Ethics Quiz: The Cartoon Quote

I would, left to my own instincts, categorize this as a “When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring” episode. But Legal Insurrection, a conservative commentary blog that I find to be usually reasonable, feels otherwise, so I’ll frame this as an ethics quiz.

Robert Ternansky, a lecturer at UC-San Diego, was interrupted by loud speaking  from the hallway outside his classroom. Ternansky walked into the hallway and seeing students he took to be Hispanic, immediately quoted the signature catch phrases of now politically incorrect Warner Bros. cartoon character Speedy Gonzalez, “The Fastest Mouse in All of Mexico”: “Sí, sí señor! Ándale, ándale! Arriba, arriba!”The video of the class also catches Ternansky  asking his students, “How do you say ‘quiet’ in Mexican?” One replies, it seems, “Caliente,” and the lecturer says,  “Caliente, huh? Help me. All I knew how to say was ‘Ándale, ándale, arriba, arriba.’ I don’t think that was — to be quiet? That’s like hurry up? Did I insult them?”

Apparently! Students complained, and the school responded with this statement:

UC San Diego officials were recently made aware of offensive and hurtful comments that a professor made in a chemistry class when video of the comments was posted to social media. At that time, the professor was engaged about his comments, and it was made clear to him that they do not reflect our community values of inclusivity and respect. The professor has since apologized to the students and will be doing so to others involved.

As a reminder to our community, and as was shared with media outlets who inquired, UC San Diego is committed to the highest standards of civility and decency toward all. We are committed to promoting and supporting a community where all people can work and learn together in an atmosphere free of abusive or demeaning treatment.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is, in the words of Legal Insurrection writer Mike LaChance…

“Does this strike anyone as a bit of an overreaction?”

Here is why I don’t think it is, though we would live in a healthier society if it were.

Ternansky’s reaction was, and I am understating here, idiotic. It is like telling Asian-American students to pipe down by shouting, “No tickee, no laun’ry!” Life competence requires paying attention, and Speedy Gonzalez has been a sore point of Hispanic-American sensitivities for decades now. Yes, yes, I know: he’s a cartoon mouse and intended as satire. Speedy was harmless (he was the protagonist of the cartoons),  but the Chuck Jones character also hails from the period in American popular culture when gross stereotypes of Mexicans were comic staples, from Mel Blanc’s monosyllabic “Cy” the sleepy Mexican who answered every question with “Si!,” whose sister was “Sue” and who when challenged would reply, “So?”on “The Jack Benny Show” (Mel, of course, was also the voice of Speedy); Bill Dana’s “José Jiménez” ( “My name…José Jiménez”); and the Frito Bandito. I find it astounding that any adult in a responsible position today, especially in a university, could be so unaware of the cultural tides that he would shout quotes from “Speedy Gonzalez” cartoons at Hispanic students. Of course they found that kind of stereotyping demeaning, and coming from a teacher, the school had to address it.

No? Tell me why you think otherwise. It is a quiz, after all.

34 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Cartoon Quote

  1. If the guy is a Chemistry Prof, is it possible that he is such a Chem nerd that for the last ten years he exclusively looks at and thinks about test tubes and formulas and is therefore innocently culturally insensitive?
    Nah don’t think so, he works at a university after all.
    This is one of the few times where here on EA an apology is positively warranted. A gimme quiz really.

  2. I think ethnic stereotypes are the kind of thing where they’re somewhat acceptable as self-deprecating humor, referring to an ethnic group one belongs to, but not OK referring to other ethnic groups UNLESS all parties consent in advance. So for example, I can adopt a fake Scandinavian accent and pretend to be a stereotypical dumb Norwegian-American (or Swedish-American) from the Midwest, because those groups are part of my ancestry, and my spouse can make cracks about the Irish, because his ancestry is half-Irish. Likewise, I can tolerate my spouse making the occasional “crazy Viking” joke, and my spouse tolerates me reading a bit of satire in my best pseudo-Gaelic lilt, because we know each other well and know not to overdo it. I don’t think either of us would dare to use those stereotypes in front of distant cousins from the “old country,” though. And the professor in the anecdote above could easily have found the Spanish for “Be quiet” (ca`llense Uds., when addressing the entire class) in an online or mobile app, and should have chosen some “ice-breaker” humor which everyone would have found funny.

