Category Archives: Popular Culture

“Hey, Look! Professor Chung Has A Painting In The Exhib—-WHAT THE HELL?????”

While we’re on the topic of  “hate speech”…how about “hate paintings”? At public universities? Painted by faculty members?

An art gallery at the University of Alaska-Anchorage this month displayed the painting above, depicting actor Chris Evans as Captain America and holding  the severed head of President Trump while Hillary Clinton grasps Cap’s  legs like she is a slave girl and he is Conan the Barabarian.  The artist is UAA Painting Professor Thomas Chung, who  created the masterpiece as part of a faculty art program. Naturally it was accepted, just as it would have been if he had painted Thor holding up President Obama’s severed head. Of course it would have been accepted. After all, art is art. Academic freedom. Right?

Chung explains the artwork as something he chose to paint because he was upset at the results of the 2016 election. “I spent days just weeping,” he has said. Campus Reform quotes him  explaining his decision:

“I was really torn about putting this piece up at a faculty show, because I would never talk about my own political beliefs to my students. But I realized that I feel very strongly about this, and I think even students that might be pro-Trump supporters could benefit from having a conversation with me about why I feel this way—why I painted this.”

(By the way, the actual painting shows Evans/Captain America’s sex organs. None of the versions on the web do, though. Sorry!)

Random ethics observations, since I fear that painting may have caused some brain damage and I can’t seem to organize a coherent paragraph: Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: Lying To The Dying, Or Trump Derangement Meets “The Magnificent Seven”

In “The Magnificent Seven,” the original classic, not last year’s disappointing re-make, Harry Luck (Brad Dexter) had always been convinced that the real reason the Seven had agreed to help a poor Mexican village fight a predatory bandit band was because the town had a secret treasure to share. (It didn’t.) Harry refuses to join the rest as they make one desperate effort to help the farmers, then at the peak of the gunfire gallops back into the village to join the battle–and is promptly shot. Dying, he begs Chris (Yul Brenner) to confirm his suspicions…

Harry Luck: Chris… I hate to die a sucker. We didn’t come here just to keep an eye on a lot of corn and chili peppers, did we? There was something else all along, wasn’t there?

Chris: Yes, Harry. You had it pegged right all along.

Harry: I knew it. What was it?

Chris: Gold. Sacks of it.

Harry: Sounds… beautiful. How much?

Chris: At least a hundred and fifty.

Harry: My cut would have been what?

Chris: About seventy thousand.

Harry: I’ll be damned. (He dies)

Chris: Maybe you won’t be.

Today’s news has another story involving lying to a dying man, a really stupid story.

Michael Garland Elliott, 75,  died of congestive heart failure in his Oregon home ,surrounded by his caregivers, neighbors and friends.  Right before the end, his ex-wife,spoke with him over the phone from her home in Austin, Texas.

She told him that President Trump had been impeached.   “I knew it was his very, very last moments,” Teresa Elliott told reporters. “I knew that would bring him comfort and it did. He then took his final breath.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Is it ethical to lie to dying friends and loved ones?

Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Etiquette and manners, Family, Government & Politics, Popular Culture, Quizzes

The “Survivor” Ethics Bomb: Dubious Setting, Interesting Issues

An ethics bomb exploded on  the CBS reality show “Survivor” last week.

Ethics bombs are unforeseen and unforeseeable incidents that suddenly start a chain reaction of ethics problems, dilemmas and conflicts in all directions. This was a lulu. Well, it was a lulu unless one thinks that nothing that happens on a reality show can teach any ethics lessons at all, since they are all, by definition, fake news. If you watch the show, what happens on it matters to you; you have accepted the devil’s bargain of pretending what is manipulated and edited  by writers and directors is “real” in exchange for being diverted and entertained—so the ethics scenarios that periodically break out seem worthy of serious consideration. If you would rather watch paint dry—this is my niche—caring about the pseudo-real crises that actually happened months ago in the most contrived situation imaginable makes as much sense as cheering at a professional wrestling match.

