A Young Ex-Actress Is In Crisis: Is The Media Capable Of Kindness? Are We?

Yesterday I flagged an independent film, a black satire, that tells the tale of a decent man who is sent into a homicidal rampage when the cruelty of the culture and especially the media overcomes him. I’m not to that point—yet—but the callousness of the national media in response to what it feels is consumer demand is oppressive.

I am going to omit names, graphics or links here, because I do not want to feed the phenomenon I am decrying. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Is It Ethical For The President To Cut In Line?

"I'm more important than you are, so I'm cutting in line."

“I’m more important than you are, so I’m cutting in line.”

[Fred, who sent me this one, prefaced it by writing, “You’ll love this.” He was right. I do. I also hate it.]

News Item ( Austin 360):

“Following his speech at the Paramount, President Obama’s motorcade traveled to Franklin Barbecue on East 11th Street. The restaurant is well known for its great brisket and extremely long waits, but the president circumvented that using the powers of his office. “I know this is a long line. I feel real bad, but – I’m gonna cut,” Obama said, according to a pool report from the Statesman’s Chuck Lindell. [Owner] Aaron Franklin told the Statesman’s Ciara O’Rourke that nobody cuts the line at Franklin … except Obama.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is it ethical for the President of the United States to cut into a line for goods or services?

Can you guess my answer?

It’s not just “no,” but “Hell, no!”

Talk about the Imperial Presidency! There is no basis, justification or excuse whatsoever for the President to cut into line under these circumstances, especially by saying, “I’m gonna cut.” The proper answer to that, my friends, is “No, you’re not, Mister President. Why don’t you ask politely, and maybe everyone ahead of you will be magnanimous and agree?” Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Actor Shia LaBeouf

“Fuck you. This is fucking bullshit. Do you know my life? Do you know who the fuck I am? Do you know who I am?”

—Former “Transformers” actor (and  Indiana Jones son) Shia LaBoeof, as he was arrested and dragged out of the Broadway musical “Cabaret” during a performance where he had been smoking a joint in his seat and periodically yelling at the actors.

Contrary to the lyrics, Shia, I think it may be time to consider sitting alone in your room...

Contrary to the lyrics, Shia, I think it may be time to consider sitting alone in your room…

Shia obviously has former child actor emotional problems and I sincerelywish him the best, but if there is anything an individual of any note, connections or accomplishment can utter that has signature significance—to anybody, from a librarian to a police officer, “do you know who I am?” and all variations thereof is it.

Yes, Shia, we know who you are. You’re an asshole. Next question?

Caring Letter From A Child Star

Sarah and the Baron.

Sarah and the Baron.

This remarkable letter is old—2005—but I just became aware of it, and it is an important document in the ongoing problem of the mistreatment of child performers.

I am a fan of film director (and Monty Python member) Terry Gilliam, and a great admirer of Canadian actress/director/political activist Sarah Polley. So naturally I love “The Adventures Baron Munchausen,” Gilliam’s epic fantasy that starred Polley when she was the tender age of 9, and gave one of the most impressive performances of any juvenile actress, ever. In 2005, Gilliam was filming another movie with a young star, and 17 years after working with him, Polley felt obligated to write this letter, which speaks for itself, and eloquently too:

Hi there, Terry.

Continue reading

Shirley Temple Black (1928-2014)


Shirley Temple Black, perhaps best known to most of us as Little Miss Marker, Curly Top,the Littlest Rebel, Heidi, or, most of all, Shirley Temple, died overnight. I learned of her passing this morning in a Facebook update from child performer advocate Paul Petersen, like Shirley a distinguished and successful former child star who has dedicated his post-performing career to important causes. He wrote:

SHIRLEY TEMPLE passed in the night. She was 85…and no age at all. What a life. What a treasure. A woman of amazing courage and dignity.The world was enriched by her accomplishments. She will always be a part of us. Rest now, Shirley Temple. We love you.

