Tag Archives: ethics alarms

Harassing McGruff: Oh-Oh…Am I Going Crazy?

Being an ethicist, especially a blogging ethicist, has its disadvantages. One bad one is that your ethics alarms are tuned to be so sensitive that you see, or think you see, ethics issues in just about everything. Now I think I just may have crossed the line into ethics-hypersensitivity madness, or EHM.

That GEICO commercial above really, really bothers me, and apparently I am the only one.

What is looks like to me, and did from the very first time I saw it, is cruel bullying and office harassment. Despite the stated gag in the ad, this isn’t human beings talking “baby-talk” to a dog. The ad depicts co-workers being deliberately cruel to a colleague because of his appearance, and arguably his race. (McGruff isn’t a dog; he’s a “Goofy,” one of the strange dog-headed animated human mutants most prominently represented by Disney’s slapstick star. Pluto, as made quite clear by the kids in “Stand By Me,” is the dog..)

I find it incredible that GEICO would put out a TV ad that makes a joke about bigotry and workplace harassment now, of all times. How is that funny? Poor McGruff is trying to do his job, and his entire office refuses to take him seriously because he has a dog-face. They humiliate him. They show they don’t respect him. They gang up on him. And GEICO’s announcer just calls it “surprising,” meaning “hilarious.”

I don’t find someone being made to feel like they are being relegated to the role of an office joke as hilarious. We are watching a classic hostile work environment scenario, and GEICO is telling us that it’s funny. Doesn’t that inform children that this kind of peer bullying and denigration is OK, indeed fun? Why doesn’t it? Because McGruff is a ‘toon?” Why isn’t that tantamount to racism? Because of how he looks? If there was a comedy scene in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” where Jessica Rabbit was mercilessly ridiculed and hazed because of her body, would that have been all right? Why isn’t the depicted treatment of McGruff the Crime Dog the equivalent of making relentless comments about a co-worker’s unusually large breasts, or weight?

Or am I just seeing an ethics breach that isn’t there? Go ahead, you can tell me. I can take it.

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Workplace

Comment Of The Day: “When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring: Snapchat Approves A Domestic Abuse Game Ad”

Video games and their effect on societal violence have been mentioned in the comment threads of several recent posts of late, so Michael West’s essay on the topic is especially timely (even if my posting of it is tardy). I am dubious about claims that forms of entertainment warp healthy minds, as I am old enough to have seen a series of modes and genres be condemned from various sides of the political spectrum as turning children into violence-prone monsters. Even the Three Stooges once were fingered as making kids unfeeling sociopaths. I’m also historically astute enough to know dime-novels about bloody Wild Bill Hickock shootouts, pulp novels with half-naked blondes on the cover and  EC comics about shambling, face-eating corpses were similarly accused. My son played “The Godfather” video game, and five earlier versions of the “10 Violent Video Games” the Parenting website says to avoid, all with my blessing.

When my son was 18, he bought a gun, too. I’m not worried. He has many friends, a strong peer group, he has strong ethical values and character, and is kind and thoughtful. That is not to say that every new social influence is different, and that attention must be paid.

Here is Michael West’s Comment of the Day on the post, When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring: Snapchat Approves A Domestic Abuse Game Ad

Video games have been out nationally for quite a while. Even video games that have abstract versions of violence…like Mario Brothers or Donkey Kong…and I mean old school versions of those games like I used to play on Apple IIe. But for us to seriously contemplate capital V, capital G, capital V Video Game Violence as a force affecting the acculturation of our youths, we ought to fast forward in time specifically to “realistic” video game violence. An estimate that will be off plus or minus a few years, the *mid* 1990s is when our culture saw First Person Shooters enter the market, with early favorites like “Doom” and “Wolfenstein 3D” for desktop computers and ultimately entering the console market. In other words, Video Game Violence is still a young force in our society. This makes measuring its effects a bit problematic.

