Four Articles, Four Ethics Comments


1. Variety: “West Side Story Falls Flat at Box Office With Disappointing $10 Million Debut”

Of course it did, as I sagely predicted when the project was announced nearly two years ago. First, American musicals are a niche genre for an increasingly elite and rarefied audience. Second, the efforts of critics to hype the movie—it was the creation of two Super Stevies, Spielberg and the recently departed Sondheim, so it had to be brilliant!—rang forced and false as they detailed the oppressive politically correct re-writing of the book by Tony Kushner, like placing the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks in the context of gentrification and urban renewal, as if anyone inclined to watch a musical cares. Third, the well-publicized decision not to have subtitles for long scenes where the characters spoke Spanish was a red-flag: this is a pandering effort, not a musical. Finally, as Sondheim said in various ways in interviews over the years, making a show of any kind requires a good answer to the question, “Why?” This project had none: “Because the director wants to prove how versatile he is” isn’t one. “Because every movie made in the Sixties is racist, sexist and offensive” really isn’t one. Neither is “Because it’s crucial to remake a movie classic that won 10 Oscars.

This is a lesson in hubris. Another one.

2. Washington Post op ed: “I hate Christmas. And you should be okay with that.”

Oh, I’m fine with that; I’m especially fine with a Chritsmas-hater writing such a revealing piece of signature significance. The whole thing is an open admission of bitterness, envy, hate and misanthropy. Here’s the crux of his complaint:

I didn’t like Christmas in part because the steel mill where my father worked had closed. That news did nothing to stop the commercials with shiny, happy, children opening reams of colorful paper to reveal the things that they’d always wanted. The ads seemed to suggest that the more stuff you got, the better person you were. I learned through those commercials that good people got presents and that my family was trash. I took it into me every year like communion.

Sometimes, I wonder what essential part of me is missing. I know that Christmas is supposed to be about family. But as I grew to adulthood and became my own person, I found that family can be challenging when thrust upon you all at once.

Each year around this time, I find it more difficult to balance the awful things we see happening the rest of the year with the joy I’m supposed to drum up near the end of it. With age, it’s harder for me to reconcile the good will we’re supposed to feel toward each other at the holidays with the horrible way we treat each the rest of the year. It just feels fake.

Not surprisingly, he is a committed social justice warrior who is angry about the American cream that doesn’t hand out its bounty in carefully measured equal portions. “The stores where I buy my meager Hungry-Man frozen dinners now explode with silver and red in a gaudy celebration of unchecked, poinsettia-riddled capitalism,” he grumbles.

So he doesn’t get Christmas. I feel sorry for him. But why would the Washington Post decides that this guy’s pathology is worthy of an op-ed?

3. Associated Press: San Francisco’s vaunted tolerance dims amid brazen crimes

Here’s the only quote you need:

Residents wake up to news of attacks on Asian American seniors, burglarized restaurants, and boarded-up storefronts in the city’s once-vibrant downtown.San Franciscans take pride in their liberal political bent and generously approve tax measures for schools and the homeless. They accept that trashy streets, tent encampments and petty crime are the price to pay to live in an urban wonderland.

Wait, what? What makes any of the conditions described consistent with an “urban wonderland”? One resident expressed remorse at allowing Democratic activists to transform the city. “If I say I want laws enforced, I’m racist,” she said. “I’m like, ‘No, I’m not racist. There’s a reason I live in San Francisco.’”

What do you call it when people insist on a course that doesn’t work, has never worked and can’t possibly work, and continue to advocate and pursue it even as it results in deepening disaster? Incompetence? Irresponsible conduct? Denial? Delusion?

4. New York Times op-ed: Charles M. Blow says, “We’re Edging Closer to Civil War”

You’ll never guess why. Blow thinks a Supreme Court decision limiting abortion rights will trigger some kind of civil war because he compares the battle over abortion to the battle over slavery, as did I here. The problem is that somehow—well, I know how: he’s intellectually dishonest, and bias makes you stupid—Blow thinks the antiabortion position is the one resembling the pro-slavery position. That’s strange: both the abortion advocates and the slavery advocates insisted that human beings weren’t human. Both were dedicated to denying the rights Jefferson began our nation by declaring that all human beings possessed to one vulnerable, innocent group, because to grant members of that these rights would cause too much sacrifice and inconvenience to a more powerful groups. Both the pro-abortion and pro-slavery advocates arrayed their “evidence” to reach a conclusion that was already decided, rather than basing a conclusion on objective facts. Strikingly, both advocates of slavery and abortion relied on badly decided Supreme Court decision.

