffered a visible injury that has embittered him (Ahab), or did something he should not have and paid a visible price for it (Dr. Doom), or was punished for wrongdoing with a mark or mutilation (Jaime Lannister and several other GOT characters).

    I also think when it comes to the not-quite-human, C.S. Lewis said it best in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Mr. Beaver says, “But in general, take my advice, when you meet anything that is going to be Human and isn’t yet, or used to be Human once and isn’t now, or ought to be Human and isn’t, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet.” It’s one thing to see a half-human, half-fish creature in an illustration in a children’s book, or a monstrous woman with snaky hair carved in stone, or a deity with more than two arms cast in bronze, but to see any of this departure from the human norm in real life is at best disturbing, at worst really frightening. Believe it or not, I’ve seen some for-real mermaids. No, not really real, we all know there’s no such thing, but there is a performing group in the Mid-Atlantic area called the Circus Siren Pod, composed of circus aerialists who have transferred their skills to the water. So realistic is their costuming, so believable their movement in the large tank they travel event to event with, and so odd the non-speaking, dolphin-like behavior they adopt when in the water, that if you suspend disbelief, they really look real, and it’s as creepy as it is beautiful. Everything in you says “this isn’t supposed to exist, I can’t believe what I’m seeing.”

    I think the same idea carries over into seeing realistic, not-quite-human characters in these movies. Something’s not quite right, and today’s technology doesn’t let you separate yourself from it as you could from say, the work of stop-motion expert Ray Harryhausen, whose fantastic creatures had a stilted, dream-like quality that allowed you to keep reminding yourself “this isn’t real,” and hopefully avoid nightmares. You can’t do that with the new tech, or not as easily, and you certainly can’t do it with less-than-perfect people in life.

    As for limitations on art, V.I. Lenin came up with the idea of art as “socialist realism,” the idea of favoring art that pushed or glorified the values of the state, and resulted in huge statues of Karl Marx and himself and paintings that glorified a Soviet ideal that never materialized. It also resulted in the complete demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior to make way for a Palace of the Soviets that was never built. The mayor of Newark is now accepting proposals for a memorial to Harriet Tubman that will replace the statue of Christopher Columbus in what was Washington Square Park, soon to be renamed Harriet Tubman Square. On the surface, this is “progress,” underneath, it’s “This is a BLACK city now, and only BLACK art is permitted.”

  2. Ironically in the vintage film Freaks the good guys were the disfigured ones and the evil ones were the strong and ” beautiful” people.

    If anyone evaluates vintage horror the hideous”monster” was usually trying to be accepted and the “normal” people were portrayed as antagonists.

    • There are many others… Michael posted above about “Beauty and the Beast”, which is essentially Frankenstein with a love interest, similar to “Edward Sizzorhands”, the Hagrid character in Harry Potter, and “Powder”, or the disfigured character from the movie that would give the woke a heart attack of it were made today–“The Goonies”.

      All these stories resolve down to _not_ fearing the character introduced as a monster.

  3. Wish I could find the source, but John Cleese reportedly recently said “A production of ‘Macbeth’ may cancelled because the man playing the lead revealed that he had never actually killed anyone.”

  4. “Using disability or disfigurement as shorthand for evil goes back centuries in Western culture, said Angela Smith, director of disability studies at the University of Utah.

    Typical to portray this as a flaw of WESTERN culture. It is, of course, a characteristic of EVERY culture, in every place and time.

    • Yeah, I’ve noticed how humans who criticize “Western culture” (as if it were homogeneous) usually overlook that humans are more alike across the planet than they realize. Each human society has people with the same distribution of mental and emotional functions; they’re just collectively calibrated to respond to different stimuli. Or, to put it another way, people all have the same feelings, on average, but they feel them about different things.

  5. The opening of this post brought to mind this great exchange in The Simpsons with Troy McClure:

    Parker: Troy! Mac Parker. Ever hear of…Planet of the Apes?
    Troy: Uh… the movie or the planet?
    Parker: The brand-new multi-million dollar musical, and you are starring…as the human.
    Troy: It’s the part I was born to play, baby!

    -Jut

  6. Gary Oldman, the actor who played Churchill in Darkest Hour had to have prosthetics basically from the jaw on down to make him look like Churchill.

    He did a fantastic job with the role, but I guess that these folks would want to take away his right to play such a role. Has to go to someone as rotund as Churchill, I guess.

    Or alternatively just forbid anyone from making any sort of a movie that celebrates one of the heroes of civilization.

    • Well, Churchill was a fairly major racist, was ok with the Black and Tans committing brutalities in Ireland, and participated in the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan. So he’s pretty compromised as a hero.

        • Believe me, I agree with you. I consider Churchill one of the 3-4 greatest statesmen of the 20th century, whatever else he did. I also consider Columbus the third most influential person of all time and Robert E. Lee one of the top ten greatest military leaders this nation ever produced. I think Reagan is a hero of the Cold War. Apparently though, the left has decided no white man can be a hero.

      • Actually that just means he was a hero with flaws — as probably every hero has.

