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

UPDATE: Cyber-Zombie Peter Cushing And The Prospect Of Cyber-Zombie Carrie Fisher Remind Actors To Fight For Control Of Their Post-Mortem Acting Career

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It looks like I wasn’t the only one who felt that Peter Cushing was being abused by finding himself in “Rogue One” without his prior consent. Of the late actor being digitally inserted into a role he never agreed to play and deliver lines he never contracted to deliver, I wrote…

The emerging technology raises many ethical issues that didn’t have to be considered before, but when it comes to using a dead actor in a new role, the ethics verdict should be easy. It’s unethical, unless a performer  gives informed consent for his image to be used post mortem in this fashion. Presumably, the consent or the lack of it will be part of future negotiations and standard contracts. Actors who agree to have their images used as cyberslaves will also probably want to limit the uses of their names and images.

Cushing’s exploitation and the subsequent death of Carrie Fisher with widespread speculation that she would soon be added to the “Star Wars” franchise’s army of CGI clones have now sounded the alarm loudly. But apparently many actors were already aware of the threat, and taking affirmative action to control their destinies. Continue reading

The Ethical Problem With The Cinnebon Tweet

cinnebon-fisher

First I was going to post an essay about Cinnebon’s humorous tweet above under the title “How Humor Dies.” Our culture is in serious trouble if a clever, playful, obvious joke like this attracts so much criticism that it generates a retraction and an apology.Clearly, there are Political Correctness Furies on the Left and  Puritan Scolds on the Right lurking and  lying in wait to make any attempt at levity too much of a risk for all but the socially inept or defiantly rude to attempt. I confess, I laughed out loud when I saw Cinnebon’s gag. I thought the company deserved applause, not opprobrium.

Then I thought about it, and decided to make the episode an Ethics Alarms ethics quiz. Does the fact that Cinnebon can be accused of using Carrie Fisher’s tragic death as product promotion outweigh the cleverness of the tweet, or was the joke a natural one for the sticky bun-makers to make? Who better to remind us of all the jokes about Leia’s odd hairstyle when “Star Wars” debuted? Maybe this was one example where the “she would have approved” standard might be more than a rationalization. Is there any doubt that Carrie Fisher would have laughed at Cinnebon’s joke more heartily than anyone?

Fortunately, I thought some more.

I hadn’t realized until just a few minutes ago that the tweet was issued on the day Carrie Fisher died.  Ick, and also, yecchh, as well as “Ethics Foul!”

It doesn’t matter how clever, well-executed or funny it was. Krusty the Clown could have told Cinnebon what was wrong with the tweet in a trice, if they had the sense to ask, and Krusty wasn’t a cartoon character.

Too soon.

Déjà Vu Ethics Dunce: Steve Martin (Coward, Too)

martin-tweet

Comedian Steve Martin posted the heartfelt tweet above after the announcement of the death of “Star Wars” star Carrie Fisher yesterday. Some internet Political Correctness Furies were lying in wait, however, eager to find someone to bully for thoughtcrime, and pounced. In addition to the shaming tweets Martin’s reflection generated—Objectification! Objectification!—a New York Magazine writer named Claire Lansbaum scolded Martin on its affiliated website, The Cut. Martin, compliant progressive weenie that he is, deleted the tweet.

He’s pathetic. Martin is a skilled and literate writer and should stand up for the words he uses. “Creature” includes human beings among its accepted and traditional definitions. There was nothing inappropriate or in any way condescending about his use of the word, accept to those looking to be offended and to bend a victim to their will. Nor was an honest memory about how Fisher made Martin feel as “a young man” anything but truth—though we know that fanatics believe that truth they don’t like should be hidden and distorted. When young Martin saw Fisher, she was dressed like this…

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…which was an appearance designed to make young men see her as a “beautiful creature,” to use one of the more restrained descriptions. Landsbaum writes about how Fisher fought against her image as a sex symbol. Well, of Carrie’s many admirable and provocative public positions, that was the least credible. The reason Fisher was an icon, the reason anybody cared about what she thought, and the only reason her death is being publicized like she was Katherine Hepburn, was in part because she excited young men as Princess Leia. Continue reading

John Travolta, Carrie Fisher, and The Ethics of Outing

Mr. and Mrs. John Travolta

Mr. and Mrs. John Travolta

Should it matter if John Travolta is gay? It shouldn’t, no. To say it shouldn’t, however, is not to prove that it doesn’t. In his industry, for all its liberal and progressive grandstanding, the perceived sexuality of leading men does matter, because it is believed that it affects the bottom line. Most important of all, John Travolta doesn’t want the public to know/believe/think that he’s gay.

That alone ends the story, in ethics terms. Revealing this aspect of a private life that the actor has chosen to keep private is entirely his decision to make, and nobody should force him to make it, or make it for him. Therefore, what did actress Carrie Fisher, Hollywood kid, writer, “Star Wars” icon, and former bride of a gay man, think she was doing when she told the Advocate, in response to a question about Travolta’s legal maneuvers against a website that published a story about his alleged gay lifestyle…

“Wow! I mean, my feeling about John has always been that we know and we don’t care. Look, I’m sorry that he’s uncomfortable with it, and that’s all I can say.”

Continue reading