Ethics Warm-Up, 9/18/2020: Boy, It’s Hard To Write About Ethics When What You Really Want To Do Is Run Amuck With A Bloody Sword

I don’t even want to talk about the last two days, except to note that what has me proto-homicidal has nothing to do with anything we’ve been discussing on Ethics Alarms.

1. Now THIS is incompetent phishing: “Verizon” contacted me to say,

Dear User :Your incoming mails were placed on pending status due to the recent upgrade to our database, and also exceeded the storage limit of 1 GB, which is defined by the administrator, are running at 99.8 gigabyte. You can not send or receive new messages until you re-validate your mailbox.

  • I no longer have any relationship with Verizon.
  • Verizon no longer runs an email service. It sold its email users to AOL.
  • The letter is ungrammatical.
  • I received that email, along with about 50 others at the same time, telling me I was no longer getting email.
  • “Verizon’s” address was “bavaria2@centurylink.net”
  • The “letter” was signed “VeriZon.”

If you fall for something like that, you are a walking, talking mark, and incompetent at life.

2.  Why doesn’t the public trust the news media? It must be all those Trump “fake news” lies!  CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell used a photo from a “Latinos for Trump”  event in Phoenix to accompany a report on Joe Biden’s Latino event in Florida. The CBS’s chyron read, “Biden pitches crucial Latino voters during Florida campaign stop.”

Here was what viewers saw: Continue reading

Now I’ve Actually SEEN “Cuties,”So I know What I’m Writing About…

What does Barbara Streisand have to do with “Cuties,” you ask?

And, from my perspective, I have been taught, once again, that I should not rely on the opinions of others. Why is that such a difficult lesson to process? I bet I’ve “learned” it a thousand times, and yet here we are.

I initially wrote about pundit Rod Dreher’s angry assessment of the Netflix hit (it is one of the most streamed productions in its history) in this post. I think it was clear that I hadn’t seen “Cuties” myself, but I should not have written that he was disgusted “with good reason.” Veteran commenter Humble Talent provided Ethics Alarms with his critical assessment of “Cuties” in his Comment of the Day; it was negative as well. Having now watched the film with my wife last night (I regarded the session as work, not recreation), I understand what Dreher’s perspective was, and  I cannot say that Humble’s critique is “wrong.”

I disagree with both of them, however.

My thoughts on “Cuties”:

1.  I did not enjoy the movie. I would not watch it again. I would watch “1918,” “Parasite,”The Circle“…even “JFK,” “Ghost” and “La La Land,’  all movies I felt were at best disappointing and at worst ridiculously over-hyped, before I would sit through “Cuties” again. (I would rather watch “Cuties” than revisit “The Deer Hunter,” but then I would rather have my fingernails  pulled out than revisit “The Deer Hunter.”)

2. That doesn’t not mean I think “Cuties” is a bad movie. It’s a very good movie, for the audience it was made for. (“Ghost” is not a good movie, and anyone who thinks so is a tasteless sap.) This isn’t just a “chick flick,” it is a flick that men should be warned not to see, and possibly banned from trying.

3. As a man, I felt like a voyeur watching these semi-pubescent girls try to navigate their emerging sexuality and the corrosive influence of the culture. It’s not that I’m uninterested in this aspect of a reality I didn’t experience, it’s just that…ick. My wife, on the other hand, who grew up with three sisters, kept asking, “So what was supposed to be so objectionable about this?”

4. If art is supposed to convey truth, “Cuties” succeeds, I suspect. Of course, just because a story is true or embodies truth doesn’t mean it needs to be made into a movie. This precise topic has been dealt with before, but never so directly, at least in any movie that has been widely publicized.

5. I agree with Humble’s complaint that the director—a woman, of course—focused the camera on the girl’s bodies as they gyrated and twerked to the verge of salaciousness. I’m sure she would have a good answer for why she made this choice, and why it was artistically valid, but it was still a troubling choice.

