Sunday Ethics Sundown, 7/31/2022: Stupid Social Media Tricks

Cultural milestones turn up in the damnedest places, and from the most surprising people. Actress Nichelle Nichols, the African-American who was the communications officer on the original “Star Trek” and the first round of films based on the iconic TV sci-fi series, died yesterday at 89. She was more model than actress, and as her role developed, much to her disappointment, the part of “Uhura” became little more than set dressing. But she played one of the first  black female characters on TV to have a non-subservient role, indeed Uhura was fourth in the “Enterprise” chain of command. (Whoopi Goldberg claimed that when she was a teen and saw “Star Trek” for the firts time, she screamed to her family, “Come quick, come quick. There’s a Black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!”) In her autobiography, Nichols wrote that Martin Luther King told her that she was advancing civil rights objectives, and convinced her not to quit when William Shatner was getting too obnoxious. Her great moment of destiny came, however, in the 1968 episode, “Plato’s Stepchildren,” about a aliens who used mind control. At one point, they forced Kirk and Uhura, who were never romantically involved, to engage in a passionate kiss.

The legend, which is the version of the event  now printed, is that the kiss caused great controversy and upheaval. I saw it: I don’t recall any negative reaction, or any reaction at all. It was a kiss that wasn’t genuine but forced: if the smooch was intended as a statement by show creator Gene Roddenberry, it was a very tepid one. Nevertheless, in the decades since, that moment on a forgettable episode of a cheesy and not very popular Sixties TV series has taken on the reputation of being a societal tipping point, and Nichelle Nichols died as a figure of far more cultural significance than her role as “glorified telephone operator in space” whose catch-phrase was “Hailing frequencies open, sir” would normally create.

You never know.

1. We have freedom of speech. They don’t. And here, many progressives would love to take a lot of it away. Here’s an example of what gets you punished in Great Britain, for example:

Darren Brady, 51, was arrested Hampshire Police and placed in handcuffs at his home in Aldershot for sharing the graphic above, a swastika assembled  out of four LGBT pride flags. On the video of the arrest, shot on a mobile phone, Brady can be heard asking the three police officers: “Why am I in cuffs?” An officer replies, “Someone has been caused anxiety based on your social media post. That is why you have been arrested.”

2. Perfect! CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez, whose fame was earned by epitomizing the mainstream media eagerness to spin reality to support the Black Lives Matter movement in this Monty Python-worthy moment in Kenosha, Wisconsin,

…has been nominated for the Emmy for “Outstanding Emerging Journalist.” Outstanding is right: that ridiculous report probably did more to drop public trust in the news media than any other single episode.

3. A lawyer named Tristan Snell tweeted this:

He really did. This is why I caution lawyers not to use Twitter, since for some weird reason it lowers lawyer IQs by double digits. As a lawyer, one would think that he understands that his obtuse reading of the Second Amendment has been expressly rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. Before publishing such an ignorant statement, moreover, one would think that a lawyer might take some steps to educate himself, so he wouldn’t call an AR-15 an “automatic” weapon.

If I were looking for a lawyer to hire, one who broadcast his sloppy thinking and lazy work habits like this would be automatically disqualified, not for his point of view, but for his incompetent way of arriving at it.

4. Back to the Americans who like Great Britain’s approach to free speech…you know: progressives? At the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, the student government president issued an executive order that provides in part,

That it shall be prohibited for the Undergraduate Student Government Executive Branch to contract or expend funds to any individual, business, or organization which actively advocates to further limit by law access to reproductive healthcare, including, though not limited to, contraception and induced abortions.

Uh, no. Can’t do that here, because of that First Amendment thingy. Constitutional Law expert Prof. Eugene Volokh writes that is is a clear violation:

  1. Under Board of Regents v. Southworth (2000), public university student government are generally subject to the same First Amendment limits imposed on public entities more generally.
  2. When it comes to generally available student group funding, Southworth and Rosenberger v. Rector (1995) make clear that the government can’t discriminate based on the student group’s viewpoint.
  3. And when it comes to contracting, Board of Comm’rs v. Umbehr (1996) holds that the government generally can’t discriminate based on contractors’ ideological expression, either.

What a good job UNC does teaching core American values!

