Revisiting The Celebrity Post-Retirement Photos Ethics Quiz…

Way back in January…at least it seems way back…Ethics Alarms used a shocking photograph of retired actress Bridget Fonda to raise the question of whether it was ethical “to take unflattering photos of former performers and celebrities and publicize them expressly to invite cruel comments and ridicule.” The fact that it was offered as a quiz indicates that I was torn on the matter.

On one hand, such photos could be legitimately called newsworthy, although their main attraction is prurient and mean. There is also a fair argument that if one profits by fame and celebrity on the way up, taking the hit during one’s decline in career, popularity and allure is part of the price.

Never mind all that, though. I’ve made up my mind. The practice is unethical, and a blatant Golden Rule breach. I shouldn’t have made the question a quiz.

Why the change of heart? Yesterday I saw photos circulating in social media, and in various memes, showing Sylvester Stallone in his back yard looking every inch of his nearly 76 years and carrying an enormous gut that made him resemble Don Corleone if he had just swallowed Luca Brasi. This caused much hilarity on the web (“Look! I can finally say I have a body like Rambo!”) but it is just cruelty.

I say this even knowing that Stallone is not retired; indeed, he still has film projects in the works and “Expendables 4,” with Sly in an action roles, will be released this year. I don’t know: maybe Stallone is one of those actors who kills himself getting in shape for a film and then pigs out as soon as it’s wrapped. Or maybe he has just eaten Luca…

Maybe my alarm started ringing because I had recently seen a photo of Dick Van Dyke that made me want to cry. Dick’s 96. Maybe he’s just proud to be alive and doesn’t care; maybe he gave permission for that shot. I hope so. In the January post I alluded Marlene Dietrich famously refusing to be seen in public or photographed after her career ended, explaining that she wanted to be remembered as the glamorous beauty she had always been. I had seen Marlene in a live concert (she was fantastic, at 73) a few weeks before the accident that sent her into seclusion until her death. I remember thinking at the time that her decision was pure vanity. Now I think that it was a gift to her fans, posterity, and cultural memory.

Someone did take a photo of the great diva and movie star shortly before she died at 90, but there was no social media then, and few saw it (or wanted to). Growing old is hard enough without having to see our heroes, fantasy objects and icons savaged and mocked. I want to remember Sylvester Stallone pounding Apollo Creed in the ribs as Rocky fights back from defeat as the movie theater audience went wild.

8 thoughts on “Revisiting The Celebrity Post-Retirement Photos Ethics Quiz…

  1. This is so right. I refuse to look at the “You won’t believe what [fill in aging famous person] looks like now!” articles. The most recent of this disgusting scam is Kelly McGillis of Top Gun fame due to the new sequel. It is absolutely cruel, unfair, and in my view, abject evil, appealing to the basest parts of human personality.

    I want to remember Sly (and by extension, his iconic Rocky) as you do — as in the words of his opponent Ivan Drago played by Dolph Lundgren: “He’s like a piece of iron.”

    Rocky IV was my favorite, by the way — A full-on Ronald Reagan anti-Soviet celebration of American toughness and resilience. Good. Evil Empire. Greatest TV training routine ever. And James Brown as a bonus!

    • Those are the ultimate in low-hanging clickbait. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t generate clicks. Somehow a housewife who’s gained 15 pounds with each child and traded salon appointments for 10-second ponytails or a washed-up frat boy with a beer gut and male-pattern baldness doesn’t see the irony of them poking fun of a former movie star who got older and doesn’t look the same as they did 30 years ago. Rocky IV was definitely a Cold War piece, which added to its appeal. They should have stopped there, though, Rocky V was an utter disaster (most stories that take a victory and undo it are), and finally Rocky VI ends the series (when Rocky waves goodbye to Adrian’s grave he is also waving goodbye to the audience) on something like the right note. .

      • Yes, you’re right about Rocky V and the follow-ons. Just another example of Hollywood riding a winning formula till it drops, then mounting the corpse and whipping it.

        I think you’re pretty much right about the rest, too.

        • My view: Rocky is an all-time great, one of the top three sports movies of all time, and it deserves every honor and compliment that have been bestowed on it. II was inevitable but silly; III was fun but contrived, IV was a cartoon. The much praised “Creed” was just “Rocky” all over again, and the idea that Rocky would be back to his pre-champ condition (and garb) was so stupid I almost walked out of the film on that basis alone. When a film and a character have a perfect ending, it is artistic malpractice to have a sequel. I have always admired Spielberg for not making an “E.T.” sequel. But Coppola needed money, and made the lousy third Godfather film. Hitchcock didn’t, but Anthony Perkins did two “Psycho” sequels. John Wayne was enticed into an awful, awful “True Grit” sequel by the prospect of working with Hepburn, and regretted it: I’d rather watch “The Conqueror.” It’s like Da Vinci painting a sequel to the Mona Lisa….it’s an artist defiling his or her own masterpiece.

  2. I say this even knowing that Stallone is not retired; indeed, he still has film projects in the works and “Expandables 4,” with Sly in an action roles, will be released this year.

    Errr. Two possible reactions:
    1) Subtle commentary on Sly’s physical condition (i.e. it’s “Expendables 4”)
    2) Typo.

    Full disclosure: I thoroughly enjoy the so-good-it’s-bad Expendables series.

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