Category Archives: Humor and Satire

Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: The ‘Racist, Sexist’ Cartoon”

Occasionally I request a comment from a regular reader who has special expertise; for example, I have asked “Curmie,” a drama teacher, director and superb blogger when he has the time, to weigh in on theater and casting ethics controversies. (And I just remembered that the last time he commented, he submitted a Comment of the Day that I neglected to post! Arghhh! I’m sorry, Curmie…it will be up today.) This time, the surprisingly lively debate over the allegedly racist Serena Williams cartoon prompted me to send out a Bat Signal for the reactions of King Kool, aka Jeff H., who is a long-time reader and a cartoonist himself. (His submission for “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” periodically appears in the Ethics Alarms header.) He answered the call, and did so superbly.

There have been some new developments. The cartoonist, Mark Knight, has suspended his Twitter account because of all the hate coming his way.  Knight said he was amazed at the reaction to his drawing. “I drew this cartoon Sunday night after seeing the US Open final, and seeing the world’s best tennis player have a tantrum and thought that was interesting,” he said. “The cartoon about Serena is about her poor behavior on the day, not about race.”

Popular Australian Broadcaster Neil Mitchell, among others, defended Knight, saying, “This shows an awful misunderstanding of Mark Knight and this country. I looked at that cartoon and it didn’t even cross my mind it was about race. It was a sports bully, a petulant child throwing a tantrum about losing…I drew her as an African-American woman. She’s powerfully built. She wears these outrageous costumes when she plays tennis. She’s interesting to draw. I drew her as she is, as an African-American woman.”

As I have explained elsewhere on the Ethics Quiz thread, the reason I made the issue a quiz rather than an ethics  position post is that Knight’s  cartoon struck me as racially provocative.

I believe it is racially insensitive, but I am not certain that in the field of opinion cartooning racial sensitivities should be ignored. If a white, male player who behaved like Williams—it is astounding that so many pundits are defending her—a mocking, tough cartoon, showing ugly conduct  by portraying its perpetrator as symbolically ugly would be appropriate. I do  not think it is fair or healthy for special immunity to be granted to a similarly misbehaving player, especially a repeat offender like Williams, because of her race and gender. This why my vote in the poll accompanying the quiz was the somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “Whatever it was, she deserved it.” 

That response has gleaned 13% of the votes, with over 72% voting for the position that it’s just a cartoon. Against the 85% that are inclined to support Knight (all old white men who are constitutionally unable to recognize sexism and racism, according to one unbiased, unbigoted commenter), 14% agree that the cartoons is “racist.”

To its credit, Knight’s paper, the Herald Sun, took the remarkable step of devoting its entire front page to Knight’s defense, which you see above.

Here is Jeff H.’s Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Quiz: The “Racist, Sexist” Cartoon:

One of the reasons I didn’t pursue doing political cartoons is because… no matter how much I practiced at it, I am absolutely awful at caricature. I tried drawing John Kerry dozens of times, and could never get it down. (Not that it ended up mattering.)

The image of Serena Williams has been called ‘something out of 1910,’ which I think it an exaggeration. However, the large lips, even the ponytail pointed straight up… to me, it does invoke some insensitive imagery of old caricatures and similar things. Maybe even the pose itself, her being completely in the air, maybe that is bothering some people for possibly comparing her motion to that of primitive man, or even that particular animal that racist jerks compare persons of color to. But that might be a stretch.

Again, that’s just my interpretation. I am not ascribing blame or intention. All I’m saying is… if the cartoon looked indubitably like Serena Williams, people would have a lot less to complain about, even if you could focus on part of it and say it parallels older racist art.

If it were me drawing this cartoon, I would have had Serena facing away from the ‘camera’ if I couldn’t make it look like her. The whiny facial expression isn’t important visually. We see her stomping the racket to pieces and the pacifier. The intention is clear. And thus, now that face is all we’re talking about. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/11/18: As They Read The Names Of The Twin Towers Bombing…

Sad morning….