There really isn’t too much more that needs to be said.  Few human beings ever began having a positive impact on society so soon in life (she began making adults smile at the age of three, when she made her first film) and continued to do so for so long. From show business, a profession that so often leads to ethical rot,  and a rarefied corner of it infamous for leaving its practitioners spoiled, narcissistic, addicted to fame and dysfunctional, Shirley Temple emerged as an adult who was industrious, courageous, intelligent, compassionate, and dedicated to public service. Often dismissed and mocked as a washed-up child star, she proved again and again that her detractors were not just wrong to pre-judge her, but spectacularly wrong. She excelled as a diplomat, serving as U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, using her Hollywood fame to open doors and hearts, and also as the U.S. delegate to the United Nations. Temple never played the celebrity: my favorite Shirley moment was when she returned, in her seventies, to join a large group of former Oscar winners (hers was a special award, at the age of six) on the stage of the Academy Awards. As they announced the names of the famous performers and the camera panned the group, it was Shirley who received the most loving response from the Hollywood crowd, which stood and cheered. Shirley looked genuinely surprised, beamed, showed those famous dimples, and handled it, as she always handled everything, with charm and poise.

A proto-feminist, Shirley Temple was one of the first celebrities to go public with a diagnosis of breast cancer, and raised national awareness by promoting a frank discussion of mastectomies. In her autobiography, she also had the courage to point out the predominance of sexual predators in the the Hollywood power structure and culture, recalling that MGM musical unit head Arthur Freed*, whose career is celebrated in “Singing in the Rain,” exposed himself to her in his office when she was barely 13. (She laughed at him; he threw her out of his office.)

Historians credit Shirley Temple with saving the movie studio RKO and raising America’s spirits during the Great Depression; she also was a Cold Warrior, a mother, the inspiration for a best-selling line of dolls as well as the alcohol-free cocktail that still bears her name, and one of a kind. It is fair to say we will never see her like again.

Late in life, she told an interviewer, “If I had it all to do over, I wouldn’t change a thing.” How many of us can say that sincerely?

Paul was right. What a life!

Take a curtain call, kid…

* The original version of the post incorrectly referred to Arthur Freed as Alan Freed, who was an  influential disc jockey in the early days of rock and roll. I apologize to both of them.

Ethics Dunce: Justin Bieber Enabler, Adidas


You have to admit, the kid takes a great mugshot…

Sure, why wouldn’t a multinational athletic shoe company want an irresponsible, sociopathic drunken creep as the face of its product?

With any half-ethical company, the news that the celebrity it is paying a fortune to endorse its wares to consumers has just completed a six month period of embarrassments with an arrest for drag-racing under the influence would be followed immediately with a pink slip and an apology. Not Adidas.

No, despite the news of the continued unraveling of the 19-year-old Justin Bieber,—previously seen egging his next door neighbor’s home—who seems determined to emulate the worst of spoiled child idol cautionary tales, Adidas announced that Bieber is still their boy, which means that it is still promoting him as an icon and role model, and officially communicating the position that a teen’s impaired driving is no big deal—certainly nothing to lower the teen’s status in the eyes of a major corporation. The company also signaled that it doesn’t care if its ethical shrug amounts to enabling and rewarding The Bieb’s self-destructive behavior, increasing the burgeoning odds that he ends up in the gutter, on a slab, or wort of all, in a pathetic reality show before he’s 30.

I know, I know: the company is taking a wait and see stance, which only means it is venal and irresponsible, and if Jeffrey Dahmer was their official Adidas-wearing superstar, and the kids who buy Adidas shoes didn’t care who he ate, Adidas would keep paying him millions too.

In these situations you only get one chance to show that you care about the values and conduct you endorse, and Adidas already missed it. It has no values.

But I guess most of us already knew that.

(I saw this coming, you know…)


Sources: TMZ, The Province

Shia LaBeouf, Plagiarism Addict, With Much Worse To Come

Shia past and present, with apology...