  3. As far as school reactions go this seems…. relatively tame. No one was fired, demoted, suspended or otherwise quietly shuffled into obscurity. There was no groveling, no struggle sessions, no sensitivity training. The teacher said a stupid thing, apologized for it, the school mentioned it once… If that’s the extent, I think that’s as close to a win as I’ve seen in a while.

  4. “How do you say ‘quiet’ in Mexican?” One replies, it seems, “Caliente,” and the lecturer says, “Caliente, huh?

    I’m guessing more likely it was “callate”, which is essentially “shut up”. “Caliente” means “hot”.

    • “Ca`llate” orders 1 person (a person whom one would address with the 2nd person familiar pronoun “tu`”) to shut up. King Juan Carlos of Spain once famously asked the president of Venezuela (who was apparently spouting nonsense at a multinational conference of Spanish-speaking nations) “?Por que` no te callas?” (Why don’t you shut up?) As royalty, and having held his office longer than the president of Venezuela, Juan Carlos doubtless outranked the president of Venezuela sufficiently that he was OK with addressing him as “tu`”.

      • As royalty, and having held his office longer than the president of Venezuela…

        On a point of information, a monarch as such does not hold an office but rather is the fount of offices. E.g., King Charles III may separately hold some office in some separate green organisation, but he does not hold the office of “king” – there isn’t one. But there are lots of offices of profit under the Crown.

  5. Most Mexican would not take offense at Speedy Gonzalez, even quoted in the context this happened. This is just pulling onto one of the woke cultural triggers because these folks did not want to be told what to do. No one is allowed to be offended on my behalf and if I am I will state clearly what the offensive behavior was. If that is not brought up and stated here everyone should shut up and go on with their lives.

  6. “Speedy Gonzalez has been a sore point of Hispanic-American sensitivities for decades now.”

    Actually, no, it is not. It is only a sore subject for those who see offense in everything – and it’s those morons who think 100 million people of Latin American descent are called “Latinxes”.

    My wife’s family is from México, and they have a bit tougher skin than to offended by some silly cartoon character from the 1960s and 1970s. They care a bit more that their most recent ex-president openly admitted to taking a $100 million bride from “El Chapo” when the entire nation/international community were out looking for him after he “escaped” from the maximum security hote . . . prison where he was supposed by serving a life sentence.

    There are three other villains in this story:

    1. The miserable student(s) who videoed this exchange and posted it to social media. Fuckers, all of them. I keep telling our son that he should assume that he is being filmed, taped, recorded, videoed at all times and act accordingly.

    2. The miserable, inconsiderate jerk-offs in the school hallway who didn’t have enough self-restraint to respect the rights of students and professors engaged in teaching/learning, assuming that still occurs at the university level. Sometimes some people need to be insulted to get them to behave.

    3. The weak-kneed, cowed university administrators who are deathly terrified of a controversy involving race or ethnicity or a favored religion. They need to be run out of town. Someone needs to tell these little totalitarians that they can stick their “offense” in a blender along with their heads and turn it on full speed, or as my friend once said, “hey, here’s a gun and a room – do what you gotta do.”

    jvb

    • The prof is not without blame. If you are going to insult someone in a foreign language, then you’d better know the damn language or the insults. For instance, you could say, “Oigan, pendejos estupidos. Estamos ocupados y nos estan destrayendo. Callense o largense de aqui.”*

      jvb

      *Ed. Note: I don’t know how to use or find Spanish characters on my phone.

  7. Anyone offended by Speedy Gonzalez is an idiot.

    Have you forgotten Slowpoke Rodriguez:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slowpoke_Rodriguez

    Who is more offensive?