6. I thought the girls were all excellent, and several were remarkable. That does not mitigate one of my ethical objections to the film, which is that juveniles were given this kind of material to absorb and experience. It doesn’t matter that they performed it well, and it doesn’t matter that the movie could only be made with pre-teen actresses. Nor will it change my view if they all grow up to be well-adjusted and happy adults: that’s moral luck. The actresses were below the age of consent, and should not be asked to/ compelled to perform such material. The parents who consented for them are irresponsible and unethical, just as Dakota Fanning’s parents were unethical to allow her to be in a  graphic rape scene in “Hounddog,” just as Brooke Shields’ parents were unethical to allow her to appear as a pre-teen prostitute in “Pretty Baby,” just as Linda Blair’s parents were unethical to allow her to play the possessed girl in “The Exorcist.” I  may ask child performer advocate Paul Peterson to author a guest column on his view of “Cuties.” I think I know what he will say.

7. One of the major complaints about the film is that it will appeal to pedophiles. That’s an unfair reason to criticize a movie: the fact that sick people will like it for the wrong reasons. I refuse to believe that pedophiles are the intended audience, nor that either the director or Netflix were seeking to entertain men who have a sexual fixation on little girls. I’m sure “Seabiscuit” titillated some people who fantasize about having sex with horses.

8. The runaway success of “Cuties” is as fine an example of “The Streisand Effect” as we are likely to find. The only reason a film like this, focusing on a Muslim pre-teen coping with her family stresses by becoming obsessed with sexually provocative dancing that is rampant among girls just slightly older, becomes an cultural phenomenon is if it is controversial. Critics like Dreher guaranteed that many more people would watch “Cuties” than the subject matter would normally draw. It’s not titillating or enjoyable to watch 11-year-olds get into sexually provocative costumes and make-up and act like go-go dancers in a cage. It’s creepy, and it’s supposed to be creepy. But Dreher and the other would-be conservative cultural gate-keepers made sure that the pervs would find “Cuties” and settle down to watch with their lotion handy. Good job, everybody!

Observations On “The Circle” (2017)

The best thing about “The Circle,” the dystopian social media-on-steroids drama starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, is that you now can watch it as part of a double feature with Netflix’s new “The Social Dilemma,” and consider how much of the movie is coming horribly true. Without offering too many spoilers, the film is the story of a young woman (Watson) who believes she has found her dream job working for an Amazon/Facebook-like Big Tech company run by creepily a slick and charismatic Tom Hanks. He is the prophet of over-sharing, developing and peddling products that will feed every aspect of everyone’s life into Big Data-storing and manipulating computers and banish privacy forever, all for the Greater Good, of course. The young woman, Mae, is quickly corrupted, and soon a force within “The Circle,” as Tom’s creation calls itself, to expand and use the company’s power to facilitate universal, indeed mandatory voting, for example. Law enforcement! Social control!

Mae’s epiphany is that secrets are bad, the equivalent of lies. She decides to become the first person to share every waking moment—except three minutes to use the toilet—with Hanks’ ubiquitous social network.

The movie, which is basically a long “Dark Mirror” episode, was panned by critics for its predictability, lack of originality and unambiguous ethical issues. They were right. (The movie was a box office success anyway, because apparently fans of Harry Potter will watch anything with Emma Watson in it. Watson has even less screen presence as an adult actress than fellow ex-child star Natalie Portman, something I wouldn’t have believed possible.) Continue reading

The “Around The World In 80 Days” Curse, Or How Good Things Can Lead To Bad Results, Cont.: The Worst

I won’t keep you in unnecessary suspense. The worst of the “Around The World In 80 Days” -spawned monstrosities is, by far, 1967’s “Casino Royale,” the most misbegotten movie in history. In fact, it was  finally seeing this film all the way through that inspired the post. I had avoided the film in 1967, because I followed movie reviews scrupulously then and “Casino Royale,” was panned by almost every critic. In the intervening years, I attempted to watch the movie, or parts of it, at least four or five times, in each instance abandoning the effort after 15 minutes or less. Finally, this week, TCM ran it, so I resolved to stick it out.

The movie was even worse than I had thought it would be. It is unimaginably incompetent, and I would have said unwatchable, except that I watched it.

BUT the film includes in its cast (among others), David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Joanna Pettet, Woody Allen, Barbara Bouchet, Terence Cooper, Deborah Kerr, Orson Welles, William Holden, Charles Boyer, John Huston, Kurt Kasznar, George Raft, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jacqueline Bisset, Peter O’Toole, Stirling Moss, and Geraldine Chaplin.