1. Serena ethics updates An indignant Facebook friend appeals to authority by telling me that  Chris Evert and Billie Jean King are defending Williams, and that they know more about professional tennis than I do. That’s a classic appeal to authority, and a very lame one. What a surprise that female tennis superstars have each others’ back! Chris and Billie Jean sure aren’t ethicists. I’d love to interview them. “So you believe that coaching from the stands, even though forbidden by the rules, should be allowed? Do you think that an unknown player who behaved like Serena did would have been treated any differently? Do you think that anyone would be supporting her if she were penalized? Since the record shows that Ramos does not treat men any differently than he treats women on the court, doesn’t Serena owe him an apology? Can you comprehend why calling a ref, whose reputtaion depends on being regarded as fair and unbiased, a “thief” is worse that calling him a “four-letter word”?

I can play the biased expert witness game too: here’s Martina Navratilova’s op ed, which is comparatively ethically astute and tracks with my post in many respects.

The polls about Mark Knight’s “racist and sexist” cartoon has these results:

85% side with Knight. I’d love to hear the explanation of the one voter who said the cartoon was sexist but not racist.

The reason I made the issue an ethics quiz is because I’m really torn in the issue. Yes, cartoons of blacks employing exaggerated features naturally evoke Jim Crow and minstrel show racist images. But political cartoons exaggerate features, often in unflattering ways. That’s the art form. Does this mean that blacks are immune from ever being portrayed cruelly in a political cartoon? I think that’s what the anti-Knight contingent is arguing.

My view is that double standards are destructive and unethical. By the by, were Jimmy Carter’s lips that big?

Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: The “Racist, Sexist” Cartoon

Australian sports cartoonist Mark Knight drew the cartoon above criticizing Serena Williams’ tantrum and otherwise unacceptable behavior as she lost the women’s title at the U.S. Open to young Naomi Osaka.

The cartoon was immediately attacked as sexist and racist. Is any criticism of Williams’ conduct racist, since she couched it as justified as a protest against alleged gender discrimination by umpire Carlos Ramos? Is any caricature of an African American celebrity subject to accusations of racism? Here is another tennis cartoon by Knight mocking a white, male player:

The Washington Post claimed that the Williams cartoon employed “facial features reflecting the dehumanizing Jim Crow caricatures so common in the 19th and 20th centuries.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day ….

Is Knight’s Serena Williams cartoon racist or sexist?

This is a good one for a poll:

 

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The Hitler Joke, Our Rights, And Our Nation

Prologue

When I was a junior in high school, I played Ko-Ko in  the Gilbert and Sullivan Club’s production of “The Mikado.” The head of the music department directed, a Jewish teacher named Mr. Einsig. He had the staging notes for all of the Gilbert and Sullivan works from the director who had gained great acclaim from his work with the Boston Light Opera Company, and I must admit, I cribbed many of that director’s ideas myself, through Mr. Einsig.One effective  staging concept was for the encores to “The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring.” Each one was performed as a different ethnic parody, with Ko-Ko singing translated lyrics. It began with Japanese, of course, then French, a Brooklyn dialect, and the biggest hoot of them all, German. I performed it, in my kimono, with an over-the-top Hitler imitation, complete with mustache, ending with an emphatic “Heil” gesture.

It brought down the house. Ten years later, at Georgetown University Law Center, I played Ko-Ko again, did the same Hitler parody again, and brought down the house again. Nobody complained. My late father, crippled for life in the fight against Hitler, detected nothing wrong with the routine. He also loved “Hogan’s Heroes,” with the show’s reluctant, inept, heiling Nazis, and the other Heil-filled spoofs of Hitler by Chaplin, Mel Brooks, and even the Three Stooges.

Now here is what happened to a private school teacher: read the whole, awful thing here. The short version: he was gesturing while explaining something in class, and noticed that his arm was raised Nazi-style, and said, “Heil Hitler,” jokingly. There was no question whether he was serious or not: everyone knew he was joking, and why he was joking. He even stopped and explained to the class that Once Upon A Time, in less enlightened eras, it was considered amusing to mock Hitler and the Nazis.

