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.