Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 8/1/2021: Simone Biles-Free Zone Edition!

Tower shooting

I don’t think that we need to debate the ethics of deranged mass shootings. The first one I was ever aware of occurred on this date in 1966. Charles Whitman, a former Eagle Scout and Marine, brought a stockpile of guns and ammunition to the observatory platform atop a 300-foot tower at the University of Texas. He had packed food and other supplies, and before settling in for 90 minutes of deadly target practice, killing some victims from as far away as 500 yards—he was a trained marksman—Whitman killed the tower receptionist and two tourists. He eventually shot 46 people, killing 14 and wounding 32 before being killed by police. The night before, on July 31, Whitman wrote a note saying, “After my death, I wish an autopsy on me be performed to see if there’s any mental disorders.” Whitman then went to his mother’s home to murder her, using a knife and a gun. He returned home to stab his wife to death.

Whitman’s story does raise medical ethics issues. He was seeing a psychiatrist, and in March told him that he was having uncontrollable fits of anger. Whitman apparently even said that he was thinking about going up to the tower with a rifle and shooting people. “Well, your hour is up, Mr. Whitman. Same time next week, then?” The intersection of mental illness with individual rights continues to be an unresolved ethics conflict 54 years later. In addition, the rare but media-hyped phenomenon of mass shootings has become a serious threat to the right of sane and responsible Americans to own firearms. See #5 below.

1. The King’s Pass in show business. A new book by James Lapine tells the antic story of how the Sondheim musical “Sunday in the Park With George” came to be a Broadway legend. Lapine wrote the book and directed the show. The cult musical—actually all Sondheim shows are cult musicals–eventually won a Pulitzer Prize ( you know, like the “1619 Project”) and bunch of Tony nominations. I was amazed to read that the show’s star, Mandy Patinkin, at one point walked out on the production and was barely persuaded to return. Lapine writes that he never fully trusted Patinkin again. Why does anyone trust him? In fact, how does he still have a career? Patinkin has made a habit of bailing on projects that depended on him. He quit “Chicago Hope,” and later abandoned “Criminal Minds,” which had him as its lead. To answer my own question, he still has a career because of “The King’s Pass,” Rationalization #11. He’s a unique talent, unusually versatile, and producers and directors give him tolerance that lesser actors would never receive. Mandy knows it, too, and so he kept indulging himself, throwing tantrums and breaking commitments, for decades. He appears to have mellowed a bit in his golden years.

2. Speaking of Broadway, the ethical value missed here is “competence”…There is more evidence that the theater community doesn’t realize the existential peril live theater is in (the medium has been on the endangered list for decades) as it copes with the cultural and financial wreckage from the Wuhan Virus Ethics Train Wreck. Just as theaters are re-opening, the Broadway theater owners have decreed that audience members will be required to wear masks at all times.

I have one word for that: “Bye!” Maybe some fools are rich, submissive and tolerant enough to pay $100 bucks or more for the privilege of being uncomfortable for three hours. Not me. My glasses fog up when I wear masks. I have been vaccinated; I’m fairly sure I was exposed to the virus before then and had minimal symptoms, and much as I believe in live theater, I will not indulge the politically-motivated dictatorship of virtue-signalling pandemic hysterics. The industry is cutting its own throat, but then theater has never been brimming with logic or common sense.

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