What do you think: which SCOTUS ruling has inspired the most embarrassing and deranged reactions from the Left: Bruen, which invalidated New York’s strict gun-carrying law, or Dobbs, which ended Roe v. Wade?

48 thoughts on “Sunday Ethics Sundown, 7/31/2022: Stupid Social Media Tricks

  1. My wife saw an article that Nichelle Nichols had passed at 89 and it mentioned Star Trek; so, she asked me if I new who was pictured. I said yes, that’s Uhura from Star Trek and she had a famous kiss with William Shatner. Who is William Shatner?, she asked – (She emigrated from China in 1989). Subsequently, I found the clip on YouTube and played it for her.

    #3) It seems many people mistake semi-automatic weapons as automatic. If it isn’t bolt action, lever action or pump action, they classify the rifle as automatic.

    “What do you think: which SCOTUS riling has inspired the most embarrassing and deranged reactions from the Left: Bruen, which invalidated New York’s strict gun carrying law, or Dobbs, which ended Roe v. Wade?”

    Well, for me, it has to be the Bruen ruling because I live in NY. However, overall, I’d have to say that the Dobbs ruling has inspired the most embarrassing and deranged reactions.

  2. Prologue – I met Nichelle Nichols 4 times. She was a wonderfully gracious lady who never minded answering the same questions again and again. She sang songs when requested and often signed long after she was scheduled to do so.

    1. There are extremists here who are bobbing their heads right now because they think we should do that. First Amendment, baby. Thank you, Bill of Rights advocates among the Founding Fathers.
    2. Did they nominate Baghdad Bob, too?
    3. To which I would respond, “Yes, the Second Amendment means that, too, your disingenuous use of ‘well-regulated militia’, notwithstanding.”
    4. For right now, Dobbs. But public institutions are increasingly ignorant when it comes to what they can or cannot do. Like the mayors of Chicago and Boston who thought they could ban Chick Fil-A.

    • A “well regulated militia” would imply that I should be provided with Stinger and Javelin missiles, too. I mean, how effective is the militia going to be without such basic tools? I cite Ukraine as a recent example. With the predictable implosion of our military effectiveness under progressive rule, we may need to rely to on the militia. A local sheriff’s department had to retreat when the drug cartel showed up to retake the 60 teen sex slaves that had been rescued by the department. The cartels had a better response time, were more numerous, better armed, and better equipped than the deputies. Isn’t marijuana legalization wonderful?

  3. Nichelle Nichols paved the way for Zoie Saldana, that is for sure!

    As an aside, Star Trek is one franchise where diversity actually makes sense. In fact, half of the humans in Starfleet should be of east Asian or southeast Asian descent.

  4. Which ruling “…has inspired the most embarrassing and deranged reactions from the Left…”?
    It would have to be Dobbs, in my opinion. The left feels that their right to kill unborn babies should not be infringed.
    For a gun rights case to equal Dobbs, it would have to be something major like overturning Miller, which upheld the constitutionality of the National Firearms Act, reversing the prior district court ruling in the case. Any SCOTUS decision that held that the Second Amendment words “shall not be infringed” mean what they say would certainly get their knickers in a major twist.

  5. According to my American actors and actresses expert and historian college English professor friend, Bill Shatner was a highly regarded, young, Canadian Shakespearean stage actor before Star Trek. I too found the show incredibly cheesy. I remember seeing in the fall of 1969 a poster for an upstate NY county fair where William Shatner would be appearing on a bulletin board in my college’s mail room. I’m going to assume that was the nadir of his career. He did an amazing job of reinventing himself. I think his Priceline Negotiator commercials may have been his best work. Plus, I assume he was great as a managing partner/litigator at a law firm. You could almost hear him emitting random “oink, oinks.” Too bad John Kerry wasn’t required to watch those commercials before giving away the farm in the Iran nuclear deal negotiations.

  6. I remember Star Trek when it was originally airing in the 60s and, being a hard core science fiction nerd, scoffed at its inaccuracies and implausibility. But I have long since changed my mind — I think I was too young and rigid to really appreciate it at the time.

    It did have diversity. Not only Nichols, but there was Chekov, who would spout Russian pride cliches at the drop of a hat (this at the height of the Cold War/Vietnam). And of course Spock, an actual alien.

