Category Archives: Popular Culture

Unethical Quote Of The Week: Harry Belafonte

“In a few weeks from now, if there is a platform on which I will be privileged to stand and speak, my opening remarks will probably be something like “Welcome to the Fourth Reich.”

—Legendary singer and long-time civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, now 90, speaking at a “Democracy Now!” event with an audience of 2000.

Harry Belafonte radiated sunniness and spirituality when he sang in his unique, whispery voice, but his political activism was always angry, radical, and with the passing years, increasingly bitter and paranoid. It was predictable that, health allowing, “The Banana Boat Song” artist would be in his element in the 2016 Post-Election Freak-Out and Ethics Train Wreck, and, sadly, he did not disappoint.

In his remarks, Harry mentioned with affection Paul Robeson, the late actor and singer who left the U.S. for the worker’s paradise of  Stalinist Russia, and America-hater Noam Chomsky. He might have mentioned Fidel Castro, for whom Harry frequently expressed his admiration in the past. Back in 2012, Belafonte told another one of his pals, Al Sharpton, that since the evil, racist Republicans wouldn’t do Barack Obama’s bidding, “The only thing left for Barack Obama to do is to work like a third-world dictator and put all these guys in jail!”

But Donald Trump is a Nazi. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Popular Culture

Comment Of The Day: “Christmas Music Blues”

christmas-hero-h

In addition to honoring his Comment of the Day, I also have to thank texagg04 for his timely comment to last year’s lament here, “Christmas Blues,” about the state of Christmas music as presented by the media. Christmas and holiday music is a useful, if depressing, window into the state of U.S. culture, and if he hasn’t written this commentary, I would have had to. Unfortunately, the tex’s list is res ipsa loquitur, and what it speaks of isn’t good. Christmas, the most ethical of holidays, has been substantially stripped of its ethical foundations by pop culture.

Here is texaggo4’s Comment of the Day on the post “Christmas Music Blues.” For added perspective, you may also want to revue last year’s post, On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide.

As of noon today (Monday, 28 Nov), I ran a quick survey of songs played on our local “Christmas” station since the start of last Monday.

95 songs played (though 161 if you separate them by Artist and Version of the song) for a total of 1,893 times.

Here’s the list and how many times they were played (Down on the list are some weird outliers involving the Magnum P.I. and Miami Vice soundtrack. I have no clue how those landed on the station’s playlist archive…but they were there, so I’ve included them): Continue reading

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Holiday Ethics Assigment: Quick! Watch These 25 Great Old Ethics Movies Again Before You Go Bonkers Too!

movie-theater

I am compiling a new list of great ethics movies to help those troubled by the recently completed Presidential campaign, the election and its aftermath. I haven’t decided whether to reveal it piecemeal, or collectively as I have before, but I do need to begin by presenting the previous list of 25, actually the combination of several previous posts. Ethics films I have covered individually since those lists debuted, like Spotlight and Bridge of Spies, will eventually be added.

For now, here’s the top 25. Don’t pay attention to the order.

1Spartacus (196o)

The raw history is inspiring enough: an escaped gladiator led an army of slaves to multiple victories over the Roman legions in one of the greatest underdog triumphs ever recorded. Stanley Kubrick’s sword-and-sandal classic has many inspiring sequences, none more so than the moment when Spartacus’s defeated army chooses death rather than to allow him to identify himself to their Roman captors (“I am Spartacus!”)

Ethical issues highlighted: Liberty, slavery, sacrifice, trust, politics, courage, determination, the duty to resist abusive power, revolution, love, loyalty.

Favorite quote: “When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That’s why he’s not afraid of it. That’s why we’ll win.” [Spartacus (Kirk Douglas)]

2.  Hoosiers (1986)

“Hoosiers” is loosely based on true story, but its strength is the way it combines classic sports movie clichés—the win-at-all-costs coach down on his luck, the remote superstar, over-achieving team—into a powerful lesson: it isn’t the final victory that matters most, but the journey to achieving it.

Ethical issues highlighted: Forgiveness, generosity, leadership, kindness, courage, loyalty, diligence, redemption.

Favorite quote: “If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners.” [ Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman)]

3. Babe (1995)

A wonderful movie about the virtues of being nice, the greatest civility film of all time. Second place: “Harvey.”

Ethical issues highlighted: Civility, kindness, reciprocity, loyalty, courage, love, friendship, bigotry, bias.

Favorite quote: “Fly decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that sheep were stupid, and there was nothing that could convince her otherwise…The sheep decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that wolves were ignorant, and there was nothing that could convince them otherwise”  The Narrator (Roscoe Lee Browne) Continue reading

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The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide [UPDATED! ]

 Once again, Ethics Alarms re-posts its ethics guide to Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life,”one of the great ethics movies of all time. It was written in 2011, and revised regularly since, including for this year’s version. I suspect we need it more in 2016 than usual.

It is fashionable now, and was even when the film was released, to mock its sentiment and optimism. On one crucial point Capra was correct, however, and it is worth watching the film regularly to recall it. Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you.

Here we go:

1. “If It’s About Ethics, God Must Be Involved”

The movie begins in heaven, represented by twinkling stars. There is no way around this, as divine intervention is at the core of the fantasy. Heaven and angels were big in Hollywood in the Forties. Nevertheless, the framing of the tale advances the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.

We are introduced to George Bailey, who, we are told, is in trouble and has prayed for help. He’s going to get it, too, or at least the heavenly authorities will make the effort. They are assigning an Angel 2nd Class, Clarence Oddbody, to the job. He is, we learn later, something of a second rate angel as well as a 2nd Class one, so it is interesting that whether or not George is in fact saved will be entrusted to less than Heaven’s best. Some lack of commitment, there—then again, George says he’s “not a praying man.” This will teach him—sub-par service!