However, just as illuminating ethics issues are raised on “The Walking Dead”—kind of a post-apocalyptic version of “Survivor” with zombies—they can arise on a reality show. In this case, the ethics bomb spread out into unscripted “reality.”

“Survivor” has been on the air for 17 years and 34  seasons—I can’t believe I just wrote that— and is itself an ethics bomb, since it launched the reality TV virus into the culture. Copied from a Japanese show, the idea is that a group of contestants are forced to compete in a remote and harsh location, divided up into teams (tribes) that are guided through daily challenges that yield various prizes, ranging from food to immunity from being ejected.. Each episode sees the losing team gathered around a campfire (“the tribal council”) where they vote on which team member to kick “off the island,” a phrase that has entered our lexicon. Contestants form alliances with each other and often reveal their character, or lack thereof, by engaging in various Machiavellian tactics to survive, all captured on camera. Some contestants lie, cheat and steal. Sometimes it works.

Last week, the tribal council took a sharp turn into real world social tensions when player Jeff Varner, knowing that he was poised to be jettisoned by his tribe and desperately trying to get their ire focused elsewhere, attempted to undermine fellow contestant and tribe member Zack Smith. Varner began by darkly claiming that all was not as it appeared, for there was widespread “deception” afoot.

“There is deception here,” Varner said. “Deception on levels, Jeff, that these guys don’t even understand.” “Continue,” said show host and producer Jeff Probst, who has presided over and moderated each tribal council from the beginning of the franchise.

Varner then turned to  Smith and said: “Why haven’t you told anyone you’re transgender?”

BOOM!

Continue reading

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Dear Madison Ave: As Long As TV Commercials Keep Getting More Gratuitously Vulgar, Ethics Alarms Will Keep Objecting To Them. I’m Sure You Are Trembling In Fear.

It is tragically clear now that Madison Avenue has decided there is a cultural consensus that it is incredibly funny to imply vulgar words and make sexual allusions in TV commercials. Objections to this as juvenile, culturally degrading and gratuitous from this quarter have no effect, accept to attract the usual “lighten up” comments from applauding vulgarians. Well, I don’t care. Ethics Alarms will keep pointing out what wrong anyway. You want a President who boasts about the size of his penis during a debate? THIS is how you get a President who boasts about the size of his penis during a debate. You want a President who uses  a menstrual reference to  attack a female journalist? This is how you get that too.

The only satisfaction, I suppose, is the same uncivil vulgarians who most object to the results of this cultural pollution are also the ones sending the “lighten up” comments.

Since August of last year, the Kraft Heinz Company’s newest frozen meals brand, Devour, has been advertising its products with a TV ad in which a boss catches  his employee becoming sexually aroused by his lunch,  to  which he applies a sexy spank with his fork. The ad’s tagline: “Food You Want to Fork.”

Nice.

Kraft says the ad is aimed at men aged 25-35, so I guess that’s okay then. Everyone knows that demographic is made up of assholes—is that the theory?—and the best way to please them is to make the kind of juvenile sexual innuendo that we had in naughty songs like “Shaving Cream” about when I was 12. It’s so hilarious when people use a word that sounds like a dirty word in a context where it is obviously intentional, but don’t really say the word, because, see, its, like, not polite.  Got it. My sides are splitting. Continue reading

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Reflections On My Final Visit To “The Greatest Show On Earth”

The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus will bring down its metaphorical Big Top for the final time in May. Its business model simply does not work any more, as an executive of the arena entertainment company that owns it said recently—especially since the circus capitulated to animal rights activists and fired its performing elephants. (Ticket sales dropped by almost a third.) This was an iconic cultural institution vanishing, so I had to say farewell, and did so last weekend, when the circus came to Washington, D.C. for the final time.

Observations:

1. It is still an entertaining show, even though  the Ringling brothers would never have recognized it as a circus. Several of the acts were worth the ticket price (in our cases, about 75 bucks) all by themselves.

