Ethics And The Joker’s Moustache

“The Joker,” opening this week and presenting Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Batman’s arch-enemy as fitting the classic mass-shooter profile, has provoked all sorts of ethics- related debates. Is it responsible to release a film that may risk triggering the psychopathic loaners with access to guns we all know lurk in the shadows? Is the studio risking another Aurora-style theater shooting? Should such films be boycotted? Regulated?

These debates, which are retreads of the same old refrains the nation has been tortured by since dime novels through Warner Brothers gangster movies, EC comics, “The Untouchables” TV series, the Legion of Decency’s reign, Sam Peckinpah films and “A Clockwork Orange,” are all appeals to censorship using “Think of the Children!” rationalizations, and are essentially attacks on free speech. The contrived debate is alarming but not difficult to call: the would-be censors are wrong, motivated by emotion, and that’s that.

No, the really interesting ethics debate the new movie has revived is another old one: Was it ethical for actor Cesar Romero to keep his moustache when he played the Joker?

Cesar  Romero  (February 15, 1907 – January 1, 1994) is now largely forgotten, but he was a familiar presence in films, radio, and television for almost 60 years. Sort of a Grade B Riccardo Montalban, Romero had a rather narrow range, with his portrayal of dashing Latin lovers, historical figures in costume dramas, and characters in light  comedies all looking and behaving similarly. Romero’s trademark was his moustache, especially in the post-Errol Flynn era when leading men seldom wore them.

When the 1966 camp TV show Batman became a brief sensation in 1966, the casting of Romero as the Joker was a shock. He had never played any role remotely like it, nor was broad, silly comedy his typical milieu. Most shocking of all, when the Joker finally made his appearance on the show  it was obvious that Romero hadn’t shaved his upper lip. Reportedly the actor refused to eliminate  his moustache for the role, and so the supervillain’s white face makeup was thickly smeared over it throughout the series’ three-year run and for Romero’s co-starring appearance in the 1966 film. Continue reading

Twitter Makes Us Stupid, Twitter Makes Neil deGrasse Tyson Look Stupid, Twitter Allows Neil deGrasse Tyson To Make His Fans Stupid

bats

Great.

Twitter is a wonderful medium for people who can only digest simple thoughts, as well as for those whose full powers of observation and analysis can be expressed in 140 characters. For everyone else, the social media device is an invitation to emote with inadequate thought, and to demonstrate undesirable character traits like arrogance, carelessness, recklessness and poor judgment.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, for better or worse, currently fills the niche of Pop Culture Smart Person, or PCSP. This is a role that has genuine cultural value, and has fallen in the past to such figures as Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Bill Nye and Stephen Jay Gould, among others. Smart people accepted by the broader culture can do more to help banish bad ideas, myths and biases than years of formal education, but they must wield their power with care, guard their credibility and appearance of integrity, and most of all, not abuse the trust of their fans.

In these matters, Tyson is a most irresponsible PCSP.  He ventures into partisan politics too frequently, is a media attention addict, and worst of all, he is addicted to Twitter, where he regularly tweets factoids barely worthy of a bubble gum wrapper and makes jokes that display his sophomoric sense of humor—for example, “If you removed all arteries, veins and capillaries from your body and laid them end to end, you’d die.” Steven Wright, he isn’t.

Those tweets are just embarrassing. However, it is affirmatively damaging when a man recognized as being educated and wise issues outright false scientific facts, like he did with a recent tweet announcing,

“If Batman wants so badly to be a bat, he might be more intriguing if (like Marvel’s Daredevil) he were also blind, like a Bat.”

Continue reading

How Consequentialism Leads To Bad Ethics: An Illustration

Tgt passes along this cartoon by Zach Weiner. He knew why I would like it: I am often railing about the misuse of consequentialism, justifying an act as ethical after it has produced desirable results. This fallacy bolsters “the ends justify the means” reasoning and makes every act, even clearly wrongful ones, theoretically redeemable in retrospect, after the results are in (although, of course, all the results are never in. That’s Chaos for you!)  The defense of torture by Bush administration defenders on the grounds that it may have uncovered valuable intelligence is the most recent example. Had the unconstitutional imprisonment of Japanese-American citizens in World War II  prevented some Japanese undercover plot by imbedded traitors, undoubtedly that fact would be used to justify an unjustifiable and disgraceful breach of American law and values. Looking backward creates this ethical distortion.

It is equally infuriating, to me at least, when good and ethical decisions are judged, usually by the media or by political pundits, as “wrong” or ” mistakes” because of bad results that could not have been foreseen when the decision was made or the act undertaken.

Weiner’s cartoon nicely marks the logical flaws in backward ethics, for those for whom the word “backward” is an insufficient clue.

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Spark and Pointer: tgt

Source: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.