What’s so horrible about the film? It was made because the production company had acquired the rights to the single Ian Fleming James Bond novel not sold to the Broccoli group, then in the middle of making the first wave of wildly successful James Bond films starring Sean Connery. Unable to squeeze enough money out of Broccoli to satisfy their greed, and knowing that the public would not accept heroic James Bond who wasn’t named Connery, the Agent/Producer Charles Feldman and his partners resolved to use the title to trash the franchise it couldn’t be a part of. “Casino Royale” is a film version of vandalism. The idea was to make “Casino Royale” into a spoof, and apparently their idea of a spoof was chaos. Continue reading

The “Around The World In 80 Days” Curse, Or How Good Things Can Lead To Bad Results

Movie impresario Mike Todd’s greatest legacy is the 1956 film adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel, “Around the World in 80 Days.”  The movie was a cultural phenomenon: the title song was inescapable, it was a “must see” for everyone, it dominated the Academy Awards the following year. Todd’s brilliant innovation was that he stuffed the movie with celebrity cameos. Current and past stars showed up in tiny bits and appearances. It was a clever gimmick: in a long, leisurely film, it gave the audience a “Where’s Waldo?” game to play, and the raft of VIPs provided a sense of grandeur and importance. Some of the appearances were inside jokes; some completely gratuitous. The effect, after one has seen, for example, Buster Keaton, Frank Sinatra and Edward R. Murrow show up in the same movie, was to wonder, “Who will be next? Donald Duck? Harold McMillan?” (No, but Noel Coward arrived.) It was like a party.

Since the trick worked (ATWIED was a huge hit), the obvious drawbacks of the concept were not considered, prime among them being that focusing attention on actors as actors rather than the roles they are playing risks destroying the crucial suspension of disbelief. The other problem is that playing the star game tempts film-makers into using the gimmick as a substitute for making a good movie.

In fact, an argument could be made that this is what Mike Todd did. Today, it is almost inconceivable that “Around the World in 80 Days” was regarded in its time as a great movie, or that audiences would sit still for it. Personally, I find it nearly unwatchable, and I recognize all of those stars, The average viewer under the age of 80 will not. Mike’s innovation has a limited shelf-life.

Ah, but “Around the World in 80 Days” not as unwatchable today as some of the movies it spawned, not even close. After Todd’s triumph, the idea that having many famous performers in small parts was a formula for a hit took root. It worked sometimes, in cases where the story was an epic or particularly important, as in “How the West Was Won” and “the Longest Day.” It created a fun “Which celebrity will die next?” game in the better disaster movies of the Seventies. However, the legacy of “Around the World In 80 Days” includes several of the worst big budget Hollywood films ever made, with some of the most stellar casts ever. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Thursday Ethics Thirst-quencher, 8/20/2020: Actually, This Doesn’t Taste So Good….”

Well this is confusing: Humble Talent appended his Comment of the Day, a timely review of the controversial Netflix film “Cuties,” to yesterday’s ethics warm-up, even though that post contained nothing even vaguely related to “Cuties.” It was really a comment on the post above from August, though you won’t find it there.

In that post, I noted that conservative pundit Rod Dreher  had written, before the Netflix production was available to subscribers,

“Twerking their way to stardom. Eleven years old….These are little girls, and this Netflix show has the acting like strippers as a way of finding their way to liberation. What is wrong with these Netflix people? Do they not have children? Do they think our daughters are only valuable insofar as they can cosplay as sluts who are sexually available to men? ….There is nothing politicians can do about this…I hope sometime this fall a Senate committee calls Netflix CEO Reed Hastings] to Capitol Hill and forces him to talk about how proud he is that he has 11 year olds twerking on his degenerate network.”

Now the film is available, and here is Humble Talent’s Comment of the Day, as he watched it so you don’t have to:

We talked about this back in August, but it released today, and the responses [ on the film review site Rotten Tomatoes] are…. predictable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a drastic reviewer/viewer ratio. It’s heartening, maybe that the top reviewers are much more mixed than the (in my opinion) ideologically driven proletariat reviewers, but not by much. Continue reading

High Noon Ethics Warm-Up, 9/11/2020: Thoughts While Wondering How Progressives Will Try To Reconcile Honoring First Responders With Their Demonization Of Police Position

I know the current Democratic Party and its agents, the mainstream media, are immune from self-awareness, but I would think pious reflections on the bravery of the heroes of 9/11 would be so flamingly insincere coming from them that they would just explode from internal and irresolvable inconsistency.

