Tag Archives: casting ethics

Racist Political Correctness, Casting Ethics, Double Standards, And The Rock

Oh look, another racist “you’re not black enough” casting controversy!

(Here was a previous one…)

Dwayne Johnson, the action hero known as The Rock, announced last week that he’ll be producing and starring in the film “John Henry and the Statesmen” about the black folk hero who died after defeating a steam-driven machine that supposedly would lay track faster than human beings could. Johnson, one of the top drawing box-office stars in 2017 and 2016, said John Henry was one of his “childhood heroes” and that his father, former pro wrestler Rocky Johnson, used to sing “Big John” to him before he put him to sleep as a kid.

Well, I don’t understand the “Big John” reference at all. The Jimmy Dean hit (yes, the sausage guy) was about a mine worker who dies saving his colleagues in a cave-in, and there was nothing in the song suggesting he was black, just BIG, like Dwayne Johnson. Here’s the song…

But I digress…

Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Race, U.S. Society

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/27/18: “Mrs. Miniver” Ethics, “Ick!,” And A Poll

Rugby in the morning

1 One of my favorite Hollywood ethics scenes. I watched “Mrs. Miniver” again last night, the 1942 WWII drama starring the magnificent Greer Garson. It has a wonderful ethics moment late in the film, when Lady Beldon, the wealthy town battleaxe (and the grandmother Mrs. Miniver’s recently minted daughter-in-law, soon to die tragically) presides over the English village’s annual flower show, in which she has won the coveted “Best Rose” prize every year. But beloved old stationmaster Mr. Ballard has developed a magnificent new rose (named after Garson’s character) and desperately wants to win as well. The Minivers tease their elderly relative about the near certainty that she will win as always regardless of the relative merits of her entry and “The Miniver” entered by Mr. Ballard, since the judges are terrified of her, and Lady Beldon has made it clear to all that she regards the annual prize as a virtual entitlement. After all, the prize is even called “The Beldon Challenge Cup.” Sure enough, the judges, who seemed to be having a harder time than usual concluding that Lady Beldon’s rose deserved the award, hand her a slip that places her rose in first place, and Mr. Ballard’s in second.

Lady Beldon shows the slip to Mrs. Miniver with an air of triumph.

MINIVER: This is really important to you, isn’t it?

LADY BELDON: Yes. It’s stupid of me, but there it is. I’ve won that cup for as long as I can remember.

MINIVER: Mr. Ballard’s terribly keen too.

BELDON: Well, he’s had his chance. Hasn’t he? You have such a way of looking at people. What do you expect me to do? Reverse the judges’ decision?

MINIVER: I wouldn’t put it past you. If you happened to disagree with it.

“But I don’t!” she harrumphs. She keeps looking at the two competing roses, though, and also at old Mr. Ballard (played by Henry Traverse, later to portray Clarence the Wingless Angel”in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” His look of anticipation and hope approximately mirrors the expression of a six-year-old on Christmas morning. And when it comes time to announce the winner, Lady Ballard pauses, looks at the two roses again, ponders,  crumples up the judges’ slip, and announces that “The Miniver” wins the prize.

Dame May Witty, one of the best character actors England ever produced, shows us with her face that she realizes she did the right thing as soon as she sees Ballard’s reaction to winning. And the assembled crowd gives her an even louder ovation than they give the winner. They didn’t even have to see the slip like the Minivers: they know what she did. And she knows they know.

I had a Lady Beldon moment many years ago, before I had even seen the movie. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Childhood and children, Family, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Professions

Ethics Warm-Up, Valentines Day, 2018: Of Mummies, Mockingbirds, Hunchbacks, And Sperms….

Happy Valentines Day!

1 Jeremy gets a vacation! As some of you may know, philosopher Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill’s mentor and the founder of utilitarianism, has been stuffed and kept in a glass case at the College of London since his death in 1832 as a condition of his will. I’m not kidding! (A photo has appeared periodically in the Ethics Alarms header from the blog’s first day.) Here he is…

That’s Jeremy’s real head on the floor: the one on top of the stuffed body around his skeleton is wax. Jeremy still attends all meetings of the school’s board, wearing his own clothes.  Now he’s visiting the U.S., something he always wanted to do when he was alive.

2. The message is increasingly clear: everything is racist. Got it, thanks! Working from her mummy, scientists from the University of Bristol reconstructed the face of 3,400-year-old queen Nefertiti, King Tut’s mother, using 3D imaging technology. The process required more than 500 hours. Nefertiti was Egypt’s queen alongside Pharaoh Akhenaten from 1353 to 1336 BC. Heeeeeeere’s  NEFI!

Now the project is under attack on social media because the reconstructed Nefertiti face isn’t dark enough, not that anyone has a clue regarding how dark or light anyone who lived over 3000 years ago was.

This is the kind of gratuitous race-baiting that causes well-deserved backlash.  It’s also redolent of an old whitewashing theme, dating back to the “Cleopatra was black” and “Jesus was black” claims of activists in the 1970s.