Nevertheless, Blow can’t see where the real parallels are, so he plays a cognitive dissonance game, attempting to tie those who want to allow millions of unborn children to have a clear path to life, growth, and protection of our laws to slaveholder who wanted to deny personhood to blacks. Instead he writes,

[T]his war won’t be only about the subjugation of Black people but also about the subjugation of all who challenge the white racist patriarchy. It will seek to push back against all the “others”: Black people, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, L.G.B.T.Q. people and, yes, women, particularly liberal ones.

In some ways, the abortion battle now being waged in the courts is a test case. Can the states make an argument that a civil right can be reversed on the state level? Can they make the case that all that the Constitution has not explicitly spelled out should be reserved for the states?

Typical of the deceptive abortion fan, Blow won’t acknowledge that there are lives involved other than those of pregnant women. He won’t acknowledge that very basic civil rights are at stake in the view of anti-abortion advocates. Ultimately, he won’t even be straight about what he’s warning about, writing, “The civil war I see is not the kind that would leave hundreds of thousands of young men dead in combat…rather that this new war will be fought in courts, statehouses and ballot boxes, rather than in the fields.”

Oh, you mean like the United States is supposed to decide contentious issues?

What fear-mongering idiot at the Times approved that misleading and inflammatory headline?

28 thoughts on “Four Articles, Four Ethics Comments

  1. 2) I’m so glad my parent (single mom) and maternal grandparents (taught, instilled in me, lead by example – which ever is the best term) to be thankful for what you have and make do with what you have. We’ve always lived within our means and did without when things were tight. Christmas was a special time and just having simple gifts to exchange made us all happy. And the Christmas dinner, wow.

    Anyway, some people have, like you said, “an open admission of bitterness, envy, hate and misanthropy”.

    Whenever someone says Happy Holidays, I say Happy Holidays back.
    Whenever someone says Merry Christmas, I say Merry Christmas back.
    Whenever someone says Happy Hanukkah, I say Happy Hanukkah back.
    You get the idea.

    People seemed so much more civil when I was younger. I guess many still are but the number of disguntled and unhappy people seems to be increasing exponentially.

    I know it’s trite, but my mother used to say – “Que Será, Será”.

  2. “Can the states make an argument that a *civil right* can be reversed on the state level?
    Can they make the case that all that the *Constitution has not explicitly spelled out* should be reserved for the states?”

    Blow thinks murder is a civil right. Well, isn’t that special.
    Where in the Constitution is murder implied as a guaranteed right?

    There is such a thing as pulling out, if people must have unprotected sex.

  3. #1- It really is rather remarkable: there have been many articles in the mainstream press, by film critics and similar cultural commentators, attempting to explain the “West Side Story” flop. Several of them express bafflement over its failure, given that it hits on all the ‘right’ political messages. None of them even stray near the possibility that maybe people don’t want to pay to be preached at. It doesn’t even show up on their radar.

  4. It’s really just another symptom of the tribalism that’s being encouraged. Essentially, it’s saying that, if someone is unhappy, everyone else is obligated to be unhappy, too. It’s a selfish way to live one’s life, but that’s where we are.

  5. 4. Charles, I’m confused. I thought outlawing abortion would impose the burden of motherhood on black women and subjecting them to terrible lives of servitude. But I’m confused. Isn’t abortion genocide against black babies?

  6. 3. I believe trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is insanity.

    4. “Can they make the case that all that the Constitution has not explicitly spelled out should be reserved for the states?”
    Amendment X:
    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

  7. my meager Hungry-Man frozen dinners

    Meager? I don’t think you’re eating the same Hungry Man dinners as I have. Maybe you’re eating the not-so-Hungry-Man frozen dinners, most likely over in the vegetarian aisle.

  8. I see that the agreed upon excuse for the bad box office is that Disney’s ticket prices are too high. Oh. And hey, the audience reviews are boffo…because the people who will go to see a movie musical like movie musicals. But there aren’t enough of those people any more, and that herd has gone below the replacement level for many reasons.

