Tag Archives: France

Casting Ethics: A Black Joan Of Arc?

Sure, why not?

From Playbill:

Manhattan Theatre Club has announced a Broadway revival of “Saint Joan” by Nobel Prize and Oscar winner George Bernard Shaw with direction by Tony winner Daniel Sullivan. Heading the cast as the famous heroine will be Condola Rashad, fresh off her Tony-nominated performance in “A Doll’s House, Part 2.”

Superficially, at least, the casting of Rashad, an African American actress, as the famous “Maid of Orléans,” the French teenager who gained political and military power as a self-proclaimed messenger of God and who was burned at the stake, would seem like precisely the kind of stunt non-traditional casting that I have condemned by subjugating the intent and art of a playwright to affirmative action and virtue-signaling. However, this is not a legitimate objection to this casting choice, and in fact the upcoming Broadway production is as close to a perfect example of how creative casting can enliven a production and deepen its ability to make an audience think.

Joan of Arc, of course, was not black. Nor was she Swedish, though Ingrid Bergman played her memorably enough in the most famous Hollywood version of  Shaw’s play, She also didn’t speak English, and certainly not Shavian English. She spoke French. Ethnicity, race and color are not part of Shaw’s drama, however, nor are they relevant to what Joan of Arc did in life, and what she meant to her nation, its history and our shared Western culture.

How many public schools teach anything about Joan of Arc? How many U.S. students graduate completely ignorant of the historical Joan, not to mention Shaw’s version? Yet hers is one of the most remarkable stories in recorded history.

Joan of Arc was born around 1412, the daughter of a tenant farmer, Jacques d’Arc, from the village of Domrémy, in northeastern France. She was illiterate, as were most  of her class and gender, but also was indoctrinated into the teachings of the Catholic Church by her mother.  France was engaged in what we now call the Hundred Years’ War with England, and England had France by the throat.  A forced  treaty in 1420 disinherited  Charles, French crown prince, and England’s King Henry V—there’s a famous play about him, too– was made ruler of both England and France. Upon his father’s death, Henry VI succeeded him as king in 1422. At this point England occupied much of northern France, and many in Joan’s village, Domrémy, were forced to abandon their homes under threat of invasion.

Thirteen year-old  Joan began to hear voices in her head. Today we think the cause was tinnitus, but she was certain God was assigning her the mission of  saving France by defeating the English, and installing Charles as its the rightful king. Joan took a vow of chastity, as part of her bargain with God; this allowed her to reject a marriage her father arranged for her when she was 16.

Around this time, Joan traveled by herself to  Vaucouleurs, a nearby stronghold of those loyal to Charles. With her faith and her persuasive claim of being a holy messenger, she attracted a small band of followers who were convinced her sudden appearance was the the result of a popular prophecy coming true, and that she was destined to save France. Joan cut her hair short and dressed in men’s clothes to make an 11-day journey across enemy territory to Chinon, where the crown prince’s palace stood. She met with the young man, and convinced him that she was the Real McCoy (they didn’t use that phrase in France, of course)  by allegedly telling him things only God would know. She also  promised Charles that she would see him crowned king at Reims, the traditional site of French royal investiture, and asked him to give her an army to lead to Orléans, then under siege from the English.

Charles granted her request. Think about this for a bit. A strange teenage girl, dressed like a boy and claiming to hear voices, meets with the leader of a nation at war and convinces him to put her in charge of an army.

Amazing. Continue reading

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France And Ireland Remind Us Of Two More Reasons To Be Proud And Grateful To Be An American…

News Item:

France sought to keep a computer hack of frontrunner Emmanuel Macron’s campaign emails from influencing the outcome of the presidential election, with the electoral commission warning on Saturday that it may be a criminal offence to republish the data. Macron’s team said a “massive” hack had dumped emails, documents and campaign financing information online just before campaigning ended on Friday and France entered a quiet period, effectively forbidding politicians from commenting on the leak.

Polls have been predicting that Macron, a former investment banker and economy minister, is on course for a comfortable win over far-right leader Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s election, with the last surveys showing his lead widening to around 62 percent to 38.

…The election commission, which supervises the electoral process, warned social and traditional media not to publish the hacked emails lest they influence the vote outcome…

“On the eve of the most important election for our institutions, the commission calls on everyone present on internet sites and social networks, primarily the media, but also all citizens, to show responsibility and not to pass on this content, so as not to distort the sincerity of the ballot,” the commission said in a statement on Saturday.

