When Artistic Boldness Is Unethical: The “Merrily We Roll Along” Movie

In an epic and unprecedented project, auteur director Richard Linklater will direct a film adaptation of “Merrily We Roll Along,” the cult 1981 Sondheim musical fashioned from the 1934  George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart Broadway play.

The production, which will begin next year,  will take 20 years to shoot, so the actors can age with their characters. You see, the story in “Merrily We Roll Along” is told backwards, with the audience meeting the characters as jaded middle-aged adults, and then watching how they got where they are, until they are seen as idealistic young students preparing to go out into the world. Linklater is probably correct that this is the only way to film such a plot credibly, and he is a bold and courageous artist to commit to an artistic endeavor requiring such a long time commitment, extreme expense, and uncertainty.

He’s also deluded and irresponsible. The project will cost many millions of dollars, and tie up not only his talents but many others to varying degrees over 20 years. The film is quite likely never to be completed, and if it is, likely not to be any good. Even if it is good, it will have no market, and is guaranteed to lose money. Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms “FUNNY!..But Unethical” Files: The McDonald’s Japan Promotional Cups

Last year, Land O Lakes finally changed its famous Indian Girl logo so you could no longer do the “boobs trick”  by folding the package just right and making a little flap of the butter package that young Elizabeth Warren or whatever her name was held that when raised would show her oddly shaded knees as something less pedestrian. Why they would bother papering paper over one of the longest-running and most famous  commercial artist gags ever after decades, I don’t know.  In its day, the gag was considered obscene, but by 2018 it was Americana. I had an uncle who kept one of the risque  package cut-outs in his wallet.

There are others, of course. I once got an office supply catalogue in the mail that had a back page with a color image of a man using an office product on one side and an image of a woman using a different product on the other that when held up to the light so both illustrations were visible at once,  produced a composition showing him looking up her skirt. I have been told that commercials artists are prone to such gags, being frequently frozen at the emotional age of 12.

Now some similarly juvenile artists have made a McDonald’s promotion in Japan into another obscene practical joke, this time by modern standards. On each side of two plastic cups, which the stores are handing out in a summer promotion, innocent appearing cartoon drawings of cute young children, a boy and a girl, are visible in  various chaste poses. However, when the drink is gone, one one can see both images at once, and the resulting spectacle is this..

or  this…

I’m sure its just a coincidence.

I wonder how my uncle would have managed to fit those in his wallet? He would have found a way, knowing him.

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Source: Mashable

Is The NFL Anthem Protest Ethics Train Wreck The Dumbest Of Them All?

It would seem so. Gladys Knight agreed to sing the National Anthem at the Soper Bowl, and is getting criticized. Why? “The legendary singer is being criticized for agreeing to take the gig in light of some fans boycotting the National Football League over its treatment of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.”

One of the thinks that makes the NAPETR so mind-numbingly stupid is that the point of the pointless protest keeps changing, because the protesters just want to protest. Kaepernick, when he was a back-up quarterback of fading skills, claimed he was kneeling during the national anthem to protest “bodies in the streets” and “ people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” That was inarticulate, and also vague Black Lives Matter propaganda paired with a direct assault on the anthem, since he began by saying that the U.S. flag didn’t deserve his respect. Then other players began kneeling in “solidarity,” but claiming that the protest during the anthem had nothing to do with the anthem. When they were all justly criticized for bringing (incoherent, half-baked, virtue-signaling racial) politics into football games, the said they were protesting to exercise their First Amendment Rights. (There is no right for employees to protest in the workplace), Then when President Trump attacked the protesters and the NFL teams for putting up with them, the kneeling was explained (by some) as a protest against President Trump, a nice safe default these days. Now the kneeling is partially justified as a protest against no NFL team hiring a mediocre quarterback whose grandstanding created a huge public relations problem for the league and who cost it many millions of dollars.

