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Comment Of The Day: “THAT’S The Concept I Was Looking For—’Cultural Vandalism’!”

Another perspective on the question  of how the personal and professional misconduct of artists should affect our regard for their art comes from Curmie, a drama teacher, director and blogger who has as deep credentials for this topic as anyone.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, THAT’S The Concept I Was Looking For—“Cultural Vandalism”!…

Back in graduate school, I worked as a teaching assistant to a brilliant professor, Ron Willis, in his Introduction to Theatre class. Seitz’s commentary intersects with two of the concepts Ron highlighted in his course. The first of those is what Ron called para-aesthetics: those elements which affect an audience’s reception of an aesthetic event without being the aesthetic event.

These can be entirely coincidental (it’s pouring rain) or created specifically by the production company (the poster). The company many have had some, but not complete, control over the influence (there’s insufficient parking, in part because of another event in the area). The para-aesthetic influence could apply to the entire audience (the leading actor is a big star, the auditorium is freezing) or to an individual (the leading actor is your best friend, the person next to you thinks that showers are for other people, you’ve had a couple glasses of wine before the show).

The fact that a Bill Cosby’s off-camera life has been considerably short of exemplary matters in a para-aesthetic way. But each individual spectator will respond differently to each impulse. That leading actor—my best friend—is someone else’s ex. Facebook tells me that a year and a day ago I saw a play in London with a young movie star in the title role. His presence mattered to me not a bit, but there were dozens if not hundreds of his fans in the house: people who were there specifically to see him. That play was an adaptation of a script I adore and indeed directed a few years ago. The fact that the play as presented bore little if any resemblance to the original bothered me a lot; those who didn’t know the 19th-century version were far more able to accept the 21st-century revision on its own terms. Continue reading

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THAT’S The Concept I Was Looking For—“Cultural Vandalism”!

Does he still seem like God to you?

“Cultural vandalism”!

Perfect! That’s the ideal description of what artists, especially performing artists, do when they engage in such revolting conduct that it becomes difficult or impossible for us to enjoy their work the way we could before we knew they were disgusting human beings.

We owe Vulture writer a debt of gratitude, not only for identifying the conduct as cultural vandalism (a term usually reserved for acts like stealing the Elgin Marbles), but also for explaining, in his article The Cultural Vandalism of Jeffrey Tambor, clearly and powerfully, why it is a serious ethical breach beyond the misconduct itself.

He writes in part,

Once I know something like this, it makes it impossible for me to look at the actor and not think of the horrible things they’ve allegedly done. I don’t care to argue whether this is rational or not (I think it is), or whether I hold inconsistent opinions of works that are problematic for whatever reason (everyone does). The repulsed feeling is still there, and it makes a difference in how I react as a spectator…This sort of thing seems categorically different from, say, watching a film starring an actor whose political beliefs are different from yours (though there, too, a line could be irrevocably crossed). Once you believe that a particular actor or filmmaker or screenwriter is a predator or abuser, you’re aware that the environment that produced your entertainment — the film set — was engaged in a conscious or reflexive cover-up, in the name of protecting an investment. You can still be passionately interested in the thing as a historical or aesthetic document — seeing it through the eyes of, say, an art historian who can contextualize Paul Gauguin within the totality of 19th-century painting, or an African-American studies professor who’s fascinated by Gone With the Wind — but you can’t lose yourself in it anymore. You can’t be in love with it. You can’t really enjoy it in the most basic sense, not without playing dumb.

You didn’t do that to the artist. The artist did that to himself…

And it’s awful. People’s lives get ruined, their careers get interrupted or destroyed. The emotional, physical, and financial damage that problematic artists inflict on people in their orbit should always be the first and main subject of discussion…On top of all that, we also have the collateral damage of cultural vandalism. Fun, meaningful, even great works that dozens or hundreds of people labored over, that built careers and fortunes and whole industries, become emotionally contaminated to the point where you can’t watch them anymore…. in recent years, an entire wing of African-American cultural history has been vaporized by the Bill Cosby allegations and his recent felony sexual-assault trial, including the most popular sitcom of the ’80s (The Cosby Show), some of the top-selling comedy albums of all time, the precursor to the R-rated buddy comedy genre (Uptown Saturday Night and its sequels), and the first Saturday morning cartoon with a predominantly black cast (Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids). Predators’ careers are getting raptured, as well they should be. But unfortunately — perhaps inevitably — their work is getting raptured along with it, imploding into dust as the culture moves on to things that aren’t as problematic (or that might have skeezy stuff going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about yet)….