2. Extra Credit for Moral Luck

George’s first ethical act is saving his brother, Harry, from drowning, an early exhibition of courage, caring and sacrifice. The sacrifice part is that the childhood episode costs George the hearing in one ear. He doesn’t really deserve extra credit for this, as it was not a conscious trade of his hearing for Harry’s young life, but he gets it anyway, just as soldiers who are wounded in battle receive more admiration and accolades than those who are not. Yet this is only moral luck. A wounded hero is no more heroic than a unwounded one, and may be less competent as well as less lucky.

3.  The Confusing Drug Store Incident

George Bailey’s next ethical act is when he saves the life of another child by not delivering a bottle of pills that had been inadvertently poisoned by his boss, the druggist, Mr. Gower. This is nothing to get too excited over, really—if George had knowingly delivered poisoned pills, he would have been more guilty than the druggist, who was only careless. What do we call someone who intentionally delivers poison that he knows will be mistaken for medication? A murderer, that’s what.  We’re supposed to admire George for not committing murder.

Mr. Gower, at worst, would be guilty of negligent homicide. George saves him from that fate when he saves the child, but if he really wanted to show exemplary ethics, he should have reported the incident to authorities. Mr. Gower is not a trustworthy pharmacist—he was also the beneficiary of moral luck. He poisoned a child’s pills through inattentiveness. If his customers knew that, would they keep getting their drugs from him? Should they? A professional whose errors are potentially deadly must not dare the fates by working when his or her faculties are impaired by illness, sleeplessness or, in Gower’s case, grief and alcohol.

4. The Uncle Billy Problem

As George grows up, we see that he is loyal and respectful to his father. That’s admirable. What is not admirable is that George’s father, who has fiduciary duties as the head of a Building and Loan, has placed his brother Billy in a position of responsibility. As we soon learn, Billy is a souse, a fool and an incompetent. This is a breach of fiscal and business ethics by the elder Bailey, and one that George engages in as well, to his eventual sorrow. Continue reading

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Opening The Door, Tit-For-Tat, And The Drunk In The “Hamilton” Audience

opening-the-door

All right, all right, maybe this is the final word on the “Hamilton” controversy.

What do we make of this?

A supporter of President-elect Trump reportedly interrupted a Saturday-night performance of “Hamilton” in Chicago with profane shouts at the show’s cast. According to BroadwayWorld, somebody seated in the balcony shouted, “We won! You Lost! Get over it! Fuck you!” during the number “Dear Theodosia,” which is about Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr coming to terms with what being a father meant in the newly formed United States. The audience member was escorted out of the theater by security after a brief altercation.

Rueful thoughts: Continue reading

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Ethics Dunce Collective: The American Music Awards

I can make this uncharacteristically short. Just re-read the post on John Oliver’s nasty full-show, post-election anti-Trump rant, and substitute “American Music Awards.” Also worth reviewing is the list of rationalizations used to justify Oliver, which I posted here, especially since so many of them are also being trotted out to excuse the ambushing of Mile Pence when he dared to exercise his right to enjoy “Hamilton” on Broadway without being personally called out and attacked by the cast.

It can be argued that the American Music Awards’ insults to the duly and lawfully elected POTUS—who has yet to do anything as President— last night were even worse than Oliver’s disrespectful ad hominem barrage. At least Oliver, a skilled satirist, was occasionally amusing. The two AMA hosts from Saturday Night Live were juvenile, desperate and amateurish, counting on their Trump-hating demographic for laughs they didn’t earn. If we ever see a more inept impression of Donald Trump than Jay Pharoah’s, be it in four years or a century, I’ll be shocked. Worst of all, however, was Gigi Hadid’s unfunny, mean and hypocritical imitation of Melania Trump, for the crime of existing.  The principle, just for application to Republican First Ladies, now, is apparently that having an accent  makes you ridiculous and an idiot.

If anyone, anywhere, on a live television show had dared to do such a grotesque mockery of Michelle Obama when she was the incoming First Lady, they would have been tarred a boor, a racist, and a virtual traitor.

I wonder which of the rationalizations will be used to defend Hadid? Whatever they are, the real defense is just this, the same that is being used to defend “Hamilton”: We hate these people, and they don’t deserve to be treated fairly.

Got it.

One clarification: Green Day is a political band, and their decision to shout No Trump / No KKK” during their performance of the catchy and tuneful  “Bang Bang” is as fair as it was predictable…also moronic, but what do you expect? It’s a band.

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Mike Pence Goes To “Hamilton”

(Psst...PLAYING political leaders doesn't actually give you any special insight into political leadership...)

(Psst…PLAYING political leaders doesn’t actually give you any special insight into political leadership…)

As a performance of the mega-hit Broadway musical “Hamilton” ended, the actor who played Aaron Burr, Brandon Victor Dixon, singled out Vice-President Elect Mike Pence, who was among the audience.

He thanked him for attending and then began a scripted lecture, or rather,  an ambush:

“We hope you will hear us out. We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”

The rest of the audience, many of whom had booed Pence when he arrived to see the show, cheered. Of course they did. They would have probably cheered if Dixon threw a tomato at Pence too.

I have no patience with this. I was an artistic director of a professional theater company in the D.C. area for 20 years. If this happened at my theater, I would fire the actor and apologize to the audience member and the audience itself. This is unprofessional, unfair and unethical in many ways: Continue reading

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