What Do You Do With Climate Change Skeptics? Blow Them Up!

Ok, all you people out there who thought a waitress squeezing dishwater into the drinks of customers who didn’t root for her football team in the Direct TV ad was harmless…do you want to take responsibility for a trend?

As you can see over on YouTube, a climate change advocacy group called 10:10 is pressing its case with a video showing a teacher explaining to her pre-teen students the 10:10 formula, in which everyone cuts their carbon emission by 10%, “thus keeping the planet safe for everyone, eventually.” Most of the class volunteers various ways they and their parents can meet the 10% goal, but a couple of students refuse—vicious, dumb, Right wing global warming “deniers,” apparently. So the teacher pushes a button and blows them to bits, with flesh and blood splattering everywhere.  Similar scenarios involving the detonation of adult victims follow. You see, the only way to get “everyone” to save the planet by cutting carbon emissions by 10% is to eliminate those who refuse to do it. Continue reading

Police Brutality: Direct TV Strikes Again!

In a previous post that apparently established the proprietor of Ethics Alarms as a “fuddy-duddy,” I discussed the disturbing series of stereotype-bashing Direct TV commercials that sets out to show how amusing irrational hatred and gratuitously cruel behavior can be. The commercials seem to be escalating, and why not? Ethics Alarms isn’t their only, or most prominent, critic, and ethics be damned—the ads are being watched and talked about! Victory! And besides, they’re aimed at football fans, a demographic that is rather less likely to find the encouragement of random violence upsetting in any way.

The latest “hurt your rival” drama from Direct TV shows two police casually tasering a man who “cheats” in the Fantasy Football league by using his Direct TV NFL  feed to get an upper hand on the competition. (He is seen twitching on the floor. LOL!). As a commenter on the previous post has pointed out, police nationwide are fighting a perception and public relations battle over alleged incidents of excessive force, many involving tasers. This commercial encourages distrust of the police, and reinforces a false and unfair perception that misuse of their power and authority is the norm. Is it worth the laughs, if indeed there are any?

I think the standards for comedians and commercials should be different, with comics having the broadest possible discretion to do or say whatever they feel is necessary to promote mirth from their audiences. TV commercials are more than entertainment: the audiences don’t choose the content of ads or know when they will see them, and their visibility and repetition gives the commercials enough influence over cultural attitudes to warrant a higher level of responsibility on the part of the company and the ad agency.

Mainstream media ads both reflect public attitudes and mold them. The Direct TV ads either show we have a callous society, or are helping to make us one.

Comedy Central’s Unethical Self-Censorship

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

—–Evelyn Beatrice Hall (describing Voltaire’s attitude toward freedom of speech.)

“We will defend to the death your right to say anything to get a laugh, unless you are threatened by religious zealots and terrorists, in which case we will fold like Bart Stupak in an origami competition.”

—–Ethics Alarms (describing Comedy Central’s attitude toward freedom of speech.)

Continue reading

The Evolving Ethics of Joke Theft

Kal Raustiala, a Professor at UCLA Law School and the UCLA International Institute, and Chris Sprigman, a Professor at the University of Virginia Law School, are counterfeiting and intellectual property experts who hang out at the Freakonomics blog, and their latest post discusses how the world of stand-up comedy deals with joke theft. Some of the commentary will remind you of the Monty Python sketch in which a professor dryly lectures (with demonstrations) on the art of slapstick, but their observation is important: professional comics have developed a series of standards, enforced informally by such methods as shunning, shaming, and confrontation (and the occasional punch in the face) to discourage theft of a form of intellectual property that cannot be efficiently protested by copyright or trademark law. Continue reading

The Dishonest or Cowardly Joke Excuse

An enthusiastic commenter to the post on Tony Kornheiser’s suspension by ESPN bases his defense of the suspended sports commentator on what I call “the joke excuse”: poor Tony was only joking when he insulted colleague Hannah Storm on his syndicated radio show, and that should insulate him from any negative consequences because humor is subjective, and we don’t want people without senses of humor snuffing out laughter in the world.

As anyone who actually has read the contents of this blog (the commenter in question has clearly not), I tend to be in general sympathy with the concept of giving humor free reign. The problem with its application here is that I see no evidence that Kornheiser was joking. His words:

“Hannah Storm in a horrifying, horrifying outfit today. She’s got on red go-go boots and a catholic school plaid skirt … way too short for somebody in her 40s or maybe early 50s by now. She’s got on her typically very, very tight shirt.She looks like she has sausage casing wrapping around her upper body … I know she’s very good, and I’m not supposed to be critical of ESPN people, so I won’t … but Hannah Storm … come on now! Stop! What are you doing?”

I’ll pause a second so you can catch your breath from uncontrollable laughter at Tony’s wit, deft use of irony. brilliant wordplay and creative absurdity. Continue reading

Comedy Ethics, Censorship, and Culture

(The current uproar over the use of  various versions of the word “retarded” by Rahm Emanuel and Rush Limbaugh seems to warrant a reprint, slightly revised, of the following essay on ethics and comedy, a January 2008 post on The Ethics Scoreboard. The word “retard” also came in for criticism in a comic context last year, with its use in the Ben Stiller comedy “Tropic Thunder.” Of course, comedy is one thing, and gratuitous cruelty is another. In either case, the issue is the use of a word, not the word itself. As discussed in the previous post, it is appropriate for any group to promote sensitivity and to encourage civility. It is unethical to try to bully others into censoring their speech by trying to “ban” words, phrases or ideas. )

Here is the essay:

Comedy Ethics

“Saturday Night Live” has, not for the first time in its three decade run, ignited an ethics controversy with politically incorrect humor. Was SNL ensemble member Fred Armison’s impression of  New York Governor David Paterson, who is blind, including as it did a wandering eye and featuring slapstick disorientation, legitimate satire or, as Paterson and advocates for the blind have claimed, a cruel catalyst for discrimination against the sight-challenged?
It is not an easy call, though the opposing sides of the argument probably think it should be. And it raises long-standing questions about the balance between ethics and humor. Continue reading