“The commission stresses that publication or republication of these data…could be a criminal offence,” it said.

That’s right: withholding information from the voters because they can’t be trusted to be fair and discerning about what is relevant to their vote and what isn’t is to preserve “the sincerity of the ballot.” This is how they reason in countries without guaranteed freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. Florian Philippot, deputy leader of Le Pen’s National Front party, tweeted “Will Macronleaks teach us something that investigative journalism has deliberately kept silent?” Good question. Continue reading

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France’s Unethical—And Really, Really Stupid— “Burkini” Ban

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I’ve received several inquiries requesting an  Ethics Alarms analysis of the current controversy roiling France, namely the so-called Burkini Ban.  Muslim women had been wading into the French Riviera surf wearing “burkinis,”  body-covering swimsuits designed to be compliant with the Islamic faith , and one resort  town after another, fifteen in all including Cannes and Nice, declared them illegal. The women entering the water wearing such attire have been ticketed for not “wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism.”

Well, I try not to spend much time here writing about the obvious. The ban is unethical. In the U.S., such laws would be over-turned before the arrested women’s bathing suits were dry, since the meaures violate both the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. It should be obvious that the ban is unfair, as it is sexist, directed against one religion, and makes no sense whatsoever.

Sometimes I wonder if the French quite get this ethics thing. This is an example.

Both conservatives and many liberals in France support the ban. The conservatives, in addition to wanting to punish Muslims for recent Islamic terrorist attacks, claim  to be upholding France’s core principle of “secularity,” enshrined in the nation’s constitution. Liberals argue that the Islamic strictures against women exposing any part of their bodies in public are misogynist, patriarchal, and “regressive,” so the bans defend the rights of women…by preventing women from wearing what they choose to, observing their own religion, and taking a swim.

You see what I mean about not quite grasping the whole “ethics” thing? The equivalent argument in the U.S. would be if feminists argued that sexy bathing suits be banned because they objectified women, even when the women wearing them felt like being objectified. The Burkini Ban is, to be blunt, idiotic. Continue reading

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The Washington Post’s Ethical Unethical Accurate Stupid Tone-Deaf And Dangerous Headline

Go ahead, keep deriding "the people." Can't do any harm...

Go ahead, keep deriding “the people.” Can’t do any harm…

The big problem with the “elites” that conservatives and Trumpeteers keep demonizing is that they insist on acting and talking as if they are exactly as insolated and contemptuous of “the masses” as they are accused of being. Witness this headline on the Washington Post website, on the Wonkblog column:

Headline Post1

Talk about walking into a haymaker! This headline went viral on the conservative media and social media, with such comments as, “Know your place, peasants!” and  “Stand aside and pay attention to your betters!” As with many such incidents, the headline signals that some ethics alarms aren’t functioning in high places. How could this headline make it to the web without anyone seeing it and thinking, “Whoa! Hold it! That sure sounds like (another) call to authoritarian government, and this is the major paper in the Capital of what is supposed to be the cradle of liberty! We can print that, and if we think it, we have to be a lot more clear about what “some things” are.” What does it tell us that nobody had that thought at the Washington Post?

This is the realm of headlines, which, like internet memes and bumper stickers and Twitter posts, are not safe for expressing complex ideas, and should not be used by competent journalists to do so. Ultimately, in a representative democracy, the people do decide such things indirectly, by electing their representatives and punishing them with their votes if they don’t make decisions the public finds competent and beneficial. The Post web headline asserts an ugly and arrogant dichotomy between “the people” and what, their rulers? The intelligentsia? The aristocracy? The 1%? Journalists? Since trust in our institutions are at a dangerous low point, this is a mind-blowingly stupid thing to print, and plays directly into the hands of the anti-establishment hucksters like Trump and Bernie. Continue reading

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Ethics Dunces (All-Star “Shut Up And Sing ” Edition): Cher, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Jackson Browne,Nick Jonas, Sia, Zayn Malik, Barbra Streisand, Beck, Questlove, Pusha T, Ringo Starr, Sting, Ricky Martin, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Selena Gomez, Stevie Nicks, Michael Bublé, Melissa Etheridge, Trent Reznor, Kesha, Katy Perry, Tony Bennett, Yoko Ono…

Billborad letters

A couple hundred famous singers and musicians have banded together to sign a fatuous and misleading “open letter” to Congress dictating U.S. gun policy. The letter which is being used as a publicity gimmick by Billboard (and the stars, of course), reads:

As leading artists and executives in the music industry, we are adding our voices to the chorus of Americans demanding change. Music always has been celebrated communally, on dancefloors and at concert halls. But this life-affirming ritual, like so many other daily experiences—going to school or church or work—now is threatened, because of gun violence in this country. The one thing that connects the recent tragedies in Orlando is that it is far too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on guns.

