Here we have a fine example of that annoying American pop culture phenomenon, the teensie-weensie ethics train wreck. From beginning to end, everything about this episode evinces some lack of ethical values, but in the final analysis, the consequences are negligible.
Let’s examine the trivial Pete Davidson Casting Ethics Train Wreck:
1. Clickbait. Numerous friends and Ethics Alarms readers emailed me with the horrifying news that Pete Davidson, the slimy, possibly mentally-ill Saturday Night Live cast member and stand-up comic, would be playing George Bailey in a “remake” of the beloved Frank Capra classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The reason for their alarm were headlines like this one, from Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller: “Pete Davidson To Take On Role Of George Bailey In ‘It’s A Wonderful Life.’” The conclusion reached by those who contacted me was completely reasonable, but the headline was deliberately misleading.
2. Casting a creep like Davidson as George Bailey in any version of that movie including a Cub Scouts skit is a slur on the film, the beloved character, James Stewart, the holidays, Capra, what the film stands for to many Americans, oh, pretty much everything. Davidson infamously mocked Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s eye-patch when he was running for Congress in 2018, and has generally proven himself to be a smug, shallow jerk of the sort that has flourished during the Trump years. Crenshaw lost his eye in combat, and Davidson has made it clear, despite various insincere mea culpas, that this warrants no respect in his world view. For Davidson to stand in the shoes of James Stewart, a World War II veteran and hero, is nauseating, and an insult to all veterans.
3. Integrity. This “version” will be a streaming socially-distanced “table read.” A Table-read isn’t drama, nor even radio drama or a staged reading. It’s what every stage production and TV episode holds before rehearsals start. I skip them in my productions, because, frankly, they stink. In this case, using a table-read as a substitute for an actual production is a cheap stunt, with the emphasis on cheap.
For the audience–a paying audience!—it’s a cheat.
4. Non-profit mission failure. The nonprofit Ed Asner Family Center is producing this thing as a fundraiser. The foundation is, it claims, dedicated to promoting mental health and enrichment programs for special needs children and their families. It is selling tickets for a cheesy table reading for $50 to $250 at EdAsnerFamilyCenter.org.
Anyone who would cross the street to watch Pete Davidson play George Bailey has mental health issues. But aside from that, how does showing gross disrespect for a family classic during the holidays comport with the mission of a non-profit with “family” in its name? Why is a mental health- promoting group trying to drive people crazy by letting a hack without acting credentials play George Bailey?
“We are so thrilled to have Pete reenact the role of George in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ with his talented wit and clever vocalizations,” read a statement from Matthew Asner, co-founder of the Ed Asner Family Center. “Clever vocalizations”? What does that have to do with this role? Does Asner think Davidson is playing the genie in “Aladdin”?
5. Incompetence. The project evokes the predictable disasters explained in Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly” as well in some of her other works. Someone has a terrible idea, and somehow it proceeds to predictably tragic execution even though many involved in it, often everyone but a single deluded decision-maker, knows the project is doomed. Yet they let it happen anyway. “Hey! Let’s cast Pete Davidson as George Bailey!” is on the same general level of idiocy as “Let’s cast Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees as “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!” or “Let’s do a TV series about a man whose car is possessed by his dead mother!”don’t approach the tragic dimensions of General Lee’s “Let’s mount a Napoleonic charge up a hill, over fences and into entrenched Union artillery!” or “Let’s make Kamala Harris Vice-President!” Nonetheless, it is inexcusably irresponsible and incompetent.
Buuut it’s for just one “performance,” anyone who pays to see it is reminding us all that “a fool and his money are soon parted,” and as Rhett Butler—probably soon to be played by RuPaul in an upcoming Ed Asner Family Center production of “Gone With the Wind”—once said, “I don’t give a damn.”