        Lincoln, by today’s standards, was pretty much a white supremacist. Does that mean we should cancel the Emancipation Proclamation and reinstate the CSA with its slavery laws? I don’t think so, and he’s every bit as much of a hero as he deserves.

    • You mention GO and his prosthetics. The other issue we hear is having actors from country X playing characters from country Y. I was listening yesterday to an interview GO did a few years ago. He said that he had lived in California so long that he had lost his English accent. He had started a new English film and he had to hire a voice coach to re-teach him. The nerve, taking work away from a proper English speaker!

      Where are all the Americans arguing that the English and Aussies shouldn’t be playing good old Americans? Hell, why was Hugh Jackman cast as Wolverine or Jean Valjean? He’s not Canadian or French.

  7. Unless they’ve been hanging out in Key West or something, most cats have five digits on their front paws…so there’s that…

    In any case, as has been pointed out already, the “different/ugly = bad, attractive = good” trope is by no means universal. To add to the list: Hellboy and his colleagues; Snow White’s evil queen; the original Iron Man (eventually getting a makeover); Maleficent; David Bowie’s Goblin King in Labyrinth; the elves in LOTR (a mixed bag)…there are, of course many more. Recently, “The Boys” has nearly all of the beautiful supposed good guys as brutal villains (although it uses that to push hard on the now acceptable “patriots & corporations = right wing = bad” idea. Aside: it’s still a grotesquely engrossing show, with some over-the-top black humor, like the speed boat vs whale scene.)

      • White people are so EVIL! Just look at the serial killer, the late Ted Bundy (whose day of birth happened to be November 24).* From now on, all white mega-perps MUST be handsome; the woke MUST be warned CONSTANTLY that “it’s the good-looking ones” (of the white people) who are the MOST dangerous. If you are white, you’re evil; if you are good-looking and white, then you are MOST EVIL.
        *And I believe it was that Ugly Duckling, Mark Harmon, who played a multi-part TV dramatization of the “life” of Ted Bundy. PERFECTLY cast!

        I am now hiding my copy of “The Princess Bride” in a vault under the ice in Antarctica. No one is going to deprive me of the sight of that six-fingered murderer of the father of Inigo Montoya!

        • But in the original story, Inseem toneecall that Montoya was trained to fight by a cripple. So it comes back around to being okay again. At least I think that’s how it works.

  8. “If there were writers, directors or other crew members with disabilities, they, might have seen it and said ‘Huh, maybe this is an issue…”

    Assuming disabled people magically have perspective on how all other disabled people feel about such representation is rather bigoted. This is where woke crap usually goes – prejudice based on assumption of representation.

    In situations like this, where one is hired to represent a group view, being disabled or of color or female isn’t enough. You have to be both “oppressed” and think of yourself as oppressed. Otherwise you won’t be hired or listened to.

    Now that’s what I call equity.

    • Exactly! It’s just a “new” group playing the victim card because it has worked so well for other identity groups. Cheered on, of course by those intent on finding ever more numerous ways to divide us.

  9. Jack, thank you for allowing a person of my disabilities to comment on your blog.

    Now, excuse me, while I jockey for position in the new administration as the Disability Czar. (I’ll put off my return to live theater, for now.)

  10. Just out of curiosity, if the cat finger things are too insulting, then maybe the whole non-witch person playing a witch should be addressed, too. Why should Anne Hathaway play a witch? Is she a witch? I think not (I read somewhere she was an Anabaptist or something but I could be wrong . . .). And, why does Mandy Patinkin get to play a Spaniard? Last i checked, he is not a Spaniard. And Peter Falk was absolutely NOT Fred Savage’s grandfather so he shouldn’t have played that role. Oh, and Tim Curry should never have played Dr. Frank-N-Furter because he clearly is not a sweet transvestite from Transylvania.

    jvb

  11. This sort of nonsense complaint, about how magical evil villains aren’t allowed to be presented as scary-looking with features outside of the human norm, comes from emotionally insecure humans who don’t know how to use empathy mindset. Since they lack the skill to earn the impressions they want people to have of them, they attempt to impose rules to make it impossible for people to form any other impression of them. They’re trying to create a dogma.

    I’m reasonably sure their dogma will fail, though. The less work they do to actually engage with people, the more dogma they’ll need to make up for it, until people won’t be able to think at all. There’s no shortage of people who will loudly oppose it well before that point, and that number will only grow the more anyone tries to push the issue.

    My job in this situation is to help people learn to use empathy so they can live lives worthy of esteem without feeling like they have to brainwash other people into treating them with basic respect.

  12. “…disability and disfigurement have been used as visual shorthand for evildoing — a nod to the audience that a character was a baddie to be feared.”

    That’s true, except for most of the time, when it isn’t.

    It also helps to ignore the countless good guys who are munchkins, hobbits, dwarves, leprechauns, monsters, ninja turtles, wizened old men, hunchbacked old crones, blind magicians, chubby Italian plumbers, amputees with cool prosthetics,
    mutants, muppets, jolly fat people, centaurs, crippled, missing fingers, missing hands, etc.
    What a joke of a complaint. There is no case to be made here.

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