1. Then there’s the NFL…The current demonstrations by NFL players on the field, resuming yesterday as the pro foot ball season “kicked off,” and the leagues’ pandering to them, are, I read in the Times, due to the “killing of George Floyd” and the “shooting of Jacob Blake, and are meant to address “systemic racism” and “police brutality.” However, there is still no evidence that the death of Floyd was a result of racism, and increasing evidence that  Officer Chauvin’s admittedly brutal treatment didn’t kill him. As for Blake, he was not profiled or singled out for his race, but confronted because he was threatening a black woman whom he had previously raped and assaulted. Although the investigation isn’t complete, there is a significant chance that no “police brutality” will be found to have occurred in Blake’s shooting.

Meanwhile, David Bernstein identified the following people who were killed as a result of the Black Lives Matter/ antifa riots and looting: Continue reading

Luncheon Ethics Laniapppe, 9/9/20: Track! Movie Fraud! Mainstream Media…Well, You Know.

1 And speaking of movies…I just finished watching the latest from cult director Charlie Kaufman, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” I won’t spoil it or recommend you don’t see it, except to say that it is one of those films that you leave not knowing what you just watched, and resolving either to watch it again (nope!) or decide you wasted your time. It’s a demented cross between “My Dinner with Andre,” “Back To the Future” and “The Exorcist Part II” that would have made a decent Twilight Zone episode at 30 minutes. I tried to puzzle the thing out while and  after I watched it, which seemed fair: how many movies end with a complete rendition of Jud’s gloomy solo “Lonely Room” from “Oklahoma” and a dream ballet, after over 40 minutes of conversations in a car while driving through a snowstorm? At least the film was original, challenging, and bold…or so I thought.

Then I read an article about one of the actors (all the performances are excellent) who said he asked Kaufman, the writer and director, what the film was about, and the answer he got was “I don’t know.” Whaaaaat?

That’s fraud on the audience, a cheat, and unethical. Be obscure, be mysterious, be oblique or vague, but at least have a point when the presumption of any audience member is that every movie means something. This is like James Joyce revealing, after scholars have written books and treatises and had symposia arguing what “Finnegan’s Wake” was about, that he just threw down random words on paper and that the book really didn’t mean anything.

2. Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias! (1) Headline of the Day:  From the New York Times front page: “Scaring voters didn’t work in 2018. Will it now?” I’d say that in 2020, it is the violent and intimidating conduct of the Left, such as Black Lives Matter and the antifa, the Democratic governors and mayors refusing to protect their communities and maintain order, and the fact that the mainstream media now so blatantly attempts to cover for all of it that is “scaring voters,” or should. How is there any valid comparison with 2018?

This is the false innuendo version of fake news. The headline implies that Republicans are exaggerating the breakdown of civic order that has been rationalized and excused by Democrats. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences, Or “Good-Bye, Oscar!”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Science signed the death warrant of the Oscars, or, in the alternative, the film industry itself. This would warrant the “Madness! Madness!” clip, but I’m getting sick of it since that last moment in “Bridge Over The River Kwai”  been relevant almost every day since early June.

It was in June, in fact, that the Academy said it would add a diversity component to the Oscar requirements. I wrote than that it was an anti-artistic development. Yesterday, the dreaded other shoe dropped, and it was far more dilapidated and stinky metaphorical footwear  than I could have imagined, even with the complete contempt for Hollywood and the intellect of its leadership I have developed over the years. I am certain the race-hucksters and minority activists are dancing with joy, having destroyed the Oscars in order to “save” them. Yes, it’s a victory: the Woke Mob has succeeded in wrecking another American  institution and source of enjoyment for the  public. The only question is which institution: merely the Awards, or Hollywood itself.

To be optimistic, I assume it’s just the Oscars, in which case the Academy just committed suicide. The Awards show once was a shared cultural experience, then the actors started getting political and partisan, then the integrity of the process began to look fishy, and over time, culminating in the nominations miraculously including more African American nominees because a activists complained about too many white people receiving the honors. If I had bothered to think about the Oscars at all, they would have been high on my list of casualties of the George Floyd Ethics Train Wreck. Of course Hollywood would leap at the invitation to mandate the “right” kind of discrimination.