    Slowpoke? Who embodies the stereotype of the lazy Mexican?

    Or, Speedy? Who is the antithesis of the stereotype of the lazy Mexican?

    The answer is simple: Speedy.

    Why? Because he is more popular. If you get up in arms about Slowpoke Rodriguez, no one will know what your problem is.

    -Jut

    Fun footnote: I was once involved in a lawsuit between rival Mexican restaurants in the Twin Cities in which one restaurant sued another because, among other things, my client copied the intellectual property of the other by having a menu item called the Speedy Gonzalez; it was like one taco, one enchilada, and one tostada. Part of my strategy was to gather menus from restaurants all over the country with items called the Speedy Gonzalez.

    The other side dismissed their case.

      • Plus, if I remember correctly, warner brothers has tried to put speedy out to pasture along with Pepe le pew more than once – and the cry goes up in protest that he is being retired. Most the Mexicans I know love speedy almost as much as they love Donald duck – which is a lot.

        As to the professor, I roll my eyes at his cluelessness. He should be ashamed. He should only apologize to those students in his class or in the hall. He should only make further apologies if he enjoys swimming in shark-infested waters with open wounds.

        • The % of Hispanics who object to Speedy seems to be approximately the same as the % of Native Americans who were offended by “Washington Redskins.” And that minority is apparently enough, because they are the loud and indignant ones who cry racism.

          To be fair, however, listen to Pat Boone’s hit “Speedy Gonzalez” and what Mel Blanc says in his interlocutions during the song.

          It was a moonlit night in old Mexico
          I walked alone between some old adobe haciendas
          Suddenly, I heard the plaintive cry of a young Mexican girl
          You better come home, Speedy Gonzales
          Away from tannery row
          Stop all a your a-drinkin’
          With that floozy named Flo
          Come on home to your adobe
          And slap some mud on the wall
          The roof is leakin’ like a strainer
          There’s loads a roaches in the hall
          Speedy Gonzales, why don’t cha come home?
          Speedy Gonzales, how come ya leave me all alone?
          “Hey, Rosita, I hafta go shopping downtown for my mother
          She needs some tortillas and chili peppers.”
          Your doggy’s gonna have a puppy
          And we’re runnin’ outta Coke
          No enchiladas in the icebox
          And the television’s broke
          I saw some lipstick on your sweatshirt
          I smelled some perfume in your ear
          Well if you’re gonna keep on messin’
          Don’t bring your business back a-here
          Mmm, Speedy Gonzales, why don’t cha come home?
          Speedy Gonzales, how come ya leave me all alone?
          “Hey, Rosita come quick
          Down at the cantina they giving green stamps with tequila!!”

  8. It seems to me that in all of the cartoons of that time period the protagonist is the “little guy” and the character who was being ridiculed was an anthropomorphized male character that speaks in standard but colloquial English. Should I take someone to task if they utter thuffering thucotash (Sylvester) or one of Yosemite Sam’s utterances such as great horny toads because they use the phrases in my company?

    What is overkill is publicly broadcasting the incident.

    Perhaps we need another niggardly principle which states that it is unethical to broadcast a digital reproduction of an incident to the masses to ensure that someone will take offense and make a lot of noise when you are afraid to take such a stand privately with the offender.

  9. How the hell would college age students know who Speedy Gonzales is?

    More likey they’re offended that someone didn’t know Spanish. What a joke.

    The hubris of the entitled left and POCs, and the consequence of decades of a broken border.

    If they were Italian the prof might’ve said “hold it down Guido/Tony/Sal – a bit of a jab, yes, but when you’re behaving like a jackass, don’t be so sensitive.

  10. The lecturer is an idiot. Apparently, he is blissfully unaware that “Mexican” is not a language and that the main language of Mexico is called “Spanish,” or more correctly in said language, “Español.”

    Starting from there, sacking him doesn’t seem so bad from the standpoint of pure moral luck. Incompetents have no business teaching students, and neither to morons trying to live by the social mores of 1975.