As we raise our young, they are acculturated through several INPUTS…all of which communicate to some level or another the values that the culture espouses OR worse, inadvertently communicates values the culture notionally DOES NOT espouse, but accidentally promote. In a manner of speaking, “we are what we eat”. My personal take up front is that YES, video game violence, as a subset of ALL informational inputs DOES affect each individual’s acculturation. The real questions are, “how much” and “are it’s effects mitigated by other inputs”?

I would think that for video game violence to start acculturating the young towards violence, they would need to be inundated by it and have few effective counter-acculturating forces in their lives teaching them that wanton and purposeless violence is bad. For the first 20 years of video game violence, my gut tells me we can explain away its effects as having been minimally noticeable without deeply searching each individual or practically non-existent. Children of the early years of video games had plenty of other inputs in their lives as well as outlets for their minds at a vastly greater ratio than the violence int he games…first and foremost active and attentive parents.

That leaves us really with only about 15 years of any generation that could be said to be inundated by truly graphic depictions of limitless violence…most of those age cohorts are still too young to see how they turn out as adults. Again, my gut says that you’d see actual correlations, if they exist, in about another decade. And even then, I don’t think we’ll find a direct causal effect between video game violence and individuals acting on violent tendencies *except in marginal cases*. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Childhood and children, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Popular Culture

Ethics Review: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

I watched last year’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” twice, just to make sure it was the profound ethics movie I thought it was. It is. None of the reviews described it that way, of course. Here is the New York Times:

“The movie opens on low boil with Mildred behind the wheel of her station wagon near three derelict billboards…she uses the billboards to announce her crusade … a way to get things jumping (the investigators, the tale) and splash some foreboding on an outwardly pacific scene. Much of the story involves the ripples of outrage, confusion and buffoonery that the billboards inspire and that soon envelop almost everyone Mildred knows. Months after her daughter’s death, grief has walled her in; isolating and seemingly impenetrable, it is inscribed in the hardness of her gaze and in her grim new identity as a mother of a dead girl. The billboards turn that grief into a weapon, a means of taking on the law and assorted men — a threatening stranger, a vigilante dentist and an abusive ex (John Hawkes) — who collectively suggest another wall that has closed Mildred in….”

None of which addresses what is remarkable about the film, which is that it shows what causes our ethics alarms not to ring—Frances McDormand as Mildred and Sam Rockwell as Dixon, a racist and vicious deputy, in particular demonstrate  what it is like to be driven by non-ethical considerations of the darkest and most passionate sort—and more important, what causes them to start ringing again. Most reviewers described this as a dark and depressing film. The ethics alarms are mostly off again as the film ends, and that is ominous, but its main ethics message is uplifting in many ways. “Three Billboards” teaches us that even broken, ignorant, alienated human beings have the capacity to access their innate instincts for compassion, justice, forgiveness, selflessness and kindness, and even when our ethical selves seem permanently overcome and decisively defeated, they can burst out again, in control, salvaging what’s best about the species.

There is a moment early in “Three Billboards” that signals that it is not only going to show us what monsters anger and grief can transform us into, but also that what George Washington’s list of 110 Rules called “that little spark of celestial fire called conscience” is remarkably resilient.  A sheriff—the ethics compass of the story, played by Woody Harrelson— visits Mildred after her billboard messages embarrass him and roil the town. She is hard and cold as marble as he tries to explain his failure to find her daughter’s rapist/killer, even after he reminds her that he is dying of cancer. Suddenly the sheriff has a violent  spasm: he coughs up blood on himself and Mildred. And we see her fury evaporate in an instant. The compassionate and caring mother she once was emerges, if only for a few moments. ( McDormand is such a superb actress that she pulls off the sudden transition convincingly and movingly: you believe it, though it is like watching Mr. Hyde turn into Dr. Jekyll in the snap of a finger.) Later, when again her fury has been aroused, we see the same woman firebomb the police station and watch implacably as her nemesis deputy burns. A warning: just because the ethics alarms can ring doesn’t mean they are working well enough.