When you read the hilariously pompously named “Academy Aperture 2025” below, it should become immediately clear that the Academy has abandoned its mission of encouraging, promoting and rewarding excellence in cinema, and now will be giving out awards for meeting interest group dictated quotas and dubious social justice criteria. Whether the movies are any good or not will be secondary. Artists are being given incentive to seek political objectives at the cost of artistic integrity and worth.  Well, good luck with that: I doubt many Americans will care about such awards, especially since they barely care about the Oscars now. The Academy Awards seem to be following the doomed path of the Miss America Pageant, which capitulated to the feminists, ceased to be about attractive women in bathing suits, and thus eliminated the only justification, already slim,  for its existence.

I think I understand how the Academy came to make such a bone-headed decision: it is dominated by progressives, and as they have devolved from  passion to fanaticism to  obsession, progressives have become deluded into  accepting the concept that politics and political correctness determines virtue and value in all things.  It is an indefensible decision that betrays the essence of art, but I understand it.

I assume that most film-makers, and all of those with integrity— will choose to follow their artistic vision whether it allows the requisite number of “diversity” boxes to be checked or not. I assume that eventually, maybe quickly, a widely praised and a hugely successful film will be snubbed for not having the required number of handicapped and trans key grips, and the Awards will be mocked out of existence. We shall see: the studios, being award-hungry and run my morons, will initially insist that films meet the Oscars’ restrictive criteria, and then, when the box office suffers, most of them sill conclude, “To Hell with this: let’s make movies people want to see.”

Hollywood has bet its chips on joining the Black Lives Matter mission of creating a race-based culture where color and ethnicity, and secondarily gender, dictate advancement, financial rewards, influence and power. This is part of the indoctrination process, and if it results in bad art, so be it.

I think it’s a foolish bet, but time will tell.

Now hold on to your butts, as Samuel L. Jackson says in my favorite dinosaur movie: here are the standards that, beginning in 2024, films  will have to meet on order to  to qualify for the Best Picture category… Continue reading

Mid-Day Ethics Mitigations, 9/8/2020: Flip-Flops, Trust, China, And Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah [Corrected]

1. Stipulated: President Trump contradicts himself, misrepresents facts and exaggerates routinely. But how can Biden supporters use that as their rationalization? Biden and Kamala Harris repeatedly promised to ban fracking during the primaries; now, campaigning in Pennsylvania where fracking means jobs and business, both are suddenly pro-fracking.

On August 13, Biden said that he would call for a nationwide face mask mandate. “Every single American should be wearing a mask when they’re outside for the next three months, at a minimum,” Biden said . “Let’s institute a mask mandate nationwide starting immediately, and we will save lives.” Kamala Harris, like Biden a lawyer, agreed. “That’s what real leadership looks like,” Harris said. “We just witnessed real leadership. Which is Joe Biden said that as a nation, we should all be wearing a mask for the next three months, because it will save lives.”

Biden reiterated his vow in his acceptance speech on the final night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention. “We’ll have a national mandate to wear a mask — not as a burden, but to protect each other,” Biden said on August 20. “It’s a patriotic duty.” Of course, any second year law student and probably some astute college freshmen could have told the Democratic ticket that the government can’t require citizens to wear anything, and that the two were talking Constitutional nonsense aimed at the Bill of Rights-challenged members of the Democratic base, which is most of it.

Then over the weekend,  Biden admitted that his mask edict would probably be unconstitutional. “Here’s the deal, the federal government…there’s a constitutional issue whether the federal government could issue such a mandate, I don’t think constitutionally they could, so I wouldn’t issue a mandate,” Biden said.

Didn’t he and Harris already know this? If not why not; in fact, why the HELL not? Why wasn’t the news media “factchecking” Biden when he made a manifestly impossible pledge?

There is no advantage or ethical superiority in saying things that are untrue some of the time as opposed to doing it more often. Any politician who shows a lack of integrity, whose words can’t be relied upon and who changes his supposed views depending on what audience is listening to him or her is untrustworthy, and untrustworthy is untrustworthy. You are either worthy, or you’re not. Two instances like the fracking and mask reversals are enough to know Biden and Harris are not candidates who mean what they say. (You should have figured that out already, though.)

And, of course, sometimes if they DO mean what they say, it’s disturbing. Continue reading