An ethics train wreck is an ethics-fraught situation or event that manages to make virtually everyone involved, on all sides of the issues, behave unethically or express unethical positions. I should have identified the Transgender Activism Ethics Train Wreck much earlier, of course: I was asleep at the switch.
The tipping point that prompted this is the Dave Chappelle Netflix special, “The Closer,” the latest in a series of stand-up concerts by the talented, often perceptive and intentionally politically incorrect comedian. (I haven’t watched it yet, but I will, possibly tonight.) The show is under attack by LGTBQ activists because Chappelle jokes at the expense of transgender individuals, and this is, they say, hate speech. As I said, I haven’t seen this concert, but I have seen others, and Chappelle has targeted trans people before. I can’t say his anti-trans material isn’t sometimes funny: a lot of his jokes provoke the dual “I can’t believe he said that!”/ “Ha! Oh, no, I hate myself for laughing!” response. This is because he is good at what he does. Nevertheless, I regard such jokes as punching down. Chappelle should be better than that.
I also have two transsexual friends, one a former neighbor, the other a young man I have known since he was a child. I find nothing funny or ridiculous about either of them.
Jaclyn Moore, a transgender writer who worked on the Netflix original “Dear White People,” Terra Field, a transgender software engineer at Netflix, LBGTQ advocacy groups, and GLAAD have condemned “The Closer” and asked Netflix to take it down. The National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights advocacy group, said in a statement to CNN that “Netflix should immediately pull The Closer from its platform and directly apologize to the transgender community.” (I’m sure that’s what MIT would do. And Bright Shang.)
Well, welcome to the ethics train wreck, folks: trying to censor and silence those you disagree with based on the content of their speech is unethical, supports totalitarianism (which is creeping up on us like “injun underwear,” to evoke a non-PC joke from my childhood), and is indefensible. I found “Dear White People” to be offensive and insulting, but I would never demand that Netflix pull the damn thing.
However, ethics train wrecks being what they are, Netflix managed to soil itself ethically in refusing to pull the special. Netflix’s co-chief executive, Ted Sarandos, sent an internal memo explaining why the streaming platform will not remove “The Closer.” He cited “creative freedom” as one reason (Good…) the company intends to keep the show online. He wrote that, although some people may find stand-up comedy to be “mean-spirited,” “our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering” (Okay, whatever “important” is supposed to mean…)
“Chappelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long standing deal with him,” Sarandos added. “His last special ‘Sticks & Stones,’ also controversial, is our most watched, stickiest and most award winning stand-up special to date.” So, if the special wasn’t so popular, Netflix would be more amenable to censorship? I’m pretty sure that’s what he’s saying. I am also certain that’s how Netflix aligns its values and priorities. It’s making money, so by God, Netflix will defend free expression!
This is why our freedoms and liberty hang by a thread.
UPDATE: I watched “The Closer.” Chappelle is worth watching for many reasons; he’s smart, gutsy, and a skilled performer. I did not know that the punching down” criticism, which I echoed above before watching the special, had been prominent after his other Netflix shows, or that it apparently bothered the comic so much. Most of “The Closer” is a brief denying that he is “punching down.” He’s punching down. Chappelle’s defense is not persuasive, consisting of several fallacies and rationalizations, to wit…
- He isn’t punching down, because nobody is lower on the status scale than a black man or a comedian. Sure, Dave. Early in Chappelle’s act he describes himself as rich and famous. There’s the rebuttal of his own argument right there.
- One of his close friends was trans. You know, like “some of my closest friend are Jewish.” I expect Chappelle to be better than that. Desperate.
- That close friend, who was trans, insisted that he didn’t punch down. This is an appeal to authority by Chappelle, and an especially unconvincing one. She liked him She was biased. Her opinion doesn’t prove anything.
- Worst of all, Chappelle tells a long story culminating in his revelation that he started a trust fund for the young daughter of his trans friend who committed suicide. Presumably we’re supposed to conclude that Chappelle’s mockery of transexuals isn’t mean-spirited because he used his substantial wealth to help out this child. In truth, it’s a non-sequitur, but employed as a bit of cognitive dissonance scale sleight of hand, and pretty transparent one, at least to me. “Gee, how could Dave be punching down at transexuals when he gives money to a dead transexual’s child he never even met?” Maybe some people will fall for that kind of non-logic. Not me.