…Nobody is stopping anyone from watching these works (though they’re no longer as easy to find, and you probably have to own a DVD player). We can still talk about them, study them, write about them, contextualize them. But the emotional connection has been severed. The work becomes archival. It loses its present-tense potency, something that significant or great works have always had the privilege of claiming in the past.

That’s all on the predators. It’s not on you. None of us asked for this.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/17/2018: Blacklisting, Boycotts, And A Fox News Ethics Breach

Good Morning, all.

1 The blacklisting of R. Lee Ermey. Ermey, the ex-Marine turned actor who gained fame playing a Marine drill sergeant in “Full Metal Jacket,” died this week. I had thought he might already be dead, since I hadn’t seen him show up in movies or TV shows for quite a while. No, it appears that he was blackballed by Hollywood after he criticized President Obama in 2010, while he was being hired with some regularity. Speaking at a Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots rally, he said it was difficult to raise money for the charity because “the economy sucks” and went on to blame the Obama Administration, saying,

“We should all rise up, and we should stop this administration from what they’re doing because they’re destroying this country. They’re driving us into bankruptcy so that they can impose socialism on us, and that’s exactly what they’re doing, and I’m sick and damn tired of it and I know you are too.”

Ermey’s agent and the sudden reduction in his offers persuaded the tough Marine to beg for forgiveness with an abject apology for daring to critique Obama so harshly. Never mind:  His contract as a GEICO character was terminated, and the company removed Ermey’s commercial from their official YouTube channel. He later told interviewers that he had been blacklisted by Hollywood, and that he never had major film offer after he criticized Obama.

Observations:

a) I wonder when fair, decent, ethical Americans who believe in freedom of thought and expression will become sufficiently alarmed about progressives and Democrats using blacklists and boycotts  to enforce ideological conformity. This increasingly totalitarian end of the political spectrum needs to be informed that its ethics alarms are seriously malfunctioning.

b) Actors identified with products and companies cannot complain when they lose those jobs after making divisive political comments. If Ermey wanted to do commercials for anyone other than the NRA, his comments about Obama were just plain stupid.

c) As an actor in films, however, Ermey played villains and parodies of military characters.  His political views in those contexts should have been irrelevant, and certainly wouldn’t harm receipts for movies he was in. If he really was blacklisted, it was an act of punishment for refusing to accept the Hollywood community’s lockstep worship of a weak and divisive President.

d) In contrast, recall this public rant from actor Robert DeNiro in January regarding the current President of the United States:

“This fucking idiot is the President. It’s The Emperor’s New Clothes – the guy is a fucking fool. The publication of the Pentagon Papers was a proud moment for American journalism. The Times and the Post challenged the government over critical First Amendment issues. And the press prevailed. Our government today, with the propping-up of our baby-in-chief – the jerkoff-in-chief I call him – has put the press under siege, trying to discredit it through outrageous attacks and lies.’

I don’t think Bobby has lost any roles over this. To be fair, if there is a place where The King’s Pass, aka “The Star Syndrome,” rules supreme, it’s Hollywood. A major star like DeNiro obviously has more leeway than a narrow-range character actor like Ermey, and Ermey had to know that. Still, the double standard is striking. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/22/18: Nanoo Nanoo, And The Oxford Comma

Good Morning!

1 . From the “Oh, Come on!” files. As I have mentioned here several times, Georgetown Law professor Professor Paul Butler decided to ambush me with a cheap shot on NPR last year, interjecting “Oh come on!” as I was explaining how a celebrity or prominent man’s inappropriate sexual advances could be initially welcome to a female subordinate, and then later, after, say, the same celebrity is regarded as toxic by that woman’s peer group, what were originally “welcome” (or not unwelcome) attentions could become retroactively unwelcome, prompting an accusation of sexual harassment. I was 100% correct. Last month, in an email exchange on ten topic with the NPR host, I was told that both she and the professor thought I was making excuses for Donald Trump.

Thus does Trump hate and bias make intelligent discourse increasingly difficult. If I had used Al Franken as my example instead of the President, I presume my commentary would not have been kneecapped. But I digress…

In jaw-dropping revelations in a new book coming out in May, actress Pam Dawber and others describe how co-star Robin Williams often treated her and other actresses on the set of “Mork and Mindy.” The book discusses Williams’ “improvisations”…

[M]any of these additions were sexual and directed at the women in the cast, such as when he goosed the actress who played Mindy’s grandmother with a cane.

