Our Arrogant, Ignorant, Corrosive Celebrities

Hollywood blogger Christian Toto can be forgiven for perhaps—perhaps—over-estimating the influence of celebrities on public opinion; he does live in Tinseltown, after all. But if he’s off in his alarm, he’s not off by much. Reacting to superstar Jennifer Lawrence’s political rants in a new Vogue interview, Toto writes in part,

There’s no reason for Lawrence to get political in a Vogue feature story….Lawrence mentioned politics to gin up support from her fellow progressive stars. It’s a career choice, and arguably a smart one considering the state of the industry. It still hurts the country, and apparently she doesn’t care.

Conservatives will blast her comments. Liberals will either nod in agreement or think she’s gone too far. Everyone, though, will acknowledge the obvious. It’s another sign of a country teetering toward a breakup.

Yes, Lawrence is just one celebrity. And no, celebrities can’t stop climate change, gun crimes or other maladies. They can’t even pull off an Oscars ceremony without a physical altercation …

They do have bully pulpits, though, and when their interviews go viral the messages reach the masses. For better and worse.

Lawrence’s message is clear. Hate half of the country that doesn’t align with your political party, even if they’re your own flesh and blood…she’s so intolerant she can’t share empathy with her family.

Where does that leave the rest of us?

Well, unless we recognize that in most cases celebrities don’t know what they are talking about when they delve into topics unrelated to their specialized niche, and have been made stupid by bias, narcissism and living in an echo chamber (if they weren’t stupid already), it leaves us being influenced by fools.

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Who ARE These People And Why Don’t I Recognize Them?

Well, this is profoundly depressing.

I work hard at keeping current on all aspects of the culture, including the popular culture. I believe, and have written here frequently, that cultural illiteracy is a crippling problem in a democracy, and that citizens have an ethical obligation to avoid it by proactively informing themselves. I also agree with the thesis of E.D. Hirsch, who posited in his best-seller “Cultural Literacy” that the generations becoming estranged and unable to communicate with each other was a formula for societal disaster.

There has been an explosion of the use of a cheap joke at the expense of rising generations in TV and movie dramas: an older character will use a cultural reference to John Wayne, the Beatles, a Rockefeller or someone similarly significant, and a younger character, usually 20-ish, will reply, “Who’s that?” I managed never to be that kid, even as a preteen. The reverse gag is also common: a teen will mention Taylor Swift at the dinner table and a clueless parent will reply, “Oh, is that one of your new friends in school, dear?” I vowed when my son arrived never to be that boob either.

And yet today I ran one of my periodic spot checks on my pop culture literacy, and flunked. Perusing the stories in WeSmirch, a celebrity gossip aggregator, I found the names of 26 current celebrities, and endeavored to identify them (without cheating, of course). Here they are:

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Unethical Quote Of The Week: GOP Senate Candidate Herschel Walker [Expanded]

“Since we don’t control the air, our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air. So when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then — now we got we to clean that back up.”

Yes, Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker really said those words, in that order. The gibberish is on a recently released video of an appearance he made last week at a local GOP picnic in Hall County, northeast of Atlanta, when Walker spoke, if you can call it that, about climate change. The Republican Party, desperate to take control of the Senate, actually nominated a candidate to defeat Democratic incumbent Ralph Warnock whose grasp of science, logic and language is that infantile.

Walker’s sole qualifications, if you can call them that, for the Senate are that he is a local and national sports celebrity, and black. He has no other qualifications. In addition to his obvious lack of education and erudition, he has also lied repeatedly for years, presenting himself as someone he is not. He is a neon-bright hypocrite, lecturing about the responsibilities of fatherhood while hiding the existence of his own children conceived without the security of a secure relationship with their mothers. Continue reading

Pre-Independence Day Ethics Warm-Up, July 3, 2022: What Might Have Been [Broken Link Fixed]

Typically, Ethics Alarms has highlighted July 3 with reflections on the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, for which the 3rd was the dramatic last and decisive day. I know it must be hard to believe, but I do get tired of writing the same things over and over again, an occupational hazard of being an ethicist during a mass ethics breakdown in our democracy and among the increasingly corrupt people we have put in power to protect it. I still can’t ignore Pickett’s futile charge and Custer’s charge as well, so I direct you to last year’s post on both events and their ethics implications.

However, this year I am introducing the July 3 warm-up with another crucial anniversary, one that may have had even more impact on the history of the United States, its prospects and its values than Gettysburg. July 2, 1776 is when the Continental Congress finally agreed to take the leap and forge a new nation (John Adams thought the 2nd would be the day we celebrated) and July 4, 1776 was the date the document was signed. But in-between those more noted dates the Continental Congress began debating and editing Jefferson’s draft Declaration, eventually making 86 edits that cut the length by about a fourth. 

Because the Declaration of Independence is the mission statement of America, framing and sometimes compelling what followed, especially the Constitution, the editing decisions of July 3, 1776 affected our laws and culture in many ways that are unimaginable after more than 200 years. You can read the original here. It is this deleted paragraph, however, that most inspires reflections on what might have been (and what might not):

“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”

Now on to the present day’s ethics concerns...

