The Jerk On The Plane: Boy, I Hate It When My Hypotheticals Come To Life…

It would have been OK, if he was black and his rant was scripted by a genius...

It would have been OK, if he was black and his rant was scripted by a genius…

On a recent Delta flight from Atlanta, a young man stood up before take-off and started harassing his fellow-passengers with a pro-Trump rant,  yelling “Donald Trump baby!” and “We got some Hillary bitches on here?” while pointing at individual travelers. He also said, “Donald Trump is your President. Every god damn one of you. If you don’t like it, too bad.” Delta initially removed him, but returned him to the cabin. According to one witness, upon returning the man said, “This is what you get for being a patriot.”

He’s an idiot, of course, and there’s no excuse for his conduct. And yet…

How different is what he did, and what the “Hamilton” actors did? Not much. Neither the “Hamilton” audience members nor the passengers bought tickets to be subjected to this. Both were captive audiences. The conduct in both cases constituted harassment. The clearest distinction was that the jerk on the plane wasn’t an employee; if he had been a flight attendant, the incidents would have been even more similar. The jerk on the plane didn’t single out a particular passenger by name, making his conduct better, not worse, than what the “Hamilton” cast did.  On the plane, passengers hadn’t previously jeered the Hillary Clinton voters among them, so the intimidation factor Pence experienced was absent, and it was only one passenger, not a passenger with an imposing  line of others backing him up, like the wall of actors behind Brandon Victor Dixon. Continue reading

Note To Conservatives On The “Hamilton” Cast’s Harassment Of Mike Pence: I’ve Got This. You’re Not Helping.


The problem is that, as you might guess, Trump-supporting Republican and conservatives are as ethically clueless as the Democrats attacking them.

Now there is a backlash against the “Hamilton” actors who singled out an audience member (who happened to be the Vice-President Elect) for specific abuse last week, because, the theory goes, elected officials who a cast doesn’t like shouldn’t be able to attend live theater without entailing the risk of being harassed. Ethics Alarms has been very clear about why this is wrong in every way, and all rebuttals have boiled down to “But we don’t like Mike Pence or Donald Trump, so we should be able to suspend ethics!”

Keep telling yourselves that.

Now it has been discovered that some of the “Hamilton” grandstanders probably didn’t vote in the election, and the actor whose mouth was used to issue the lecture to Pence had himself authored some Trump-like misogynist  rhetoric in a tweet or two. This is supposed to prove hypocrisy, and undermine the legitimacy of the cast’s ambush.

It doesn’t do this, because the cast’s stunt had no legitimacy at all, votes or not, hypocrisy or not.

Is the whole Trump term going to be like this? I fear so, since the incoming President literally is bewildered by all concepts ethical, and his defenders appear to be similarly disabled.

Look: if it is per se unethical and wrong for a theatrical production to turn on audience members without consent or warning to humiliate, threaten or accost them, the qualifications of the cast members engaging in this harassment can’t make the unethical act more or less so. Continue reading

The Last Word On The “Hamilton” Cast’s Harassment Of Mike Pence


In the end, after several posts and a large number of comments about this incident, I am convinced that, more than anything, it shows how little the American public, even well-educated, culturally-engaged members of the public, and even participants in the entertainment profession understand and respect the importance of live theater.

This, at least, is no surprise. The New York Times recently reported that a survey had revealed that symphony orchestras no longer are viable without charity: fewer and fewer, mostly aging, patrons bother to attend concerts any more. Live theater is heading down the same path, probably irreversibly. Theater will never hit rock bottom, of course; it will always be possible to put on a show like Judy and Mickey, and live theater can exist as long as there is a single talented performer, a street corner, and a crowd. But theater is dying as something relevant to society, and that is a tragedy. Each generation goes to live theater events less and less. I have not seen the up-dated figures, but in the Nineties a study showed that Americans under 30 were more likely to have called a phone psychic at least once in the past year than to have attended a single live theater performance in their entire existence on earth.

The role of theater in society has  been extolled by Aristotle and social critics through the centuries as a unique and important community activity in which citizens of all social strata engage in the ancient ritual of sitting together in a darkened theater, and not only experience the events being portrayed on stage but experience it communally, hearing and feeling the reaction of others. Now that social force has receded to the vanishing point. A vacuum has taken its place. Movies seldom explore serious issues any more, and younger audiences have increasingly retreated to watching films online, and often alone. The potentially life-altering experience that is being lost is hard to describe when someone hasn’t experienced it. The power of the medium to communicate ideas and concepts vividly and to change minds and lives is unmatched, and unmatchable. I have seen it. I have experienced it. I have even helped make it happen.

The department store mogul Bernard Gimbel attended an early performance of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” on Broadway in 1949. The plight of Willy Loman, an aging traveling salesman being pressured out of the only employment he had ever known, so shattered Gimbel’s world view that he couldn’t sleep. The next day, he called his managers together and told them and all of his stores that no over-age employee was to be fired. Alfred C. Fuller of the Fuller Brush company asked Miller to dinner to seek his guidance on how to  keep his Fuller Brush salesmen from quitting. That’s power. That’s wonderful. We should want influential people, elected officials, business owners, policy-makers, bankers, investors and corporate executives to see that kind of theater. In today’s New York Times, Ben Brantley, the Times drama critic, explains…
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“Hamilton” Ethics Follow-Up: Somewhere In The Multi-Verse, I Am In The Audience At “Hamilton” When The Cast Decides To Abuse Its Position And The Audience’s Trust By Harassing Mike Pence, And This Happens…


Luckily, I had been tipped off by a friend in the production regarding what had been planned.

As Brandon Victor Dixon stepped forward and called out Pence, thanking him for attending, and then began his planned statement with We hope you will hear us out. We, sir…, I stood up from my seat in the center of the fourth row, orchestra. I have a very loud voice. I said,

“Excuse me, Mr. Burr, is the show over? Or is this part of the performance?”

“It’s not part of the show, no…now, Mr. Pence…”

“That means we all can leave, right? We aren’t all being held captive while you lecture us, just Mike Pence? Is that what’s happening?”

“Well..I…Yes, yes, you are free to leave. This statement is for the Vice-President Elect. Now, if you’d let me finish…”

“Was he aware that you were going to single him out like this? If not, does that mean that every other audience member that buys a ticket to “Hamilton”—great show, by the way, though I only caught about half the words—should be ready to be singled out and told how to do their jobs by you actors? Are you pleased when you’re grocery shopping or at Home Depot or going to see a movie when the staff there recognizes you and  singles you out and tells you how to perform while everyone else stares and listens? I know that Alec Baldwin and Sean Penn take swings at people who do thing like that in the street…”

“No, this is for the Vice-President Elect only! Now if you’d just sit down…”

“I thought you said I could go!”

“You can go! Get lost! We’re trying to speak to the Vice-President elect…”
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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