[Director Howard] Storm said: ‘I’m standing there watching this and I’m thinking, “oh my god” and I just laughed. I thought she was going to turn and say: “How dare you stick a cane in a woman’s ass?” That sweet old lady.’There was nothing lascivious about it, in his mind. It was just Robin being Robin, and he thought it would be funny. He could get away with murder.’

Other times Williams would grab Dawber’s bottom or her breasts simply because he was ‘bored.’ 

‘He’d be doing a paragraph and in the middle of it he would just turn and grab her ass. Or grab a breast. And we’d start again. I’d say, “Robin, there’s nothing in the script that says you grab Pam’s ass.” And he’d say: “Oh, ok,”‘ Storm added.  

Garry Marshall, the producer of the show, said: ‘He would take all his clothes off, he would be standing there totally naked and she was trying to act. His aim in life was to make Pam Dawber blush.’

But Dawber remained unfazed, she admits: ‘I had the grossest things done to me – by him. And I never took offense. I mean I was flashed, humped, bumped, grabbed. I think he probably did it to a lot of people…but it was so much fun.

‘Somehow he had that magic. If you put it on paper you would be appalled. But somehow he had this guileless little thing that he would do – those sparkly eyes. He’d look at you, really playful, like a puppy, all of a sudden. And then he’d grab your tits and then run away. And somehow he could get away with it. It was the Seventies, after all’.

Wait: if it was the 70’s, does that mean that in the parallel universe where Robin Williams has conquered his demons and is running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican (those parallel universes are funky, let me tell you), Dawber couldn’t come out and destroy his candidacy by describing his outrageous behavior? Does it mean everyone would say that she was being unfair, and that she wouldn’t be lionized as another #MeToo hero?

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Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/6/ 2018: “Remember the Alamo” Edition” (#2: “The Option”))

Commenter Zanshin returned to expand on his answer to the hypothetical I offered a Boy Scout troop based on one of my late, lamented professional theater company’s many dilemmas over the years. Here is the situation again…

The Option

Your professional theater company has limited funds, so it offers its actors an option. They may choose a flat fee for their roles, or get a percentage of the show’s profits, if there are any, on top of a much smaller base fee.

The company just completed an extremely profitable production, the biggest hit your theater has ever had. Nine of the show’s ten cast members chose the percentage of profits option, a gamble, because most of the shows lose money. One, the star, who you know could not afford to gamble, took the flat fee for the role. After the accounting for the production is complete, you realize that every member of the cast will make $1000 more than the star, because of the show’s profits.

Question 1: What do you do?

  1. Give him the extra $1000. It’s only fair.
  2. Pay him the flat fee. A deal’s a deal.

Question 2: You remount the production, and the exact same thing happens. The actor chooses the flat fee, the show is again a huge money-maker,,and the rest of the cast will make much more than him because they chose the percentage. Do you give him the extra amount again?

  1. No. Now he’s taking advantage of me.
  2. Yes. Nothing has changed.

You can read the initial responses here, and check the poll results.

And here is Zanshin’s Comment of the Day, on the post Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/6/ 2018: “Remember the Alamo” Edition:

Here are my reflections on this ethical (hypothetical) issue.

Question 1: Some personal background influencing my thinking: In the early years of my career I worked at a small company (about 40 employees). After having worked there for 2 years the owners sold the company, probably for a very good price, because they decided to give every employee about $ 200 for each year that he had worked with the company. Some of my colleagues worked with them for 15 years and more.

For me it would be a nice $ 400 but to my surprise I received $ 1.000 with a handwritten note which stated something like, “We’ll give you $600 extra because we are very pleased with your performance with us. Please do not discuss this with your colleagues.”

Back to the question.

I would go for a third option. First, Pay him the flat fee. A deal’s a deal.

But at the same time, give him in some personalized way, about $500 extra.With personalized I mean, fitting the situation. Why couldn’t he gamble with his reward? For instance, his car is broke, he needs it very bad for whatever reason. Offer to pay a part of the bill, etc.

