Category Archives: Humor and Satire

Photojournalism Ethics: The Faces Of Hillary

Clinton fair

Long ago, a Pennsylvania governor named William Scranton ran for the Republican nomination. He wasn’t a bad-looking man, but he was given to extreme facial expressions, the most grotesque or silly of which always seemed to be captured by photographers and put on front pages. I was a kid, but just reading my dad’s Time Magazines was sufficient to make me feel sorry for Scranton. The photos made him look like lunatic or a drunk. Yet on TV there was nothing unusual about Bill Scranton at all. He had an expressive face, and a fleeting look that might pass his countenance in a nanosecond, barely visible to observers, could make him appear frightening or ridiculous when captured and frozen in time. I wondered then why editors chose and published such misleading and unflattering photographs.

Now I know. They do it because they can, and because they are mean and irresponsible.

As a victim of this tactic, Scranton got off easy compared to Hillary Clinton. Camera technology now permits even more fleeting expressions to be captured, and while the largely Clinton-protecting newspapers shy away from unflattering Clinton photographs, the web is teeming with them. Like Scranton, Hillary has a very expressive face, and one that has become more expressive with age. Unfortunately, this means that she has left a damaging trail of photos of her split-second facial reactions that make her look crazy, sinister, or ridiculous. Matt Drudge, in particular, revels in them. Yes, I have used them myself; like Clinton or not, they are almost irresistible. I’m not proud of it. I’m not doing it any more.

I have concluded, belatedly, that using these misleading and unflattering photos of Mrs. Clinton is very unfair, and the visual equivalent of an ad hominem attack. I know all the rationalizations: The camera doesn’t lie (but we know it does), the camera captures the soul (suuure it does), it’s a joke, and she can take it ( a double rationalization there); everybody does it.

None of them are persuasive. Doing this to anyone, celebrity or not, funny or not, is cruel and  unfair; I think most people know it’s cruel and unfair.

It is also conduct that violates the Golden Rule. Your host knows this as well as anyone: I’m not hideous in real life,  but photos of me often make me looks deranged or worse. Like these, for example: Continue reading

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Filed under Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media

More Culturally Subversive TV Advertising: FarmersOnly.Com’s Bigotry

Farmers Only

The latest strain of divisiveness to become virulent in American society is resentment and anger against “elites,”  those pompous know-it-alls who have money, education, power, influence, go to work wearing suits, and listen to NPR. Certainly the Elites have asked for this backlash for a long time and in many ways, deriding “fly-over” country, mocking religion, demonizing communities that are slow accepting sudden cultural shifts like gay marriage, and reflexively using accusations of racism and xenophobia to mark conservatives as a blight on mankind. Nonetheless, the backlash is taking the form of outright bigotry, with elites now under cultural assault as “the other” in some shockingly blunt ways.

A dating service called FarmersOnly is running a series of national TV commercials that portray “city folk” as unfit for human association. These ads started off  as benign—my initial reaction that it was just strange to be slicing the dating pool this thin. Here is an example from the first wave…

I can understand Christian Mingle, which aims for a market of singles who regard religion as central to their lives, but occupational dating restrictions seemed like a Saturday Night Live skit. What’s next? PlumbersOnly? AccountantsOnly? TerroristsOnly?

Then the ads turned nasty. First there was this, trading in pure negative stereotyping: Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Citizenship, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Marketing and Advertising

Ethics Quiz: Satirical Baby Hate

scary baby

I’m still getting hate comments about my verdict on the Bon Jovi DirecTV commercial that extols the virtue of erasing one’s children from existence, so this piece of New Yorker satire, by real parents about a real newborn child, gave me pause. Here is how  “An Honest Birth Announcement” starts…

Dear friends and family,

Jen and I are utterly horrified to announce the arrival of our son, Jasper Heusen-­Gravenstein, born May 21st at 4:56 A.M. For nine long months, we’ve wondered who this little creature would be. Well, now we know: he’s the living embodiment of our darkest imaginings, with a nefarious agenda and Grandpa Jim’s nose.

At seven pounds four ounces, Jasper may be small, but he’s large enough to have triggered our most primal fears. We’ve already been driven to the brink of madness with unanswerable questions such as: How can we sustain the life of a creature whose incessant, blood­curdling screams communicate nothing but blind rage and indeterminate need? What if he senses our fear and, like a wild hyena, is instinctively triggered to attack? Will we ever finish the most recent season of “House of Cards”?

It goes on in that tongue-in-cheek-but-you-know-we’re-half-serious-right-fellow-parent-vein…

But it names the child, who is, or course, helpless, blameless and defenseless, and creates a permanent record of parental faux-hate for Jasper to read…when he’s a parent, and old enough to get the joke, or when he’s 8, and a classmate sends it to him.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Even as obvious humor, would it be ethical for Rob and Jen Heusen-­Gravenstein to have this published?

Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Family, Humor and Satire, Love, Quizzes

No, Ashleigh, That Isn’t “Libel,” And Why Are You Hosting A CNN Show Called “Legal Affairs” When You Don’t Know That?

Ashleigh-Banfield

In an epic clash of incompetents, CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield challenged Michael Cohen, one of Donald Trump‘s advisers over his retweeting an internet meme that said that Hillary Clinton “murdered” the victims of the Benghazi mission assault.

After the House Benghazi Select Committee released its final report on the 2012 terror attacks, Cohen delivered his tweet featuring this…

Cohen tweet

It is about as stupid, lazy and inflammatory as most political memes, and the fact that Cohen would think it worth circulating tells us all we need to know about both him and the man who pays him, who would have probably tweeted this junk himself if Cohen hadn’t. Remember Cohen? He’s the Trump lawyer who crudely threatened the Daily Beast and went on to proclaim that spousal rape was legal, when it isn’t. Cohen is, by definition, a thug, a creep, and a crummy lawyer. Naturally, he’s also a Trump advisor. (Tell me again how Trump, that keen judge of legal talent,  can be trusted to appoint better Supreme Court justices than Clinton would. Or that Honey Boo-Boo would.)

Sparring with Cohen on her show “Legal Views,” Ashleigh Banfield lectured the lawyer and told him, “This is libel.” thus making exactly as accurate a statement of law as Cohen’s earlier one about spousal rape. It was not libel. It was inflammatory political speech in a satirical context (would anyone think Clinton actually said this, as the meme suggests?) about a public figure, clearly an opinion rather than a statement intended to be taken literally, and no more libel than “Bush lied and people died.” Banfield’s diagnosis was 100% wrong, and the fervor with which it was delivered is the calling card of a Clinton defender. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, The Internet

The “Ghostbusters” Remake Controversy

The fact that I even know about this issue is both my reward and punishment for being a popular culture junkie.

To bring you up to date: Since the stars of the classic movie comedy “Ghostbusters” are now collecting Social Security (and one of them—Harold Ramis— is dead), Hollywood’s only sensible option to try to squeeze some more profit out of the property (and maybe introduce it to a new generation) was to remake the 1984 film. This was a risky enterprise, for even the sequel with the original cast more or less recognizable was a disappointment, and remakes of classics are inherently dicey. If an original film really was special and the stars truly stars, forcing younger contemporary stars to step into iconic shoes is asking for not just trouble, but humiliation. Poor Alex Cord, for example, never recovered from being cast as The Ringo Kid in a misbegotten remake of  1939’s “Stagecoach,” where he was supposed to replace John Wayne. It can work, as with Jeff Bridges’ turn as Rooster Cogburn, not only a Wayne role but the one that got him an Oscar, only if the remake is sufficiently excellent and different enough in tone and purpose that the original and the remake can co-exist without compelling unflattering comparisons. (“True Grit I” is a funny John Wayne valedictory with a great story; “True Grit 2” is more faithful adaptation by the Coen Brothers of a wonderful novel. I still like the original better.)

The best option, though, is often to make the reboot different in appearance and feel by switching race or gender. This is also helpful when everyone over the age of 13 has seen the original on TV about ten times already. The scheme attracts a new audience, ideally—the first “Ghostbusters” had a male teen demographic—and allows the remake to refer to the first version without seeming like pale copy. Almost never are the non-traditional casting versions big hits, but they can be quietly profitable. “Ghostbusters,” moreover, is a merchandising machine. The original spawned cartoon versions and action figures. Why wouldn’t the new movie?

However this is 2016 America, and everything is political as well as partisan. An all-female remake of “Ghostbusters” was launched with feminist swagger. The new version starring Melissa McCarthy (love her) , Kristen Wiig (great)  and Kate McKinnon ( also great), excellent comic actresses, given good material, would show that women can and do everything men can do—fight ghosts, make hilarious supernatural movies, be President of the United States. The July opening in an election year was no coincidence; it is part of the Hollywood effort to join the media’s efforts to make Hillary President despite, well, her lack of fitness to lead.

Although the usual naysayers when a classic is recast were immediately critical, most moviegoers were enthusiastic about the project. I know I was. Then the trailer came out. It is bad (you can watch it above). We are used to seeing great trailers for movies that turn out to be boring and horrible, but good movies with terrible trailers are rare because making previews has become a fine art.

The strikingly unfunny “Ghostbusters” trailer was especially ominous for a comedy. The usual method for hyping a mediocre comedy is to put all the funny bits in the trailer; I hate that, don’t you? Not only is the whole movie an unamusing slog with 6 minutes of laughs in 90 minutes of filler, but you’ve already seen the best gags. What does it say, though, when a trailer for an alleged comedy isn’t funny, and worse, the gags included don’t appear to be as side-splitting as the movie’s makers seem to think they are?