    Star Trek, which Roddenberry envisioned as “Hornblower in Space” or Wagon Train to the stars” did fill a role that science fiction has historically occupied. It could offer social and political commentary under the guise of science fiction without being banned. There were any number of morality tales during its run, even if they were ever so cheesy.

    And it has had amazing staying power. I think the franchise has been on the air somewhere continuously now for nearly 60 years. The first Star Trek movie — long, long awaited by its fans — was, bluntly, not a very good movie. But when the star of the show (the USS Enterprise) made its appearance, there were cheers and tears. And the subsequent movies were much better.

    Is there a Star Wars if there had been no Star Trek?

    I have to say that the thought that Lt. Uhura was 89 makes me feel old.

  7. It could offer social and political commentary under the guise of science fiction without being banned. There were any number of morality tales during its run, even if they were ever so cheesy.

    Yeah, that guy… anyway scifi, much like comedy has always been a great way to get political connetary in without having your head lopped off but one of the great things about Star Trek’s ability to remain in the collective consciousness is that it remains really accessible. Since everyone knows it, you can generate NEW social commentary and have people immediately know what you’re talking about.

    We’re getting close to 60 years past, and while commenting on the issues of the day you can still see how the prevailing attitudes permeated Star Trek. The 1960’s fairly liberal but not particularly radical writers filled the show with unexamined cold war thinking while simultaneously questioning cold war thinking. I could teach a class!

    The first Star Trek movie — long, long awaited by its fans — was, bluntly, not a very good movie.

    Gonna disagree with that. It is a good movie in the mold of 2001, beautiful long shots, a lot of ideas to think about, choices to debate, good stuff.

    It’s not a very good Star Trek movie. At least not the first incarnation. As a DS9 movie it might have worked.

    • 1. (I didn’t think 2001 was a very good movie by Kubrick’s standards.)
      2. “The Next Generation” was much, much better at raising social and ethical issues than the initial “Star Trek.”

      • 2001 had a big sweep, but that was about it, except for the effectively understated villainy of HAL.

        I don’t know if I agree with you about TNG being better at social commentary. Then again, I really didn’t care for the first two seasons much, In fact,I almost gave up completely after the second season ended with a limp “clip show.” I think the show really only hit its stride in the third season. I DO remember one episode called “The High Ground” that fairly successfully paralleled The Troubles, and came down decisively against terrorism, a rare moment of realism amidst the military-bashing and secular humanism. Personally, I think J. Michael Straczynski did science fiction a favor when he specifically decided that with “Babylon 5” he was going to address political, military, and diplomatic issues in a more realistic style (and keep kids and cute robots out).

        • The “Keep off the Grass” episode, when Picard violated the Prime directive outright when it would lead to an absurd result, and the episode when a trial was to determine if Data was “alive,” were two of the greatest ethics episodes in TV history…maybe THE greatest. The rest of the series could have been garbage, and those would have established TNG as an all-time great.

          To be fair, “The City on the Edge of Forever” was of equal quality in the original.

        • He helped shake up TV scifi. The more literary side had and has been blooming for some time. I know you’re not much into it but I’m going to offer a few examples. (I’ve tired to get Jack interested in some but it’s like pulling teeth to get him to even read a novella–which I still haven’t managed.)

          You’ll be familiar with the concept of a generation ship. Stars are are apart, Einstein still rules our universe and there’s no faster than light travel. Sending humanity to the stars means large ships holding entire new colonies traveling for decades or even centuries. They were volunteers, intrepid pioneers ready to take on the universe. Their grand children are just regular people living in what amounts to a town in space with all the amenities. Is it fair to force them onto a new planet with all the hardship, a century or more away from any help from Earth? What obligations can we ethically place on a generation not yet born? What do we do if they reject the destiny set out for them? (Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson)

          What if you’re the Terminator, everyone knows it, people are rightly afraid of you but you have massive social anxiety and would really rather spend your time watching soap operas than deal with those awkward situations? Also you’re actually a slave because terminators aren’t technically people. (All Systems Red, The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells)

          There’s limited habitable real estate in this part of the galaxy. If humanity is to expand to the stars and keep form having all its eggs in one basket it must make use of currently inhabited plants. The local sapients don’t want to share so they’re going to need to be eliminated. (Old Man’s War by John Scalzi)