2. The Verizon Center was about a third filled for the final show of the legendary Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. The Center itself was sparsely staffed; it took 20 minutes in line to buy popcorn. Americans, as a group, don’t care about history, culture and significant changes in it landscape any more. The circus and its components gave us imagery, lore, metaphors—“walking a tight rope,” “three ring circus,” (this one is now a two-and-a half ring circus at best), “ringmaster,” “dog and pony show,” “the big tent,” “side-shows,” “clown act,” —and “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.” The nation is a little poorer and less colorful without it.

3. The public also increasingly sees little value in the mass audience experience. Live entertainment, especially family friendly varieties, were traditionally seen as an important and natural way to strengthen community ties, by bonding disparate members of society through a shared experience involving witnessing something transforming and memorable.

4. Assisting in the death of this experience is the trend of making sure all arena and stadium events  are filled with loud, never-ending, pounding electronic music that would make Phil Specter grab ear plugs. Once,  the circus’s dramatic  music consisted of drum rolls, bands and soft calliopes. If you watch the Cecil B. DeMille movie “The Greatest Show On Earth,” you will see spectators talking to each other during the acts, or shouting out to performers. Either is virtually impossible now. Conversation consists of screaming a few words repeatedly until your companion nods. This continues the cultural trend of making meaningful interaction with fellow human beings passe. How can this possibly be a healthy development for society?

I did see a lot of people texting….maybe to those sitting next to them.

5. Almost no venders were walking among the seated. A single snow cone from one of these cost $12.00.

6. This is how unintended cultural pollution takes place. The conglomerate that owns the circus also owns various ice shows, like Disney on Ice. To cut costs, it decided to employ performers from the ice shows in the circus too, meaning that instead of a sawdust path around the rings, the track around the performing areas are ice. Everyone is on skates half the time. It isn’t a bad effect: it’s faster than the old-style parades. But now the circus is an ice show. Continue reading

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“Ghost In The Shell” And “Whitewashing”

Once again, a Hollywood film has political correctness furies attacking its casting. This time, it’s the sci-fi “Ghost in the Shell,” starring Scarlett Johansson.

The sad fact is, movie makers can’t win. If a black actor isn’t cast to play a white character in the source material, Hollywood is engaging in bias by eschewing “non-traditional casting,” which is necessary to remedy de facto segregation and prejudice in movies. If Charlton Heston is cast as a Mexican, as in “Touch of Evil,” it’s “whitewashing”—prejudicial and racist casting of whites to play non-whites. Of course, when Morgan Freeman, an African American, is cast to play a dark skinned Semitic character in “Ben Hur,” nobody calls that “blackwashing,” for there is no such thing as blackwashing. Casting Denzel Washington as a white character from “The Pelican Brief”: great! Who doesn’t like Denzel? Casting Denzel as the white hero of “The Magnificent Seven” in the remake, when the white hero was non-traditionally cast with the sort-of Eurasian Yul Brenner in the original, was also great, because—who doesn’t like Denzel?  Casting  Andy Garcia, a Cuban-American, as member of the Italian Corleone family in “Godfather III” was also fine and dandy, but not the casting of sort-of Eurasion Brenner as the King of Siam in “The King and I,” (even though he won the Tony and the Academy Award for an iconic performance)—, especially with all those great Thai musical comedy stars available. So that was–what, “sort-of-whitewashing”?

All right: how about a musical conceived with the novel conceit of having the Founding Fathers played by young black and Hispanic performers? Is that non-traditional casting? Minority-washing? Is it racist to stay with the original (brilliant) concept and tell white actors they can’t audition to be Hamilton, Jefferson, and Aaron Burr? Of course it’s not racist. After all, those actors are white. Screw ’em.

Are you seeing a theme here? Neither am I. What matters in casting a play, film or writing an adaptation is whether the final result works: How well do the actors play their roles? Is it entertaining? Does it make money?

Now the casting of  Johansson as an originally Japanese character in a Japanese manga comic and animated film is being attacked as racist. Whitewashing, you know. No, in fact the words applicable here are “adaptations,” “movies,” “cultural cross-pollination” and “commerce.”  In this case, not always, but in this case, the accusation of “whitewashing” is pure race-baiting.