    • I’m sorry Jack, but in my judgment you are confusing two issues. West Side Story is bombing at the literal movie box office because everything at movie theaters that isn’t the Marvel Cinematic Universe is bombing. The idea that it’s because it’s a musical per se is belied by the fact that Broadway shows as well as Broadway touring companies were setting revenue records by a mile through 2019.

      I will admit that WSS has a specific issue in that much of the story really is very 1950s/1960s and people looking for a more truly polyglot urban story of today won’t find it here. But the bottom line is that the cinema business made a catastrophic decision a few years ago to throw in with the “guaranteed” revenue of sequels and prequels and franchises. It worked for a while without their noticing that they were training the rest of the population to never “go to the movies” any more because there were no more original adult dramas, rom-coms, or musicals for that matter on the big screen. And anyone who worked before the pandemic in the resurgence of high school musical theater programs with broader participation of boys and minorities – yes, sometimes with special effort – would not say that American musical theater is in decline at all.

      • Keep the faith, baby! Broadway revenue is irrelevant, as it is the essence of an elite (and almost completely white) market. Ditto with touring companies. I’m not on food stamps, but I’m not paying Kennedy Center prices to see a road company of “Hamilton.” High School musical productions are a genre of their own, propelled as much by social utility as art.

        I’ve been hearing the denial of musical-lovers for decades, and the downward spiral continues, sometimes pausing, with occasional spikes, “Chicago” was going to revive the movie musical (and it wasn’t even a real musical). “Into the Woods” bombed’ “Les Mis” bombed, “Sweeney Todd” bombed, and “Cats”…well, you know. I’ll take it on hope that WSS is better than those things, but every movie musical since “Gigi” has depressed me except “Mary Poppins.” It’s all over but the protests.

        You’ll see.

        • That fine, Jack, but I don’t see where you’re addressing my point. Neither of us thinks that movie musicals are boffo right now. But you said that’s because they’re musicals in the world of 2021, and I said that’s because they’re movies in the world of 2021. See the difference?

          At the top you said “American musicals” are “increasingly” for a rarefied audience, when at least the recent trends were in the other direction, even if white females clearly remain the biggest buyers, especially on tour. Twenty people of various backgrounds will be happy to take your place at the Kennedy Center, which has always wanted to add even more performances of Hamilton. And perhaps the movies have suffered from a strange selection of material – I don’t think either Cats or Into the Woods (sorry, Steve!) are good shows to begin with. Although in the future, I wouldn’t be surprised if some filmed musical is a surprise hit at least on streaming, much like The Queen’s Gambit, about chess of all things, went viral for Netflix. I hope this helps.

          • I see the difference, and, as I guess I wasn’t clear about sufficiently, it’s the musical and its genre that’s being rejected, not the movie. A piece of crap like Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” did excellent box office in these same conditions.

            Do you really think a Spielberg NON musical would be getting the same reaction as WSS? Because it wouldn’t, you know.

            And there is no “right now.” This is forever. Nobody know how to make a good movie musical any more, because nobody really believes in them, their conventions, or their traditional conceits. What will change that? Musicals don’t even aim at a wide audience any more, and neither do their devoted, dead-ender fans. Listen to the Sirius-XM Broadway channel, and contrast if with the approach of, say, the Beatles Channel. The latter aims at bringing listeners of all ages and tastes into the music. The B-way channel is almost laughably exclusive, and for anyone not already smitten with musicals, alienating.

          • I was waiting for a movie like the new Spiderman to counter []: what difference does it make what kind of movie outperforms a big hype musical? The point is, if audiences will go to any kinds of movies, and they obviously will, then it isn’t movies audiences are avoiding, it’s musicals, and in the case of WWS, this musical.

            Forbes listed reasons for the bomb as “a known quantity, longer, less family-friendly, no stars, post-release competition, a downer ending, etc.” They left out “the audience for movie musicals is shrinking like the blue whale pods.” WSS is looking like it will have the approximate box office of “Cats”! I don’t conclude this with any glee, David—I’ve directed more musicals than anything else. But the trends, demographics and results are beyond denial.

            By the way, as a former competitive chess player, I found “The Queen’s Gambit” boring and astoundingly over-rated. Good songs though…

            • I know this is an Internet commenting cliche, but how are you proving your point when you’re actually proving mine? When I said everything is bombing except the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I meant – obviously? – things *like* the MCU or based on the same perceived money-making principle. In other words, action / adventure / franchise / sequel / prequel / Disney character / brand extension etc. etc.