          What if your adherence to gender stereotypes determined what you were legally allowed to do. Well kid, sure you’d like to join the army but you’ve been listening to bubblegum pop instead of heavy metal, hell you lost most of those locker room fights in school, and Lady, you are far too butch to be legally allowed to wear a skirt much less be a nurse. (Three Points Masculine By An Owomoyela)

          What if you took Starship Troopers, made Juan Rico unstuck in time like Billy Pilgrim and added in every paranoid thought Phillip K Dick ever had and then watched it all go to hell out of sequence? (The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley)

          • The last two sound pretty interesting, although as of today I’ve still got eight years to go before I can draw 2/3 of my pay tax free and keep my medical benefits for life.

          • A few thoughts:
            1)Generation ships are another classic theme, and there are a lot of them in one guise or another. Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky is the first one I remember, which posits a catastrophe aboard the ship and future generations have forgotten there is anything outside the ship. The only Kim Stanley Robinson books I’ve read are his Mars trilogy, which started off really good but went downhill from there.
            One series I really enjoy is Larry Niven’s “Known Space” universe. He slower than light travel for early interstellar travel, but also uses cold sleep as an alternative to actual generation ships. Humanity sent out survey ships to various stars and then followed with colony ships to those worlds deemed ‘habitable’. Far too late, they realized that the probes actually detected habitable points rather than worlds so the colony ships (which were one way trips) often had to search out the one small spot on an entire world where humans could settle. It made for some interesting tales.
            When I was looking at some of this stuff, I came across some stuff by Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote a number of short stories with twists and turns that really make you think (‘The Sentinel’ was the inspiration for the movie ‘2001’). His ‘Rescue Party’ is germane to this topic, but it starts with a benevolent Elder alien race discovering an inhabited star about to go nova).

            2)I’ve read the first few Murderbot stories and enjoyed them. Can you imagine the Terminator going to a psychotherapist? Good stuff.

            3)We have really enjoyed all of Scalzi’s works (well, almost all), which by the by include a novel inspired by the television series ‘Star Trek’. In ‘Old Man’s War’ one of the mysteries is why does the military only recruit senior citizens? I forget the exact minimum age limit, and it is specified that you can never come home after joining the Army…

            Yeah, been a science fiction nerd for the better part of 60 years now.

            • For some reason you directed your reply to me so I guess I’ll answer.

              I was replying to Steve-O and did presume some familiarity with generation ships but added in a very short primer just to be safe. For the rest my choices were made for the following reasons.

              A: Published in the 21’st century. To show scifi is going strong.
              B: Accessibility to people who haven’t read deeply in the genre.
              C: That Steve might want to read.
              D: That the quick descriptions I could provide would point to something of interest to an ethics discussion.

              Steve would absolutely LOVE Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, But I cannot highlight the ethics issues without majorly spoiling a story that’s revealed through flashbacks.

              Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell has a host of fun issues like arranged marriages, hiding information because you think it would hurt someone, maintaining imperialism, and suppressing your own wishes to please a partner. But Steve-O would hate it, not only is is in essence a space romance, it’s a gay space romance about two men. No dice.

              Can’t do A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, about person-hood, people being seen as less and disposable, someone being outright banished for being shy and having a stutter, found family, learning to accept yourself, learning what you can live with and what you have to change to be happy. But with both POVs being women going through a lot of these struggles. He won’t relate.

              And can’t do A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. It’s a decent yarn and he could probably handle the female protagonist as she’s not particularly fem but while there’s technology that has possibly ethical and definitely unethical uses that do drive the plot; the heart of the story is solving a murder in the midst of tons of court intrigue. To recommend it on an ethics blog would be bait and switch.

              You, on the other hand seem perfectly able to find the stuff you like so…

              What–keeping in mind the topic of discussion–would you recommend?

              • Of course I’m familiar with the concept of generational ships. Dunno if they’re my primary cup of tea, but it’s certainly interesting to consider a story where you not only explore new worlds, but take your world with you. Project Hail Mary sounds interesting. It is my understanding that a film is coming, so maybe I’ll wait for that and read the book afterward. Closed and Common Orbit is a sequel, so I’d have to take a read of the book before to have the first clue. Maybe one of these days.