More than forty years ago, the real life German prison camp escape engineered by captured WWII British fliers was made into the film “The Great Escape.” Brits were annoyed as production got underway, however, by the presence of heroic American prisoners in the cast, the characters played by U.S. stars James Garner and Steve McQueen. This was, British critics and veterans said, an outrage: Americans had nothing to do with the real escape. The answer by the producers contained three segments:

1. We own the film rights, and can do whatever we think will make the best movie.

2. The film is fictionalized, and makes no representations to the contrary.

3. Garner and McQueen will ensure that the film makes a profit in the U.S, plus they are both great and entertaining young stars.

Good justifications all. “The Great Escape,” as we now know,  is a classic, still honored the real event, and made lots of money. Somehow, British self-esteem recovered.

The Brits also didn’t complain when Japan’s great film auteur director, Akira Kurasawa, made an all-Japanese cast adaptation of “King Lear,” which is about a Celtic king. Wasn’t this–what, “yellow-washing”? Don’t be silly: all good stories can be told in myriad ways, in many cultural contexts. “Ghost in the Shell” is a science fiction fantasy. It is not about real people, and the characters were  Japanese because the author and intended audience were Japanese—you know, like the original “King Lear” was in Elizabethan English.

“Ghost in the Shell” director Rupert Sanders cast Johansson as the cyborg assassin named Motoko Kusanagi in the original and renamed the character “Mira Killian.” It is the “Who doesn’t like Denzel?” non-traditional casting principle, except the even more understandable “Who doesn’t like Scarlet, especially when she looks naked for much of the movie?” variation. The perambulations of critics trying to find something racist about the most obvious box office casting choice imaginable border on hilarious. At some point, actress Johansson decided it was more lucrative and fun being the next female action movie star than starring in solemn costume drama bombs like “The Girl With The Pearl Earring” and “The Other Boleyn Girl.” Since then, she has been rising as a bankable star in blockbusters like “The Avenger” films and “Lucy.” Quick: name another hot (I mean, of course, popular and bankable) female action star?

I’m waiting…

Writes Matt Golberg in a laugh riot called “Ghost in the Shell is Racist In Surprising Ways””  (another whitewashing screed, equally lame, is here): Continue reading

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Ethics Dunces: The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences

The Academy Awards announced that it will allow PriceWaterhouseCoopers to continue to represent the Oscars’ integrity as well as the organizations pledge that the results aren’t being, will not be, cannot be and haven’t been rigged, misread, wrongly tallied or mistakenly announced.

This, despite the fact that the firm proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it cannot be trusted to do this, by either the Academy or the Oscar viewing audience, because it did not do it, exposing its carelessness and incompetence on national TV.

This is NASA letting Morton Thiokol continue to build space shuttles. This is the federal government re-hiring the same IT firm that made Healthcare.gov. This is Wesley Snipes rehiring the tax expert who told him he didn’t have to pay income taxes.

In addition to complete failure of management that the Academy’s decision to let bygones be bygones represents, it also has cultural consequences. As a culture, the United States has become allergic to accountability in all sectors. Over at Wells Fargo, where management presided over a nation-wide conspiracy to defraud depositors,  CEO John Stumpf opted for early retirement after the scandal, and is walking away with around $130 million, according to SEC filings.  Unless further action is taken by Wells Fargo’s board, which looks increasingly unlikely, Stumpf will leave with a fortune made up of stocks, cash payouts and other compensation. The Obama Administration, as documented here, repeatedly refused to hold incompetent agency heads accountable for fiascos, notably both of its Attorney Generals, and all three of its White House spokesmen. University president after university president disgraced their institutions by capitulating to racist, anti-speech, anti-education demands by students without consequence to their tenure. In journalism, Brian Williams remains on NBC’s payroll and the TV screen, despite having proven himself to be a habitual liar. Continue reading

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