    But your question was “Does this strike anyone as a bit of an overreaction?”

    Yes.

    There was no need to publish some ass-covering, virtue-signalling, hand-wringing leftist moan. Handle it in house like adults. Fire the guy for stupidity and incompetence, shut up about it, and move on. If pressed, state the case briefly and say that’s all you have to say on the subject.

    Nobody needs an apology for something like that, unless the school apologizes for hiring an incompetent teacher. That might be worthwhile, if brief, factual and bereft of “we value our [fill in ethnic/racial/sexual/argleblargle] here. Tell the students quietly (not publicly) to quit whining and go back to class, or quit school and go somewhere else.

    • Chemistry professor, and what scientist or engineer do you know that is linguistically articulate? He isn’t paid for knowledge outside of his field.

      While nearly all of us realize that it’s Spanish, not Mexican, who cares?

      The larger point was there were disruptive students who needed to shut their pie hole.

      There was no intent to “offend” and, frankly, if you think the professor should be fired as “incompetent” the offended students should be expelled for the same reason. Publicly (not quietly).

      • “Intent” is not totally irrelevant, but in what universe does this professor live? Seriously, who at that level of education has ever referred to Spanish as “Mexican” and not been mocked, or so utterly ignored the zeitgeist as it currently obtains?

        Given the totality of circumstances as I understand them, I don’t care what his intent was. He is either incompetent or so cloistered that he doesn’t know what’s going on around him. Either way, good riddance. If I had a kid, I wouldn’t want such a clueless person teaching him anything.

        At least the students have an excuse — they are learning how to be competent, presumably, so their actions are not as significant as the professor, who should know better. Besides, being considered “no worse” than students is … not a good look for a professor.

        • Really, the students have an excuse?

          What, bad parenting?

          Does not require any formal education to be respectful, and if they haven’t learned THAT by college/university, they shouldn’t be there.

          And how can we be sure the professor doesn’t know? Have you ever misspoke in a moment of frustration? By all means, let’s impugn years of hard work and achievement and accomplishment by the professor in a specialized and highly technical area of learning so that we may prostrate ourselves to an over sensitive, pathetic, wuss-ass culture.

          God help us.

          • I would say their excuse is youth. Young people do dumb things, speaking from personal experience.

            And your point about learning respect is a good one. If this were 1975, my opinion might be different. But the zeitgeist of today places much lower value on respect when someone figures their “safety” is being endangered. Stupid, I know, but there it is. “Feeling unsafe” has become a trump card against anything, and as long as management allows it to overcome rationality, we have to live with the consequences.

            As far as misspeaking goes, yes, I have done that, and perhaps that’s what it was. But even so, in combination what appears to be a juvenile attitude toward language, blissful ignorance of the values and mores of the people he was trying to teach, and the circumstances of education today suggests a level of incompetence that is not acceptable to me. It is incumbent upon all of us to live in the world that obtains at the moment, not in the one we wish we were in.

            I lament this wuss-ass culture as much as you. Unfortunately, it is the culmination of many decades of development. We can’t wish it away, or demand that everyone ignore it. Changing it will take decades at least, and cost uncounted jobs in the process. This professor will find a new job, and life will go on with a hard-earned lesson that should serve him well if he lets it.

  11. Oh, please. San Diego is as close to a bilingual city as any in the United States. And Spanish speakers were annoying him? Do not the annoying students take classes in English? A simple “Quiet” or “Pipe down” would have been understood, whether they respected it or not.

    I think I’ll go back to my college French, and insist that I be addressed that way. What fun! Attention paid where none is deserved.

    • I’ll give you that if we know he’s a native or has been there more than 5 years, but what if he’s from Wisconsin? Are we ALL obligated to know Spanish?

      Did he err in being as disrespectful as the students? Sure. As a professor he should’ve done better.

      But we’re all going to get our panties in a bunch over it? University statements and suspensions? Are you kidding me?

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