Ben Frisch, the teacher, a practicing Quaker  whose father was Jewish and who had two great-grandmothers  killed at Auschwitz, was fired by the private school anyway. The school principal who fired him explained his reason to the New York Times magazine  by saying, “One of our pledges is to make all of our students feel safe. And that is something that I take very, very seriously.”

Says the Times reporter in part in reaction to this: Continue reading

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The Return Of Louis C.K. For Ethics Dummies

Ick.

Reading the news media and entertainment websites, one would think that Louis C.K.’s return to stand-up comedy after nearly a year in exile or rehab or something raises ethics conundrums that would stump Plato, Kant and Mill. It’s not that hard. The fact that everyone, especially those in the entertainment field, are displaying such confusion and angst just tells us something useful about them. They don’t know how to figure out what’s right and wrong.

In case you have forgotten, cult comedy star  Louis C.K. admitted last November at the peak of the #MeToo rush that he had masturbed in front of  at least five women without their consent. Ick. His cable show and other projects were cancelled, and he disappeared from the public eye. Then, last weekend, he returned to the stage at the Comedy Cellar in New York, performed for about 15 minutes, and received a standing ovation.  This apparently alternately shocked or confused people. I’ll make it simple.

Does the comedian have a right to practice his art after the revelation of his disgusting conduct?

Of course he does. He wasn’t sentenced to prison. He has a right to try to make a living at what he does well. In fact, he has a First Amendment right to tell jokes any where others will listen to him.

OK, he technically has a right. But is it right for him to come back like nothing has happened?

What? The man was publicly shamed and humiliated. He can’t come back as if nothing has happened, because everyone knows that something has happened. Nevertheless, his art does not require the public trust. It does not demand good character, or even the absence of a criminal record. Does a great singer sound worse because he was abusive to women? No. Is there a law that says men who are abusive to women should never be able to work again? No, and there shouldn’t be. I wouldn’t hire C.K. to work in an office, because I see no reason to trust him around others. But he’s not a worker, he’s an artist. He never engaged in inappropriate conduct on stage. He can be trusted as an artist,at least when he’s performing solo.

Comedian Michael Ian Black tweeted regarding Louis C.K.that “Will take heat for this, but people have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives.I don’t know if it’s been long enough, or his career will recover, or if people will have him back, but I’m happy to see him try.” For this he apologized,  saying this position was “ultimately, not defensible.” after he was broiled on social media. Should he have apologized? Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/27/2018: Petards, Conflicts, And Bullshit Edition

Good Morning!

1. Oh no! Hoisted by my own petard! I’m pretty certain that Clinton fixer Lanny Davis has an unwaivable conflict of interest in his representation of Trump fixer Michael Cohen. The legal ethics establishment is soft-peddling the issue because most legal ethicists apparently hate President Trump more than they like ethical lawyering, but I’ve been wrestling over whether to file a disciplinary complaint. The problem is that any complaint that has even a tinge of political motivation won’t be touched by the Bar (if prior performance is any indicator), so a complaint by me would be the proverbial lonely tree falling in the forest. The remedy would be to issue a publicity release about the complaint, but I’ve criticized that tactic as unethical right here, on more than one occasion. Rats.

It might be just as well. After the mere hint that I was defending Donald Trump (I was not) on NPR appears to have gotten me blackballed there after many years as an ethics commentator, I probably should not criticize the lawyer for the most popular sleaze in D.C. these days.

2. Neil Simon Ethics. In an alternate universe, my still operating professional theater company, dedicated to keeping unfairly buried, forgotten or unfashionable American theater works of the past in front of audiences who deserve a chance to see them, is looking at a lot of Neil Simon productions. The works of the —by far—most successful writer of comedies in Broadway history are already sneered at as sexist and “outdated,” and I can vouch for the fact that all it takes is one militant female board member with a checkbook and a chip on her shoulder to kill a production. Remember S.N Behrman? Seen any Philip Barry plays lately? How about Kaufman and Hart? Simon just died, and he’s already heading to obscurity along with those guys, and most of their plays are still funny too.