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Ethics Quote Of The Week: Actor Tim Considine (1940-2022)

“Thank God there’s no justice in this world.”

Disney and “My Three Sons” actor Tim Considine, who died last week at age 82, in an interview quoted in his New York Times obituary.

Considine was referring to his success and rich experiences in life, which he felt were relatively undeserved. He did not regard himself as especially talented or ambitious.

The more I ponder his statement, the more profound I think it is. Understanding that there is no justice in the world is a necessary predicate for committing to an ethical life for the right reasons. Society needs as many people as possible striving to be good, having their lives exert a net benefit on others, and being exemplars of ethical values as often as they can. These habits and objectives must be committed to while fully understanding that they only collectively and on balance result in desirable results, and sometimes not even that. Continue reading

When Jack Palance Stood Up For Ukraine Against Putin

Over at The Bulwark, culture editor Sonny Bunch reminded me of a tale of some relevance to current events, though like most pieces in The Bulwark, his account is missing crucial details.

It involves one of my mother’s favorite Hollywood villains, Jack Palance. Younger readers probably remember him only in his long, lucrative late-career self-parody period (Watch “Shane”: what’s the matter with you?), which got him one of those weird Best Actor Oscars for just doing what he had done naturally for decades, but hammier, in “City Slickers.” (He was also aided by lines like “I crap bigger than you.” (To Billy Crystal.)

The actor was born in Pennsylvania as Volodymyr Palahniuk, the son of Ukrainian immigrants. In 2004, after Palance’s final film and just two years before his death, a Hollywood celebration  of “Russian Nights” in Los Angeles ended with an awards ceremony. “Russian Nights” was a week-long film festival that celebrated “Russian contributions to the world of art,” and was sponsored in part by the Russian Ministry of Culture. Russian president Vladimir Putin endorsed the propaganda event. Scheduled to receive “narodny artyst” awards ( translated as “the Russian People’s Choice Award”) were Dustin Hoffman and Jack Palance. Hoffman, like Palance boasted of Ukrainian heritage.

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Unethical Quote Of The Month (With Bonus “What An Asshole!” Points): Joy Behar

“You know, you just, you plan a trip, you wanna go there. I’ve wanted to go to Italy for four years and I haven’t been able to make it because of the pandemic, and now this, you know?”

—“The View” co-host Joy Behar, explaining why she was upset about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The full exchange:

Co-host Sonny Hostin: “Estimates are 50,000 Ukrainians will be dead or wounded and this is going to start a refugee crisis in Europe,”  said. “We’re talking about 5 million people that are going to be displaced. It’s heartbreaking to hear what is going to happen.”

Behar: “Yeah, I’m scared of what’s gonna happen in Western Europe, too. You know, you just, you plan a trip, you wanna go there. I’ve wanted to go to Italy for four years and I haven’t been able to make it because of the pandemic, and now this, you know? It’s like, who’s gonna, what’s gonna happen there?”

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Comment Of The Day: Ethics Quiz: Celebrity Post Retirement Photos

Mermaidmary99 has a strange relationship with Ethics Alarms: about half of her comments get sent straight to spam by WordPress for no apparent reason. This is perplexing for her and me, since she so often has an original and perceptive opinion to share. This Comment of the Day is an example, and yes, I found it in the spam collection.

The Ethics Quiz asked readers, “Is it ethical to take unflattering photos of former performers and celebrities and publicize them expressly to invite cruel comments and ridicule?” It was sparked by two things: the emergence of the first photograph of former movie star Bridget Fonda, daughter of Peter, niece of Jane, grand-daughter of Henry, in twelve years. Last time the public saw her, Fonda looked more of less like she did in Quentin Tarentino’s “Jackie Brown,” above; the other was my wife’s complaint, after her recent stay in the hospital (a bad scare, but all is fine), that the nurses kept telling her she was beautiful (which she is) and she refuses to believe it, insisting that the years have not been kind. I thought the new photo of the considerably younger Mrs. Elfman would help her put things into perspective. (My wife’s answer: “I bet those nurses would tell her she’s beautiful too!”)

Here is mermaidmary99’s rescued Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Quiz: Celebrity Post Retirement Photos.”

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Who judges if it’s unflattering?

My dad would look at [the recent photo] and see a miraculous, beautiful human being with trillions of cells working in perfect intelligence allowing us to see her standing. He’s also would be keenly aware that he too is a miracle, a person with 10 to the 30th power of different viruses inside him, trillions of bacteria and fungi, and cells with 200-8000 mitochondria in each one, working non-stop. Continue reading

A Rittenhouse Verdict Inventory Of Ethics Heroes, Dunces, Villains And Fools, Part III: Facts Don’t Matter

Above is a comic I never heard of (but one with a regular platform), grandstanding over the Ritterhouse verdict as she reveals that she either has no idea what the facts are in the case, or is deliberately hate-mongering by sending lies into the public consciousness. She tells us that she takes her responsibility to “tell people what they need to know” seriously, and then tells them what isn’t true. “It’s not OK”, she says with great emotion. “For a man to garb a rifle, travel across state lines, and shoot three people and walk free.” In fact, it’s not “OK” for anyone to deliberately misstate the key facts of a controversial episode to the many ignoramuses who may be listening and are likely to be misled.