The child star past and present, with apology…

Actor Shia LaBeouf, known to Disney Channel aficionados as the annoying little brother on “Even Stevens” and to movie fans as Indiana Jones’ son and the Transformers Guy, is so much more, and not in a good way. His rapidly expanding list of reckless and socially-clueless episodes, including the obligatory misconduct behind the wheel of an expensive car, signals that he may be the new Lindsay Lohan, a talented former child-star raised to adulthood without basic life-skills, respect for others, and an appreciation of the difference between right and wrong. This is a tragic scenario that we are cursed to witness again and again—we saw it in 2013 in the increasingly obnoxious and desperate conduct of pop star Justin Bieber. Give a child wealth, power and adulation without first imbuing him or her with values, discipline and humility and what do you get? A menace.

As LaBeouf’s acting career has waned with his growing reputation as an untrustworthy (and sometimes violent) jerk, he has refashioned himself into an aspiring artist. Unfortunately, he lacks some basic traits of successful artists, like integrity and creativity. His inclination, being raised, like most child stars, in an unstable environment by self-absorbed and dysfunctional parents, is to cheat. In 2012, LaBeouf attached his name to three short graphic novels and a webcomic series. This year, we learned that at least two of the graphic novels contained text plagiarized from other writers. Then LaBeouf attached his name as writer to the short film (which he also directed) called “HowardCantour.com,” which was unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival and received some praise there. The  short, about an online film critic, included a strong resemblance to Daniel Clowes’ 2007 comic “Justin M. Damiano,” as well as large sections of dialogue directly lifted from it. No one picked up on the plagiarism until LaBeouf  released his film online.  Continue reading

Celebrity Values: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly


Celebrities have the opportunity to use their disproportionate and sometimes unexplainable fame to pass along good values, priorities and ethical habits to those who admire and follow them. The problem is that the U.S. culture’s current values are in a muddled state, with virtues sometimes being treated as embarrassments, and the enthusiastic embrace of non-ethical goals that once were regarded as the seven deadly sins are now often looked upon as the norm, and even appropriate. Here are some recent events in the strange world of celebrity values:

The Good: This headline on numerous web sources piqued my interest: “Dylan Sprouse Defends Restaurant Host Job.” Dylan Sprouse is a former Disney child star, a long time lead, with his brother, on the long-running “The Suite Life of Zach & Cody,” one of those loud, hyper-frenetic tween comedies that Disney and Nickelodeon acquire from some production company in Hell. Dylan was seen working in a restaurant, and this immediately spawned multiple rumors that he was broke, had blown through his millions, and was, in brief, a pathetic loser….because he has the same kind of job most American twenty-somethings fresh out of college would be thrilled to have.

Thus Dylan, who along with his brother decided to get out of the child star rat-race that has recently put Lindsay Lohan in rehab, Amanda Bynes in a mental health treatment facility and Miley Cyrus naked on a wrecking ball, and start a more conventional life with a college education (at NYU). Sprouse decided to address the weird criticism being sent his way on social media and in the gossip blogs by writing, Continue reading

Twerk Ethics

[The following is blurry, but perhaps that is for the best. It is the only full version of the performance at issue currently available on YouTube, and it may not be there for long. Watch at your own risk.]

To listen to the horrified reaction to Miley Cyrus’s relatively obscene performance at the nationally televised MTV Music Video awards (not so long ago, Miley was that cute tween Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel) , one would think that rock and pop stars intentionally crossing the established lines of symbolic pubic sexual decorum was unprecedented. The furious and shocked condemnations seemed to emanate from some parallel culture, like the alternate universe that implicitly exists on CBS’s updated Sherlock Holmes drama “Elementary” (Sherlock is a precariously recovering alcoholic and drug addict; Dr. Watson is a former Charlie’s Angel) where nobody ever heard of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” Basil Rathbone or the dancing men cipher, because Arthur Conan Doyle never invented the character. ( The British updated Sherlock, uncreatively titled “Sherlock,” is so far superior to “Elementary” —which isn’t bad–that  it’s unsettling.) Have Isadora Duncan, Josephine Baker, Sally Rand, Elvis, the Stones, Jim Morrison,, Madonna and Christina Aguilera been erased from the past by some music-hating cyborg from a dystrophy future where everyone sings like Matt Munro?