Now a pop singer, whose job is to entertain people, is being told she should not entertain people and should refuse to honor the anthem and the flag with her talents because these topics are too important. Of course, whatever Kaepernick thought he was protesting, there was not an electron of a chance that it would accomplish anything positive , particularity since what he was protesting–-you can’t just assume that any police officer is guilty and stop paying him, you moron—was based on bias, racism and ignorance. So why should Gladys withhold her talents from a national sports event that brings Americans of all races and creeds together? Oh, that’s right: because Amy Shumer says so.

This is like a bad Ionesco play.

Ann Althouse’s four reasons that the attacks on Knight are wrong are…

1. Don’t criticize Gladys Knight.

2. Don’t make singing the National Anthem into a bad thing,

3. The question of protesting the National Anthem is separate, and if you want to defend the players who have been protesting, you’re making a big leap if you go from arguing that the protest is respectful, respectable, and permissible to saying that protest is required and anyone not protesting is to be disrespected,

4. Those who are making that big leap are confirming the fears of the kind of people who worry that once something is permitted we’re on a slippery slope to its being required.

Here are mine: Continue reading

Unethical, Shameless, Gutsy, Creepy Or Thought-Provoking: Kevin Spacey’s Christmas Video

What do we make of this, released by actor Kevin Spacey lastweek almost at the same time as he was being indicted for sexual assault?

Yikes.

The much-acclaimed actor  career collapsed in 2017 as more than 30 people claimed that Spacey had sexually assaulted them. Now he is speaking in the persona—with accent!— of his Netflix series villain, Frank Underwood, the central character of “House of Cards.” Or is he? Much of the speech seems to refer to Spacey’s own plight, and suggests that the actor is being unfairly convicted in the court of public opinion. By using the voice and character of an unequivocal miscreant however, for Frank is a liar, a cheat, a sociopath, indeed a murderer, such protests are automatically incredible.

Or is Spacey making a legitimate argument that an artist’s personal flaws should be irrelevant to the appreciation of his art, especially in a case like “House of Cards,” where the actor’s role can’t possibly be undermined by the actor’s own misdeeds: whatever one says or thinks about Spacey, he can’t  be as bad as Frank Underwood. If you enjoyed watching Underwood destroy lives on his way to power, why should Spacey’s conduct, even if it was criminal, make you give up the pleasure of observing his vivid and diverting fictional creation? This isn’t like Bill Cosby, serially drugging and raping women while playing a wise, moral and funny father-figure. Spacey seems to be arguing that there should be no cognitive dissonance between him and Underwood at all. Who better to play a cur like Frank  than an actor who shares his some of his darkness? Continue reading

Late Night Ethics Refresher, 10/20/18: Bad Art And Baseball Roshomon

Having a nice weekend?

Literally nothing can spoil my mood now that the Red Sox are going to the World Series…and playing the Dodgers.

1. White House art ethics? I’ve been wanting to post about this all week.  Here is the painting President Trump has hung in the White House:

I love it. It makes me smile every time I see it. But because there is nothing President Trump could do that the news media and the “resistance” wouldn’t mark as shameful; and scandalous, he is actually being attacked for his choice of art.

Well, to hell with them, which I’m sure is Trump’s attitude. Sure it’s a tacky painting; I’m pretty sure the artist knows that, and doesn’t care. Called “The Republican Club,” it is the work of Missouri artist Andy Thomas. Trump is President and for at least four years he’s living in the White House: he can put up whatever art he likes. If it makes him smile like it does me, then that’s a good enough reason to hang it. It’s bad art, but so was Obama’s official portrait showing him being slowly devoured by plants with the sperm on his face, and that one didn’t make anyone smile, except the artist.