Oh-oh. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, Science & Technology

Remembering Bob Hope

hope and troops

I can’t blame the airport officials who voted 8 to 1 last month to eliminate Bob Hope’s name and change the airfield’s label to “Hollywood Burbank Airport.”  It was a business decision based on hard data. Hope’s name wasn’t resonating with passengers outside of Southern California, especially those east of the Colorado Rockies.

The airfield had been  rechristened to honor Hope in 2003, not long after his death at the age of 100. Yet just a bit more than a decade later, the entertainment icon whose theme song was “Thanks for the Memory” is fading from ours at record speed.  The comments on various news reports on the airport’s decision range from stunningly ignorant to disrespectful. Bob Hope deserves better. The culture will be stronger if it remembers him, and so will the nation.

I must admit, I didn’t see this coming, but I should have. The survival or disappearance of once famous figures from our cultural memory fascinates and often horrifies me. One of the definitions of culture is what a society chooses to remember and chooses to forget: these seemingly random decisions have significant long-term consequences. Occasionally there is a last-minute rescue:  just as the Treasury was preparing to remove Alexander Hamilton from the ten-dollar bill, a Broadway musical, of all things, rescued his image and re-established his cultural presence. Usually, however, once a figure drops down the memory hole, he and the public appreciation of his importance is gone, gone, gone. Forever.

The mechanics of this process are chaotic. A single movie that enters classic territory and is featured regularly on television can rescue the memory of a whole career for generations. Ray Bolger, an eccentric dancer who was never regarded as close to Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly in the hierarchy of Hollywood hoofers nonetheless remains a recognizable figure today purely on the basis of “The Wizard of Oz.” Edward G. Robinson was a famous and respected actor mostly on the strength of his gangster films, but his memory survives almost entirely due to his strange ( and strangely miscast)  role as the Hebrew villain in “The Ten Commandments.” Meanwhile, who remembers George Raft?

Hope, I now realize, despite one of the longest and most successful careers in show business history and epic stardom on radio, films, theater and T, despite being the most frequent and most successful MC for the Oscars telecast and while he was alive and regarded for 50 years as the undisputed champion of stand-up comics, has no such marker to keep his image and memory alive. Humor is famously dependent on the times and culture, and Hope’s humor and style were more so than most. He was not a physical or slapstick comedian, and his movies, with the exception of the best of his “Road” movies with Bing Crosby, were at best mildly funny. The later ones, like his films with Phyllis Diller and Lucille Ball, weren’t even that. By the 1960’s, Bob Hope’s reputation as an entertainment icon was so well-established that he didn’t really need to be funny; the fact that he was Bob Hope was enough. He was a living relic of vaudeville, radio comedy and traditional TV skits who never changed his delivery or mildly self-deprecatory yet cocky demeanor. But what was special about him? There’s little available on TV or elsewhere to let new generations in on the secret. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Citizenship, Etiquette and manners, History, Humor and Satire, Popular Culture, U.S. Society, War and the Military

Ethics Quiz: The Washington Post’s Trump Hair Orgy

Trump Hair

Preface: I believe that it is existentially essential and an ethical duty of citizenship to prevent Donald Trump from becoming President of the United States. I also believe that the news media is obligated to report the campaign objectively and fairly, admittedly something they have increasingly appeared both unwilling and unable to do. For the mews media to elect the President by allying itself to one party is a far more dangerous threat to democracy than, for example, organizations of citizens being allowed to make whatever political statements they choose during the course of a campaign. Democrats like Bernie Sanders don’t see the news media placing its weighty foot on the scale as a problem, because they know where that foot will go: on their side of the scale, hard, like it did in 2008 and 2012.

All signs point to the news media planning to metaphorically stomp on the scale in the coming campaign and justifying it because of Trump. This is also known as “the ends justify the means.”

Today’s Ethics  Quiz continues the Ethics Alarms ongoing inquiry into what ethical journalism standards should be during the 2016 Presidential race.

Late last week, I was somewhat stunned to see the Washington Post Style Section dominated by a feature of the sort the Post usually reserves for holidays, like News Years or Valentines day. Almost the entire front page of the section was devoted to the single topic of ridiculing Donald Trump’s appearance, specifically his hair. Titled “The 100 greatest descriptions of Donald Trump’s hair ever written,” it began in part,

“Here, in the most comprehensive and highly scientific endeavor of its kind, culled from 30 years of news articles, we present the top 100 unique descriptors of the Trump mane, written by journalists or pontificators who secretly fancy themselves poets.”

Among the entries…

9. An ambitious corn dog that escaped from the concession stand at a rural Alabama fairground, stole an unattended wig, hopped a freight train to Atlantic City and never looked back

15. A mullet that died in some horrific accident

62. A dead skunk

70. A dishrag that on closer inspection is alive with maggots

Stipulating that this article appears in the Style Section, along with the comics, movie reviews and human interest stories, your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Was this orgy of hair ridicule of a Presidential candidate being published in a major newspaper fair?

Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media