              The simple bottom line is that people in fact don’t go to the movies any more, and it’s the movie theater industry’s own fault for training them that way. The industry saw a cash cow with perceived little risk, and as often happens in business, it worked until it didn’t work, with a nice additional push off the ledge provided by the pandemic (or by the governmental reaction to the pandemic, if you want). Again, if this is unclear to anyone, I’m not talking about Hollywood in general, I’m talking about physically at the movies, which is currently the only place you can see West Side Story.

              Most chess players that I know found The Queen’s Gambit to be the best dramatization of the sport they had ever seen, minus of course the somewhat speeded up nature of the tournament games (but not the blitz games, which was true to life) and the under-reaction of some of the losers (some of the boys and men would have been far angrier at losing to a girl at that time). In any case, as I’ve pointed out in my public writings, the real wonderful analogy of an American girl fictionally winning what appears to be in effect the world chess championship in 1968 was of an American boy (Van Cliburn) winning the inaugural Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in 1958. The delirious reaction of the Moscow public was exactly the same in both cases.

              • Amusing, since your argument in fact proves MINE. As I said, if any genre makes people go to movies, then people go to movies. It isn’t only superhero junk that gets them out, either. That is the genre that the group that avoids musicals like the plague will watch, however. TMC host Ben Mankiewicz argues that the superhero movies are today’s movie musicals, non-substantial empty entertainment calories. I don’t agree, but there it is.

                • “When Harry Met Sally” and “The English Patient” are NOT at the movie theaters any more, but the attendees of those movies ARE at Broadway musicals, however that’s defined in any given community. I guess that Steven Spielberg thought he could buck the trend because of his name. Or he simply had the natural desire to see his work on the big screen, but the audience for it has been shown the door by the movie theater business itself. If you don’t believe me, ask Martin Scorsese. He has publicly complained about the same thing, and you wouldn’t say that gangster stories (to slightly stereotype the body of his work) are unpopular, would you now? To say that “musicals” per se are now unpopular except for one very narrow slice of the population is simply contrafactual and belies the statistics. (Yes I had some fun picking cliche examples of rom-coms and original or adapted dramas for this purpose – go with it!)

                  • Face it, David, they aren’t “now” unpopular, they haven’t been popular with but a small, elite, stubborn slice of the movie-going audience for decades. Decades.Much of that is because there haven’t been more than a couple movie musicals that weren’t terrible. The one exception is animated musicals, like “Frozen.” People will accept animated characters singing dialogue. In my opinion, “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl’ topped any Broadway musical production number in the lat 30 years.

                    • Not to beat a dead horse, but the results are in for this weekend. While the Spiderman movie was beating all previous records, two other films, another “Ghostbusters” off-shoot and, yes, a Disney animated musical, had a bigger box office than WSS, which crashed. Commentary from an industry site:

                      “Though No Way Home’s presence in the marketplace no doubt siphoned away at least some of its potential audience this weekend, the precipitous drop unfortunately tells a much more downbeat tale: that audiences simply weren’t all that interested in the film to begin with. Its total stands at $18M.”

                      As I predicted when the project was announced, and it didn’t require much foresight or analysis, just a willingness to face facts.

  9. the writer of item 2 needs a reorientation. Christmas is NOT about a family celebrating family, it is about celebrating the Incarnation of Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity taking on the human condition to redeem the world. Taking the Christ out of Christmas and focusing on self is what leads to the squabbles.

  10. #3 “What do you call it when people insist on a course that doesn’t work, has never worked and can’t possibly work, and continue to advocate and pursue it even as it results in deepening disaster? “

    The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

    Generally you call it insanity but to be honest we don’t know for sure that Californians are actually expecting a different result, maybe they’re actually steering it towards chaos to push a totalitarianism agenda regardless of the consequences to the public; so with that in mind, for California’s voting public and “progressive” politicians you have to call what’s happening a brainwashed cult.

  11. “What do you call it when people insist on a course that doesn’t work, has never worked and can’t possibly work, and continue to advocate and pursue it even as it results in deepening disaster?”


    “But why would the Washington Post decide that this guy’s pathology is worthy of an op-ed?”

    Because the Post’s editors share his misanthropic views, and because they never miss an opportunity to take a swing at Christian beliefs and traditions?

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