Sam Rockwell’s character also reveals surprisingly that his ethics spark has not been entirely extinguished, again thanks to a catalyst supplied by the sheriff. This transformation caused considerable  criticism of the film among critics and artists in Hollywood, and some attribute the film’s failure to win the Best Picture Oscar to the fact that a racist is redeemed and revealed to have an ethical core. But except for the sociopaths and psychopaths among us, admittedly a disturbingly large group, we all have that ethical core. We have the ethics alarms too, ready to be re-activated, even if they aren’t in perfect working order. Yes, this is  even true of racists. So much of our current political discourse is driven by the false construct that a single belief or a single lapse of reason marks an individual as irredeemable. Its easier to marginalize and demonize them that way. But it isn’t true.

Indeed Ethics Alarms often declares certain conduct and words as signature significance, proving that an individual is unethical because such actions and thoughts are alien to ethical human beings. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” reminded me that people may be unethical–Mildred and Dixon, the deputy, could never be called ethical, for ethical people don’t set police stations on fire or throw young men out of second story windows, as Dixon does—but that even unethical individuals can find their ethics if you give them a chance.

And if they can find their ethics, so can all of us, and so can society. There is hope.

________________________

Addendum: I cannot leave “Three Billboards” without a salute to one of its most powerful scenes, when Mildred tells a priest why she doesn’t care what he has to say when he comes to her home to admonish her for the messages on the billboards:

Bingo.

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Popular Culture

Comment Of The Day (1): “A Cruel And Stupid Flight Attendant, A Dead Puppy, And A Plane Full Of Sheep”

Choosing the best among so many excellent comments on this topics was nigh impossible. I chose two in the end, beginning with Michael West’s systemic analysis that also opens several ethics issues that could justify separate posts on their own. The second COTD, coming up forthwith, addresses a completely different aspect of the story.

Here is Michael West’s Comment of the Day on the post, A Cruel And Stupid Flight Attendant, A Dead Puppy, And A Plane Full Of Sheep”

1) Airlines have clearly delineated standards for carry-on sizes. Enforcement of these sizes has been perennially neglected to where passengers routinely carry noticeably larger than permitted carry-on bags. This is marginal rule breaking.

2) No doubt this puppy was in such a carry-on that would never have been permitted if rules were enforced…NOR EVER EVEN ATTEMPTED if the owners knew that rules were enforced. But the larger culture has acquiesced to the flouting of a “no big deal” rule. Continue reading

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Filed under Animals, Business & Commercial, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/17/2018: Mockingbirds, Headlines, And Reasonable Doubt

Good Morning, Scout!

1 Assorted blog stuff. I’m going to have to fly to Boston next month for the hearing on my motion to dismiss the specious defamation suit against me by an Ethics Alarms  commenter to whom my responses were no more defamatory than what I have said to many of you when provoked…Every now and then some blog or social media participant with a huge following links to an old post here, and I am swamped with visits from a lot of individuals with no serious interest in ethics. They almost never comment, and if they do, the comments typically don’t meet my posting standards. Still, they swell the traffic stats, and I’ll take ’em. In 2017 I had none of these fluky hit avalanches, after a 2016 that had several. This time, the post suddenly drawing interest is a 2014 essay about a letter written to director Terry Gilliam in 2005. You just never know…Expect a lot of Comments of the Day this weekend: I am way behind, and I’m sorry. Tough week.

2. Keep hope alive! Yesterday’s New York Times front page headline perfectly embodied the fake news-by-innuendo tactic that has marked the mainstream media’s efforts to pander to the “resistance.” The Special Prosecutor’s fishing expedition just subpoenaed the business records of the Trump organization relating to its dealings in Russia. Says the Times headline: “Investigation nears President.” Ooooh! Scary!

Hype, and unprofessional. This is the “He’s getting closer! And closer!” narrative the anti-Trump journalists have been flogging for a year. Yeah, I guess any time an investigation involves someone’s business it is “near” the owner, but why would that obvious fact justify a headline?  The reality is that Trump’s organization had business dealings in Russia (legal and unremarkable), the fact that Mueller is looking does not prove or suggest that those dealings had any connection to the campaign, and Mueller could have asked for these records a year ago. There is nothing ominous about the request from the President’s perspective at all, unless, as this whole fiasco has presumed from the moment Democrats seized on Wikileaks and fake Facebook news as the designated excuses for Hillary’s inexcusable defeat, there really was “collusion.”