Gross simulated sexual display on television prime time has unethical elements, to be sure. It’s uncivil, to begin with, intentionally placing socially objectionable content before a lot of viewers who don’t want to see it. That’s a breach of respect, but a minor one in this context. Janet Jackson flashed a breast during the Superbowl half-time show, after all: the argument that this was a family event that shouldn’t have been unexpectedly transformed into a peep show was grounded in fact. This week, however, I heard earnest mothers protesting that their delicate pre-teens were watching the MTV awards and had the innocence cruelly seared out of them by the unexpected and horrifying sight of Miley twerking ( simulating sex while dancing—a brand new addition to the Oxford dictionary) on Robin Thicke, dressed as Beetlejuice. Those mothers, not to be excessively cruel myself, are idiots.

What did they expect to see? This is a live show populated by competing shameless self-promoting narcissists who know that the performer who says or does the most outrageous thing will win the publicity game, and be a topic of debate for days or even weeks. Miley won, that’s all. If a child saw something age-inappropriate, the parents can only blame themselves.  This was roughly the equivalent of letting your kid watch “The Walking Dead” and complaining to AMC that the show’s violence is excessive for children. Ethics breach #1 is by any parent who allowed a child to watch this show while wanting to protect the child’s exposure to sexually provocative material. Irresponsible, incompetent, and stupid. Continue reading

Should Child Actors Be Banned?

Amanda Bynes: A child star's evolution

Amanda Bynes: A child star’s career path

I posed this question years ago to Paul Petersen, a noted child performer himself (on the classic “The Donna Reed Show”) and for decades the courageous advocate for past and present child stars. He has fought for legislation to protect their assets and their welfare, often attracting hatred and attacks from stage parents in the process, but draws a hard line at banning kids in stage, screen and TV. “Gotta have those cute kids, Jack” he replied, essentially admitting that as brutal as pre-adult careers in show business often were, the public would never give up their lovable moppets. I don’t dispute Paul’s clear-eyed acceptance of reality, but I also think his answer ducks the question. As he knows better than anyone (you should check out the website of his non-profit organization here, and consider sending a contribution his way), the carnage on young lives a too-early introduction into one of the most callous and mind-warping of professions brings is well-documented and undeniable. Enablers and apologists, not to mention greedy parents willing to cash in their kids’ chances at a healthy childhood for fees and residuals, point to the prominent child stars (Shirley Temple, Brooke Shields) who did not grow up miserable, dysfunctional, and lost, but that is like arguing that child abuse is tolerable because some victims recover from its wounds.

The evidence of child stardom’s destructive effects is ever-present, so much so that the public has become inured to it, and hardly notices. Incidents and quotes exposing Justin Bieber’s gradual evolution into a narcissistic jerk have been regular features of the tabloid news, as have weekly hints that former Disney star Miley Cyrus is heading off the rails. Her infamous fellow alumna from the Mouse Factory, Lindsay Lohan, continues to cement her credentials as the poster girl for child stars gone bad, and just yesterday, former Nickelodeon comic Amanda Bynes was ordered to undergo psychiatric examination following the latest in a year’s worth of weird conduct.

Over at Cracked, a former child star who managed to escape the Biz with her sanity, values and reputation intact weighed in with an unusually sensitive (for Cracked) essay entitled, “7 Reasons Child Stars Go Crazy.” The author is Mara Wilson, now virtually forgotten despite the fact that she is barely in her thirties and the Broadway musical adapted from her most popular film, “Matilda,” was a 2013 Tony winner.  Wilson identifies the key factors dooming her less fortunate colleagues as… Continue reading