 

By the way, CNN displays its ignorance by writing that “Chester Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes and James Garfield are presumably in the crowd, but impossible to identify.” I could identify Arthur easily. Can you? Garfield, Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison, whom CNN’s reporter apparently never heard of, were all similarly bearded, and there are two bearded faces near Arthur that could be two of them. I can’t find McKinley anywhere, so maybe the artist was minimizing the presence of the murdered Presidents—given the tenor of Democratic rhetoric,  that might be prudent—which means the bearded figures are Hayes and Harrison. Also missing is the only impeached Republican President, Andrew Johnson. Yeah, poor Andy would be a skunk at the picnic too. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Barbara Harris (1935-2018)

“Everyone gets acting mixed up with the desire to be famous, but some of us really just stumbled into the fame part, while we were really just interested in the process of acting.”

—Actress Barbara Harris, who died last month at the age of 83.  The statement was quoted in he New York Times obituary from an interview she gave in 2002.

If you didn’t know Barbara Harris had died—indeed, if you didn’t know who Barbara Harris was—it is a measure of her integrity that she would have been pleased. I knew Harris’s work well (though I found out she had died just recently), but only because I have long been dedicated to show business history. Indeed, she was one of my favorite actresses who was a welcome accent to any movie she deigned to appear in, striking, but not beautiful, versatile, but not flashy, funny when the role required it, powerful when the challenge was dramatic or tragic, always a bit off-center, always surprising, never predictable.

She was an off-center ethics hero too, by rejecting the malady not only of her era but of her chosen profession as well. Barbara Harris rejected celebrity as a career goal or a life value, sneered at fame, and believed that it was what you accomplished in life that mattered, not how well-known or admired you became by accomplishing it. Harris often chose her projects according to how obscure she thought they would be, and actively avoided recognition. What a marvelous obsession! In her case, it was also an ironic one, because the most quirky and unpromising projects often became viable because she elevated them.

Her entire career was proof of the wisdom of Harry Truman’s great observation, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Harris did not care about the credit, but she accomplished a great deal. As a young teenaged actress who loved the process of improvisation, she was a founding member of the Second City improvisational theater in 1959, planting the seeds that gave our culture too many comic geniuses to count, along with Saturday Night Live and everything it spawned as well. Harris was the very first performer to appear on stage for Second City, in fact.  From there it was stardom on Broadway, often with her more famous Second City pals Alan Alda and Alan Arkin. She starred in a the musical  “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” (Harris could sing, too); “Oh Dad Poor Dad Mama’s Hung You In The Closet And I’m Feeling So Sad”; and “The Apple Tree” (and won a Tony Award in 1967). Her movies included a classic Harris turn in A Thousand Clowns (1965), Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? (which got her an Oscar nomination in 1971), Nashville (1975),the first Freaky Friday (1976) opposite Jody Foster, Hitchcock’s last film, Family Plot (1976), the cool, clever nostalgic spoof  Movie Movie (1978) that I bet you have never seen, a seering performance as the betrayed wife of a Senator in The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979), and her final film, Grosse Pointe Blank  in 1997. Then she retired from performing to teach acting.

During Harris’s career, she did none of the things actors typically do to keep their name before the public—no talk shows, few guest appearances on TV, no celebrity cameos on “Murder She Wrote” or “The Love Boat.” Somehow she instinctively understood that it wasn’t popularity or fame that defined her worth, or any human bieng’s worth, and refused to allow our society’s corrupting elebrity obsession of  warp her values or dictate her needs.

For me, Barbara Harris’s defining moment occurs at the end of the perfect movie for her, Robert Altman’s rambling, improvisational film “Nashville,” which is, among other things, about the sick obsession with fame and fortune that Barbara Harris rejected. Harris has few lines, and plays a runaway middle-aged wife who is determined to be a Country Western star. Her efforts are desperate, pathetic, and darkly comic, but at the film’s climax, when a famous singer is shot at a political rally for a renegade Presidential candidate, she grabs the suddenly open microphone of the fallen star she envies, and begins to sing in the chaos.

Let’s watch it now, and remember a woman and an artist of unshakable integrity and dedication to her art, and only her art.

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