3. Segue Alert! And speaking of stupid whitewashing controversies, the cancellation of that high school production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” because the student cast as the gypsy ingenue Esmeralda was “too white” provoked a backlash….from Nazis.

Naturally, this means that the race-based attack on the innocent student cast because she was the most qualified to play the part was justified, thanks to the trampoline effect when a bad idea is attacked by even worse extremists.  (Don’t make me put the cognitive dissonance scale up twice in one day.) The New York Times reports that the students who intimidated school administrators into cancelling the show “are now besieged by an online mob targeting them with threats and racial epithets after the incident was reported in right-wing publications like Breitbart News, then spread to the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer. Via Facebook, the students received pictures of themselves with swastikas plastered on their faces. One parent had what was thought to be her home address (it wasn’t) posted online with a comment seeming to encourage harassment: “Do your thing social media.” Another parent received a profane email, assailing her for embracing “anti-white racism,” adding: “I feel sorry for your brainwashed child.” The way this phenomenon works is that now, when someone legitimately objects to the unethical handling of this episode by the school, they can be portrayed as agreeing with white supremacists.

We saw this effect in full bloom in Charlottesville. Tearing down statues of Robert E. Lee is a form of historical airbrushing and censorship, and principled, objective critics (like me) condemned the statue-toppling mania. Then the alt-right and the white nationalists marched against the removal of a Lee statue, and suddenly if you objected to a memorial to a major figure in American history and a bona fide military hero whose life is a wealth of lessons for all of us, it meant you were siding with racists.  President Trump was effectively trapped by this Catch-22. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Race

Comment Of The Day: “KABOOM! So It Has Come To This: The Book-Of-The-Month TV Commercial”

The recent post about Madison Avenue continuing its effort to coarsen the popular culture and society with gratuitously vulgar commercials, in this case Book-Of-The-Month Club believing that it is hilarious to fake out viewers into thinking they are watching a tampon commercial, was not one that I felt would ignite much controversy or varied comment. As is often the case, I was wrong. The essay generated several surprising threads, including a comment by prolix, controversial blog warrior Alizia, whose commentary here ranges all the way into another post, the article about a high school musical casting controversy and the school’s unethical response to it.

She also raises the question of whether Ethics Alarms should engage more frequently in meta-ethics and philosophy. One reason I selected her comment as a Comment of the Day is that I’m interested in other readers’ views on that topic, not that I’m interested in turning in that direction. My focus as an ethicist has always been practical ethics, and the posts here about grand ethics issues of the sort that have been debated to no productive end for centuries have been incidental and few. Frankly, those topics don’t interest me very much; certainly not enough to devote the blog to it. About a year ago an erudite young woman briefly submitted some provocative comments here but want to argue about competing philosophical theories. She was shocked, indignant and angered when I refused to engage, and after yelling at me for a while, left the forum.  For those seeking what she sought, I recommend going here.

Abstract and scholarly ethics have undermined the subject of ethics to the degree that it is not one  most people can tolerate or understand, effectively removing ethics from public education and general discourse, and thus undermined the goal of an ethical society as well. They are still relevant to the discussion; I just know from hard experience how philosophy tends to send normal people fleeing like the Tokyo crowds in a Godzilla movie.

Here is Alizia’s Comment of the Day on the post, KABOOM! So It Has Come To This: The Book-Of-The-Month TV Commercial:

One things I noticed and have mentioned a few times in respect to the Ethics Alarms blog and, naturally, the people who participate in it, is that it often clearly distinguishes a situation or event in which an ethical issue is brought out and then it successfully and interestingly provokes an examination of the problem or issue. Yet what I notice as well is that the issue is not brought out in a larger context. Or, the larger context is rarely explored. The reason why it is not explored is more interesting and it seems to me more important than what is allowed to be explored or what is acceptable. I can think of two instances and I will mention them.

In this present instance it is noticed that advertising is incorporating vulgarity. But it is really far more than that, at least as I see things. What is the real issue? The real issue is the pornographication of culture. It is, I think this is true, coming about because this is the sort of things you-plural have allowed to go on. It is certainly true (as I have scoldingly said) that ‘it is your generation that has allowed these levels of moral and ethical corruption to creep in’ and I think that this is a necessary stance to take. In my view, though it is not appreciated much here, ‘the pornographication of culture’ connects to sexual expression of many sorts and also extends to ‘the homosexualization of culture’.

There is an active agent, either in the business culture itself, or perhaps in academic culture, that has set in motion these pornographic processes. And just as media culture and Hollywood has gotten continuingly infected with this material (which I assume *you* find titillating and exciting and do not oppose), similarly one can now notice the insinuation of homosexuality into the culture-productions. It becomes visible, included, and influential thereby. Normalized. But behind these appearances, behind this increasing in-flux, stands something far more raw, far more brutal, far more elemental, far more powerful and influential, and that is ‘the pornographic’, a truly ugly and vile *world*. And what *you* do has world-scale ramifications. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Comment of the Day, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Religion and Philosophy

Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/7/2018: Something In This Post Is Guaranteed To Send You Screaming Into The Streets” [Item #3]

Curmie is one of my favorite bloggers, and also a fellow stage director, a teacher, and a learned man with a keen understanding of ethics. As soon as I encountered the jaw-dropping story about the high school that cancelled its scheduled musical after a protest was mounted because a white student was cast in the role of the show’s Romani heroine, I knew it was in Curmie’s wheelhouse.