Rittenhouse did not “grab a rifle” and cross state lines. The law says that it is “OK” for someone—regardless of their race— to defend themselves with deadly force if they reasonably believe his life is at stake. Then she goes on to outright racism, claiming that whites have “always” escaped consequences when they engage in murder. She calls the judge and jury racist, for participating in a trial that acquitted a white man for shooting three other white men.

She seemed like an excellent introduction to this list of similarly dishonest, ignorant or hateful people showing their lack of fairness and critical thinking skills as they descended into hysteria and ugly rhetoric…because so many on the Left are receptive to it. This is not about a difference of legitimate opinion when Americans of note or in positions of influence and responsibility engage in inflammatory declarations based on a false description of what occurred.

Certainly the news media, even more than usual, played its “enemy of the people” role to the hilt, but its flagrant false reporting on the Jacob Blake shooting was four months ago. There is no excuse for anyone with integrity and responsibility still talking about the Kenosha police shooting “an unarmed black man” or representing Blake as anything other than a dangerous outlaw who was engaged in a crime, and justly shot. Because there was no racism or police brutality involved, the protests and riots supposedly prompted by the episode were contrived and based on incompetent (or intentionally incendiary) reporting. The subsequent narrative, that Rittenhouse was opposing “racial justice” and thus a “white supremacist” because he (foolishly, recklessly) sought to mitigate the destruction caused by an ongoing riot (triggered by an incident that only was “racist” in the overheated minds of the reporters and race-hucksters) cannot be defended.

The fools and dunces whose statements are noted below are shooting off their mouths (or social media accounts) in defiance of reality. As Bari Weiss points out in her substack essay (Pointer: John Paul),

To acknowledge the facts of what happened that night is not political. It is simply to acknowledge reality. It is to say that facts are still facts and that lies are lies. It is to insist that mob justice is not justice. It is to say that media consensus is not the equivalent of due process.

And, I would add, it is to say that just because politicians, celebrities, pundits and your Facebook pals are taking a position that literally makes no sense and is based on extreme bias and fantasy is not justification for following the parade.

Below is an incomplete list of the “Facts Don’t Matter” mob. Not surprisingly, I didn’t particularly respect any of these people even before they beclowned themselves in this ethics train wreck. Even so, there are serious problems in the culture (and the educational system) when so many default to gullibility, confusion, miserable logic and emotion. The unethical reaction to the Rittenhouse verdict is, perhaps, more significant than the verdict itself.

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Friday Ethics Distractions, 10/22/21: Foot In Mouth Edition

foot in mouth Xray

Wow! People sure are saying some stupid things lately!

1. A David Manning Lie of the Month from Joe Biden! The David Manning Liar of the Month was a feature of the old Ethics Scoreboard honoring public figures or corporations that made obviously dishonest statements that they had to assume were harmless because nobody could possibly believe them. Thus Joe Biden really told reporters that he hasn’t gotten around to visiting the illegal immigrant mobs at the southern border because he’s just been too darn busy. All year. And, he added, it’s OK because Dr. Biden has been there. He also implied that he didn’t need to go to the border to see the utter mess his immigration policies have wrought because he’s seen the border

Let’s unpack this, shall we?

  • Joe has had time to go back to Delaware and Camp David, but not where there’s a border crisis of his making because he’s too busy. Does anyone believe that?
  • Let’s be fair: the President shouldn’t have to go to the border if he has competent subordinates to do it and accurately explain what’s going on. However, when President Bush chose not to personally visit the Katrina carnage, he was accused by Biden’s party and its news media of not caring, not doing his job, and, by Kanye West, of being a racist. What’s the standard? Bush felt that all he could do was get in the way. No, said Democrats, he had to go there, see what was happening with his own eyes. If that’s the standard, and I don’t think it needs to be, then why isn’t it also the standard for Biden and the border mess?
  • Talk about the cover-up being worse than the crime: Jen Psaki managed to top herself for mendacity and deflection when Fox’s Peter Doocy asked her why the President felt he had seen enough of the border. Why, she said, because he had been to the border in 2008! She really said that! “And nothing has changed since 2008?” Doocy reasonably asked. No! the President’s paid liar huffed. There’s been no immigration reform since then! And Biden knows President Trump has made everything worse by “separating children from parents” and building a “feckless wall” (whatever that means). So he doesn’t have to re-visit the border to know that, and again, he went there in 2008!

2. Shut up, or start a blog. The dim-bulb royals in exile decided that we need to hear their opinions on two issues. Prince Harry pronounced the First Amendment “bonkers”—yes, Harry, that attitude on the part of your relatives is why England doesn’t govern us any more—and his wife, Meghan Markle, received publicity for advocating paid leave for parents. Neither of these two people famous for being famous have done or said anything that should endow their opinions with any more persuasiveness or newsworthiness than the typical dogwalker’s. Harry was born well; Meghan married someone who was born well. It doesn’t matter what they think, or what they say. It’s not news. Continue reading