Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘Ethics Quote Of The Week: Ken White of Popehat’”

This is the second Comment of the Day within a week from Ethics Alarms prodigal son Curmie, a college prof, who makes the case that college education is being excessively maligned. You should probably re-read the post he’s responding , another Comment of the Day, to appreciate his argument.

Here is Curmie’s Comment of the Day on the post, Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quote Of The Week: Ken White of Popehat”:

This is a cogent analysis up to a point, but I must say I’m more than a little sick and tired of having people tell me what goes on in my classroom. I teach at a non-flagship state university. And the description of what happens in college classrooms simply does not match my experience of them.

(Side note to Ryan: I really do like a lot of what you’ve said here. I apologize if the succeeding sounds like a personal attack. It is not intended in that spirit. Just one too many sweeping generalizations about my profession, and the last straw happened to be yours.)

Ryan cites Thomas Aquinas. I prefer the great late-20th century philosophers known as Monty Python: “I’m not dead yet.”

I do expect students to know some objective facts: if you can’t tell me the basic tenets of neoclassical theory or who David Garrick was, you’re not going to fare well in my theatre history class. If Ryan wants to say that in this sense I insist on regurgitation, he has my permission to do so.

But to get an A on the research paper, you’d better be able to interpolate from incomplete data, and to articulate a point of view based on the facts as they are available to us. That means finding out what the facts are, but also finding context: okay, so it cost a penny to see a play at the Globe Theatre. But that’s a meaningless statistic if you don’t know what that Elizabethan spectator could have bought for a penny if he didn’t spend it on standing room in an outdoor theatre. Continue reading

The Last Word On The “Hamilton” Cast’s Harassment Of Mike Pence

death-of-a-slaesman

In the end, after several posts and a large number of comments about this incident, I am convinced that, more than anything, it shows how little the American public, even well-educated, culturally-engaged members of the public, and even participants in the entertainment profession understand and respect the importance of live theater.

This, at least, is no surprise. The New York Times recently reported that a survey had revealed that symphony orchestras no longer are viable without charity: fewer and fewer, mostly aging, patrons bother to attend concerts any more. Live theater is heading down the same path, probably irreversibly. Theater will never hit rock bottom, of course; it will always be possible to put on a show like Judy and Mickey, and live theater can exist as long as there is a single talented performer, a street corner, and a crowd. But theater is dying as something relevant to society, and that is a tragedy. Each generation goes to live theater events less and less. I have not seen the up-dated figures, but in the Nineties a study showed that Americans under 30 were more likely to have called a phone psychic at least once in the past year than to have attended a single live theater performance in their entire existence on earth.

The role of theater in society has  been extolled by Aristotle and social critics through the centuries as a unique and important community activity in which citizens of all social strata engage in the ancient ritual of sitting together in a darkened theater, and not only experience the events being portrayed on stage but experience it communally, hearing and feeling the reaction of others. Now that social force has receded to the vanishing point. A vacuum has taken its place. Movies seldom explore serious issues any more, and younger audiences have increasingly retreated to watching films online, and often alone. The potentially life-altering experience that is being lost is hard to describe when someone hasn’t experienced it. The power of the medium to communicate ideas and concepts vividly and to change minds and lives is unmatched, and unmatchable. I have seen it. I have experienced it. I have even helped make it happen.

The department store mogul Bernard Gimbel attended an early performance of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” on Broadway in 1949. The plight of Willy Loman, an aging traveling salesman being pressured out of the only employment he had ever known, so shattered Gimbel’s world view that he couldn’t sleep. The next day, he called his managers together and told them and all of his stores that no over-age employee was to be fired. Alfred C. Fuller of the Fuller Brush company asked Miller to dinner to seek his guidance on how to  keep his Fuller Brush salesmen from quitting. That’s power. That’s wonderful. We should want influential people, elected officials, business owners, policy-makers, bankers, investors and corporate executives to see that kind of theater. In today’s New York Times, Ben Brantley, the Times drama critic, explains…
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Literary Quotation Ethics

I am gradually catching up on “Criminal Minds,” the CBS crimes drama that operates in an America where there are serial killers under every rock. On an episode from 2008, the show used a quotation (famous quotations generally begin and close each episode) attributed to Ayn Rand, the author/philosopher who championed “objectivism” and her own peculiar brand of non-compassionate individualism.  The quote: “We are all brothers under the skin—and I, for one, would be willing to skin humanity to prove it.”

This seemed a little harsh even for Ayn Rand; I figured she must have been having a bad day. “Nice lady,” I commented to my wife, who rolled her eyes, for she is not a Rand admirer. Later, I mentioned the quote to a quotation-obsessed friend, who informed me that the words were really uttered by an Ayn Rand villain, Ellsworth Toohey, the unprincipled newspaper columnist who makes life miserable for the hero of The Fountainhead, Howard Roark.

Was “Criminal Minds” fair to Ayn Rand? Continue reading