That an investigation has been launched does not imply, suggest, or indicate wrongdoing. The news media’s reporting continues to suggest otherwise because they want the President to be guilty of something heinous. Imagine that: there are Americans who want their elected President to be proven guilty of wrongdoing.

3. To kill a “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  Harper Lee’s estate filed a complaint last week in federal court in Alabama, arguing that a Broadway bound stage adaptation of “To Kill A Mockingbird” by “The West Wing” creator and “A Few Good Men” writer Aaron Sorkin violates a contract, between Harper Lee and the producers that stipulates that the characters and plot must remain faithful to the spirit of the book. (I wrote about the complexities surrounding Atticus Finch’s character in a 2015 post.) Continue reading

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Filed under U.S. Society

When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring: Snapchat Approves A Domestic Abuse Game Ad

On February 8, 2009, Chris Brown beat up pop megastar and then-girlfriend Rihanna. Five months later, Brown pleaded guilty to a felony assault and was sentenced to community labor, five years probation, and domestic violence counseling. Naturally, someone looking to make a buck off of the millions of ethics dunces who use social media recognized this as an appropriate basis for a game, and paid Snapchat to run their ad, which you can see above.

The “Would You Rather” ad was removed earlier this week, and Snapchat released an apology, saying “The advert was reviewed and approved in error, as it violates our advertising guidelines.” What does “in error” mean in such a case, though? It means “we have erroneously been hiring people at high levels with the ethical sensitivity of mollusks, and upon reflection, this was a miscalculation.” What  deadness of soul and mind could ever ever explain someone, indeed a chain of employees, seeing an ad mocking domestic abuse and reacting by saying, “Great! Put it up and bill ’em!”

Advertising on Snapchat is purchased through a self-serve advertising platform and subject to review,  the company says. Review by incompetents,  creeps and fools, apparently. Unfortunately, they are far from unique.

Rihanna posted a rebuke to Snapchat on Instagram, writing in part, Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, Romance and Relationships, Science & Technology, Social Media, U.S. Society

A Cruel And Stupid Flight Attendant, A Dead Puppy, And A Plane Full Of Sheep

The puppy passenger, before and after the flight. Guess the ventilation wasn’t so good after all…

I shouldn’t have to write very much about the ethics of the United flight attendant who forced a passenger to place the soft carrier containing her French bulldog puppy into the overhead compartment, where it was found dead after the flight. She is an idiot. She is incompetent. She was badly trained, and has no understanding or compassion for animals.

That’s easy.

Now the flight attendant is saying that she didn’t know that there was a live animal in the bag. Right.

No, I am reopening the blog, which I thought was finished for the night, to condemn the owner of the dog and every single passenger who was aware of what was going on. I am usually dubious about those who second guess bystanders who don’t interject themselves into abusive situations, but in this case, I am shocked and disgusted that no one, including the owner, made a firm stand against this obvious animal cruelty. Passengers were tweeting about how horrible it was that the puppy was being stuffed in the overhead bin. Barking could be heard during the flight. Yet not one person on board had the courage, integrity and character to stand up and forbid this abuse.

One passenger named June Lara tweeted about the incident, writing in part,

“I sat behind the family of three and thought myself lucky – who doesn’t when they get to sit near a puppy? However, the flight attendants of flight UA1284 felt that the innocent animal was better off crammed inside the overhead container without air and water. They INSISTED that the puppy be locked up for three hours without any kind of airflow. They assured the safety of the family’s pet so wearily, the mother agreed.

There was no sound as we landed and opened his kennel. There was no movement as his family called his name. I held her baby as the mother attempted to resuscitate their 10 month old puppy. I cried with them three minutes later as she sobbed over his lifeless body. My heart broke with theirs as I realized he was gone.”

Forget the virtue-signaling: I’m not impressed with your broken heart. Why didn’t you protest? Why didn’t you, or someone, call 911 and tell the police that someone was torturing a dog on a United flight? Why didn’t you stop what you knew was wrong? Continue reading

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Filed under Animals, Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Social Media