3. Here’s another topic it’s dangerous to get intoFrom CBS:

A pregnant Washington state woman said she was fired via text message from a sub shop where worked, with a store manager telling her “it’s not a good time to have somebody who is leaving for maternity leave in several months anyway.” Kameisha Denton told CBS Seattle affiliate KIRO-TV that she had told the manager she was pregnant and due in December, asking for maternity leave.

Denton said she realized that she hadn’t been assigned shifts at Jersey Mike’s sub shop in Marysville, Washington, so she sent a text to her manager inquiring about the hours. The response she says she received was shocking.

When Denton asked for her “updated schedule” she received something a bit different. The store manager named only as “Marcos” in Denton’s phone responded, “I am sorry to inform you but it’s not going to work out with Jersey Mikes. It’s not a good time to have somebody who is leaving for maternity leave in several months anyways. You also failed to tell me this during your interview.”

Denton posted the exchange on Facebook in a post that had garnered over 1,000 shares in just two days.  

Denton told KIRO-TV,  “I was just like in shock, it took me a minute to face reality — I was like this is really happening.”

Continue reading

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Sunday Ethics Revelations, 8/26/18: The B List [Updated]

Hi!

The death of John McCain is  one of many important ethics stories that came on the radar screen today, and several of them warrant solo posts. At the risk of not having time to get them up today at all—this is a work day at ProEthics, for ethics never sleeps—I’m going to keep the warm-up to the lesser stories, and keep my fingers crossed.

1. Miracle Whip, Florida. The town of Mayo, in Florida’s Panhandle, secretly made a deal with the Kraft-Heinz mayonnaise  alternative  Miracle Whip to change the hamlet’s name so videographers could capture the residents’ shock when they hear that the name of their town is now a corporate brand. The plan was for ad-makers to film faux efforts to get residents to remove mayonnaise from their homes. Street signs and the name on the water tower had been changed and the mayor lied in an interview with the Associated Press, insisting it would be a good idea to make the name change permanent, before residents were let in on the joke.

Mayo will get between $15,000 and $25,000 to con its own citizens. The money will be used for city beautification measures, so I guess that makes it OK.

The town should impeach the mayor and everyone involved with the scheme, which was almost certainly illegal, and clearly unethical.

But funny!

2. First Ma’amophobia, and nowThe Atlantic explores the controversy over using “guys” as a generic term for a group of mixed gender members, as in “hey, guys!” It’s an artificial controversy, and women who take offense when a boss says “you guys” when addressing the group knowing very well that no adverse intent was behind the wording should not be indulged, tolerated or “heard.” The problem is that overly sensitive superiors and others have given undo weight to similar contrived complaints through the years, with innocent and innocuous uses of  a whole dictionary of collective nouns and pronouns being declared near equivalents of racial or gender slurs.The confounding factor is that there are terms that need to be retired. The use of “girls” to describe adult women was part of societal marginalization, just as the use of “boy” for adult African American men was demeaning.  Eliminating the descriptive  distinction between “actors” and “actresses,” on the other hand, is based on a contrived offense.

What is objectionable is that any argument for declaring a term offensive is supposed to be per se decisive, without debate or analysis, if it’s offered by a so-called oppressed group. No group should have the privilege of not having to make its case. I will, for one, eat my foot before I submit to the rhetorical abortion that is “person of color.”

There is nothing necessarily wrong with calling a mixed group by the jocular “guys.” The alternatives all stink, in different ways. I will not use “y’all” and sound like a refugee from “Hee Haw.” “People” is imperious, and actually annoys me (though I would never complain about it). “Folks” is more informal (good) but rings phony (bad). “Friends” is presumptuous, speaking of John McCain, whose habit of addressing every group as “my friends” probably lost him a million votes in the 2008 election.

Communication shouldn’t be that hard, and definitely should not be dangerous. A little Golden Rule would go a long way toward eliminating this problem, guys. Continue reading

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