                Right now, when I can spare the time, though, I’m working on my own fantasy series that I’ve tentatively titled Days of Honor. A lot of it is revenge-oriented and deals with the handling of psychological trauma, but the somewhat unusual angle is that most of the heroes are conscientious nobility or even royalty, and so deal with the concepts of honor, responsibility of leadership, when personal desires must take a back seat to bigger interests, family and other traditions and how far they must be followed, and the question of whether history is a compass or a railroad track. It’s also unabashedly politically incorrect, with both fanatical Arab-types and later Yellow Peril eastern enemies, although a fight between one of the heroes and two black knight types who are, ah, a couple was cut because it did not advance the plot and created unnecessary controversy. .

                • A Closed and Common orbit is something of a loose sequel, The whole series takes place in the same story universe but there’s little overlap. A minor character who appeared in two scenes in the first book and one who appeared in the last chapter, Then the third book has none of those people but the sister of one of the first book’s characters while the fourth doesn’t even have any humans in it at all.

                  And I didn’t recommend it. I think it’s great, the best of the series but I don’t think it would suit you. There’s no reason to think we’d share the same tastes in media. I mean, I watch Miss Scarlet and the Duke and you watch The Sopranos.

                  And how you spend your free time is up to you, it’s the most valuable thing you have. I’m just putting the info out there.

                  If they can do Project Hail Mary the same way they did The Martian (same author) then it’ll probably make the transition to screen well. I was hyped when I found out they were doing a movie version of The Martian.

                  • Interesting. Miss Scarlet sounds a bit like a UK Kate Warne (19th century LEO considered the first female detective). The Sopranos ended long ago – in an ice cream parlor not too far from here which I’d recommend if you get to the area, so these days I’m more of a One Chicago/FBI universe fan. I’ve never watched Game of Thrones, but I am very interested in seeing what amazon does with Rings of Power. If it turns out to be LOTR woke version, I think it will crash pretty quickly.

    • Well, Mr. Spock was there specifically to provide an outsider’s point of view on the human race and human behavior. Yep, there were any number of morality tales, some nicely done (“The City on the Edge of Forever”), some ham-handed (“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”). There were more than a few episodes that sucked, though (“Spock’s Brain”) and I agree that a lot of the third season episodes were weak. As far as Star Trek: The Motion Picture went, I think I can meet you halfway. The cinematography was very good, some of the concepts behind the story were very good, BUT the execution could have been better. The pacing dragged a bit and about ten minutes of set-up and ten more of talk scenes could have been trimmed and made a better, tighter film. I also didn’t like the pastel uniforms (yuk). The franshice really hit its stride with Wrath of Khan, mostly because it had a good villain, and that’s a key part of a good epic. The maroon tunics were also much sharper.

    • Well, let me rephrase a bit — the first Star Trek movie (which was very much an exercise in nostalgia) may have been a ‘good’ movie per so, but frankly kind of boring. “The Wrath of Khan” has much better action and also intertwines several classic morality (and I think perhaps ethics) tales.

      Perhaps Shatner is technically correct about being ‘political’ but social commentary for sure. “The City on the Edge of Forever” is also a classic science fiction ‘what if’ tale. I’ve mentioned before that the archtypical title for a science fiction tale is “If This Goes On … ” (kudos to RAH).

      • Social commentary may or may not be partisan but it’s always political. Art is political, its nature is to reflect what is (which is shaped by politics), what was (ditto), or what might be (which is a political position.)

  8. The legend, which is the version of the event now printed, is that the kiss caused great controversy and upheaval. I saw it: I don’t recall any negative reaction, or any reaction at all.

    There was very little but the TV execs feared a bad reaction and the producers and actors did have to fight to have it included, they deserve to be lauded for their artistic integrity.

  9. 1. Rowan Atkinson has a video on YouTube where he’s advocating for increased freedom of speech in the U.K. One of the examples he cited was an arrested citizen who insulted an officer’s horse. Highly recommended of you’ve only seen him playing his typecast roles, and brings appreciation to decisions protecting flipping the bird and flashing headlights.

  10. 1) English history is replete with how the authorities handle peasants when they say something the powers-that-be disagree with. We shouldn’t pretend the Old World has actually changed any just because it notionally says it learned from the excesses of the 1940s…

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