Question 2: In my opinion the set-up of the first situation (question 1) was already tainted. Just as we expect of journalists that they don’t “interview people who are drunk, drugged, impaired, or not in a mentally or emotionally stable state.” one should also not ask an employee who you know could not afford to gamble to just do that, gamble with his income. Continue reading

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An Apology To Bradford Dillman, And Introducing The Dillman Rule

I owe Bradford Dillman, the movie and TV actor who died on January 16, an apology. I hope I learn something from it.

If you had asked me during the Seventies and Eighties who I regarded as the epitome of a hack actor, it would have been Bradford Dillman. For most of the period he was a guest star on every TV drama imaginable, usually phoning in the same performance as a serious, tense, often nasty weasl or jerk. I came to believe that he was a serious, tense, often nasty weasel or jerk; otherwise, why would he only play such roles? Although Dillman’s career began well, with his portrayal of a fictional version thrill-killer Dickie Loeb in Compulsion, the film version of the Leopold-Loeb murder and trial. “Bradford Dillman emerges as an actor of imposing stature as the bossy, over-ebullient and immature mama’s boy, Artie,” A. H. Weiler wrote in a Times review. Dillman shared best actor honors with co-stars Dean Stockwell and Orson Welles at the Cannes Film Festival, and that was about the last honor he ever got. His career went downhill from there.

I never forgave him for appearing as John Wilkes Booth in 1977’s  horrible  “The Lincoln Conspiracy.” I am a Lincoln assassination buff, and looked forward to the movie, braving a blizzard to see it and dragging my bride to be along with me as one of our first dates. I was embarrassed.  The film was so bad I walked out of it, one of only five movies to force me out of the theater since I was a kid (The others, for the record: the original “Dawn of the Dead,” “The Silent Scream,” “JFK,” and “The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz.”)

As usual, it wasn’t that Dillman was bad, it was just that he was predicable, and the material he was acting in was lousy. Oh, now and then , a major film like “The Way We Were,” a couple of the Dirty Harry films, or a decent TV show like “Columbo” had a Bradford Dillman character, so they got, reasonably enough, Bradford Dillman to play him, but by then the cognitive dissonance scale—

—was working against Dillman. Bradford was already lodged at the bottom. If he was in it, whatever it was was pulled down below zero in my mind. Bradford Dillman? Yechhh.

This was a bias. I stopped really watching Bradford Dillman, and only reacted to him based on old grudges and assumption formed so long ago that I couldn’t even recite them. It was prejudice. It was unfair. It breached the Golden Rule. I never gave him a chance, for decades. Continue reading

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The Slippery Slope: From Cyber-Zombie Peter Cushing To Hologram Zombie Maria Callas

“We don’t have to pay her, and she can do a hundred shows a week!”

Thanks to the creation of a hologram clone, opera legend Maria Callas,  dead since 1977, appeared onstage at Lincoln Center last week. This is the continuation of a project that previously resurrected such departed stars as Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson. Roy Orbison, who died in 1988, appeared after Callas. I wonder if he sang, “Pretty Hologram”?

I see where this is going, don’t you? We’re heading straight to “Looker,” the science fiction film directed and written by the late Michael Crichton (“Jurassic Park,”“Westworld,” Disclosure,” “ER,”—How I miss him!).  In that prescient 1981 movie, an evil  corporation transferred the images of living models to a computer program that could use then make the new CGI versions to do and say anything, and do so more effectively and attractively than the living models themselves, in television ads and even in live appearances via hologram. Then the company had the models killed.

In the New York Times review of singing Zombie Callas, the little matter of ethics never was mentioned.  Times critic Anthony Tomassini was not very critical, writing in part,

…[T]here is an amazing video of [Callas]  in Act II of Puccini’s “Tosca” in 1964. But no full operas by one of the greatest singing actresses in history; this hologram performance can seem to fill in a bit of that gap. The operatic voice, and the art form itself, can feel so fragile. What better way to represent that fragility — while also reviving it, in a kind of séance — than a hologram?…In introductory comments, [the director] said that the project has tried to present Callas with “restraint, subtlety and delicacy.” The notion of a singing hologram might seem incompatible with such a goal. Yet moments during Sunday’s preview were surprisingly affecting…The problem, as it always has been in opera fandom, will be if this specter from the past prevents a full appreciation of the vitality of opera and singing today. 

That’s the problem, is it? No, the problem is the same ethical problem I had with regenerating the deceased actor Peter Cushing in “Rogue One”: Continue reading

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