Here us Curmie’s Comment of the Day on the third topic in the post, Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/7/2018: Something In This Post Is Guaranteed To Send You Screaming Into The Streets:

Re #3: I’d seen this story a few days ago, but luckily for my sanity I had too many other things on my mind to contemplate too deeply what was going on in my old stomping grounds (I went to high school a little over a half hour from Ithaca, and spent four years in grad school at Cornell).

I’m not sure I agree with you that the school is supporting “per se racism,” but I do think the decision was equal parts stupid, repressive, and cowardly. Even if we discount your entire argument, Jack (and I don’t), we still left with this: the character is Romani. The fact that a POC actor played the role in the biggest production of this particular iteration of the story doesn’t change the fact that many Romani are indeed white. What they definitely aren’t is black, although one suspects that casting such as actor in the role would have been at least condoned if not applauded. And if I’m identifying the complaining student correctly, she is far from the body type one would associate with the role. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Race

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/7/2018: Something In This Post Is Guaranteed To Send You Screaming Into The Streets

Good Morning!

1 Oh no! Not my permanent record! My wife gave a small contribution to Mitt  Romney’s campaign, and has been hounded by RNC robocalls and mailings ever since. GOP fundraising started getting really slimy under the indefensible Michael Steele’s leadership, and continued to use unethical methods after Steele went on to job at a bait shop or something. Last week my wife got an envelope in the mail with a block red DELINQUENCY NOTICE! printed on it. A lie, straight up: there was no delinquency, just a my wife’s decision that she would rather burn a C-note than give it to the fools and knaves running the Republican Party. She registered an official complaint with the RNC, and received this response from Dana Klein, NRCC Deputy Finance Director:

“My job as the Deputy Finance Director is to communicate with supporters to let them know the status of their NRCC Sustaining Membership. Unfortunately, I have bad news for you. As of right now, you have a delinquency mark on your record for your failure to renew your membership. But, I have some good news. You can remove this delinquency mark if you renew by the FEC deadline on Wednesday.”

Both my wife and I were professional fundraisers for many years. This is deceptive and coercive fundraising, and anyone who voluntarily supports an organization that uses such tactics is a victim or an idiot.

Or, I suppose, a Republican.

2. Another one…This is another one of the statements that I am pledged to expose every time I read or hear it: a Maryland legislator, enthusing over the likelihood that a ballot initiative will result in legalizing pot in the state, ran off the usual invalid, disingenuous and foolish rationalizations for supporting measure. (Don’t worry, pot-lovers: I’m resigned to this happening, not just in Maryland, but nation wide. As with the state lotteries, our elected officials will trade the public health and welfare for easy revenue every time. Minorities and the poor will be the most hurt, and the brie and pot set couldn’t care less.) Only one of his familiar bad arguments triggered my mandatory response pledge: ” to legalize a drug that is less harmful than alcohol.”

This is the bottom of the rationalization barrel, “it’s not the worst thing.” Alcohol is a scourge of society, killing thousands upon thousands every year, ruining families and lives, wrecking businesses, costing the economy millions of dollars. Just yesterday there was a report that fetal alcohol syndrome was far more common that previously believed. There is no question, none, that U.S. society would be healthier and safer without this poison accepted in the culture: unfortunately, it was too deeply embedded before serious efforts were made to remove it. Now pot advocates want to inflict another damaging recreational drug on society, using the argument that it’s not as terrible as the ones we’re already stuck with. Stipulated: it’s not as harmful as alcohol. It’s not as harmful as Russian Roulette or eating Tidepods either. I have a bias against taking seriously advocates who use arguments like this; it means they re either liars, and know their logic is absurd, or idiots, and don’t.

3. Riddle me this: What do you get when you cross casting ethics, weak and lazy school administrators, political-correctness bullies-in-training with “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”?

Answer: a cancelled high school musical, and per se racism supported by the school.

New York’s Ithaca High School was beginning production of the Disney film-based musical “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” but made the unforgivable error, in the eyes of student activists,  of casting of a white student as a Romani heroine Esmeralda, played in the classic film by that gypsy wench, Maureen O’Hara, and in the Disney version by a Toon.  Several students quit the show in protest,  and formed an activist group to reverse the decision. It sent a letter calling the casting “cultural appropriation” and “whitewashing,” calling the student the “epitome of whiteness.” The letter admitted that she was also “a stellar actor, singer and dancer” that any stage would be “lucky to have,” but what is the talent, skill and competence required for a role compared to what really matters, her skin color? The students demanded that the school either choose a different show or recast Esmeralda a black and brown actress. Continue reading

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