We call on Congress to do more to prevent the gun violence that kills more than 90 Americans every day and injures hundreds more, including:

  • Require a background check for every gun sale
  • Block suspected terrorists from buying guns

Billboard and the undersigned implore you—the people who are elected to represent us—to close the deadly loopholes that put the lives of so many music fans, and all of us, at risk.

The letter is many things:

1. It is scaremongering nonsense. Gun deaths are way down, and the odds of any citizen being killed in a mass shooting is beyond minuscule. Based on 2015 statistics by the broadest definition, you have a 0.00000143% chance of getting killed in a mass shooting. These wealthy and privileged people, who often have bodyguards (with guns) have much less of a risk than that. Nothing is “now threatened.” We are safer from gun violence now than five years ago, ten years ago or 20 years ago. Continue reading

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A “When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring” Case Study: The Angouleme International Comics Festival Thinks Announcing the Wrong Award-Winners Is Funny

In December, comedian Steve Harvey inadvertently announced the wrong winner of the Miss Universe Pageant on live, national TV. It was horrible. He then had to correct his mistake, the wrongly crowned Miss Columbia had to be uncrowned, and everyone except the sadists in the audience felt awkward and embarrassed. Harvey sincerely apologized, more than once.

How anyone could be aware of that fiasco, which received world-wide attention, and conclude that it would be hilarious to do the same fake-winner bit intentionally is beyond my small mind to comprehend. Such individuals would have to have their ethics alarms installed backwards, or buy them from the Bizarro World of Superman Comics. Yet the organizers of the Angouleme International Comics Festival this tear decided exactly that: “Let’s announce the wrong winners! It will be great!

The ceremony began with the MC, comedian Richard Gaitet,  announcing that“This will be the shortest ceremony in history, because all we want to do is drink and dance!” He then presented all nine awards in rapid succession, including the Fauve d’Or, the biggest award of the show, to Arsène Schrauwen, by Olivier Schrauwen. Then two women appeared and announced that the awards just handed out were fake, and they presented the real awards to completely different artists. The “winners” who just accepted their prizes in the exhilaration of pride and recognition, were as stunned as Miss Columbia.

The audience reaction, meanwhile, was exactly as you, I or any sane person would expect. Nobody laughed. Everyone felt that the targets of the practical joke had been abused. “We were all happy, we had tears in our eyes, and then we were humiliated,” said Sam Soubigui of Komikku, one of the publishers whose book won a “Faux Fauve” (fake prize). Another publisher who accepted a phony prize had already relayed the news of the honor to the writer and artist of the book that “won,” and then had to call them back and explain. One editor whose comic won a “Faux Fauve” left the auditorium in tears when she realized it was fake.

The condemnation of the stunt on social media was swift and unanimous. The organizers of the festival thought this was an appropriate response (courtesy of the French to English Google app, further translated by me from the typical gibberish these programs often create): Continue reading

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“The Longest Day,” Darryl F. Zanuck, D-Day, And Us

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Today is June 6, the anniversary of the Allies’ invasion of Normandy, the audacious military strike that changed the course of history. I’ll be interested in seeing how it’s commemorated this year, 71 years later, especially by the news media. A lot of Americans under the age of 40 know almost nothing about it, or worse, the values it represents to the United States.

Fortunately, there is an easy and entertaining way to teach a young American about what happened on this day 71 years ago. That is to have him or her watch “The Longest Day,” producer Darryl F. Zanuck’s epic film based closely on historian (and sole credited screenwriter) Cornelius Ryan’s 1959 book. (You can get it at Amazon, here.)I usually find understanding military battles nearly impossible; written accounts completely confound me, and few movies about any battle make a serious effort to explain the tactics and strategy without reducing the facts to pablum. (I remember how much my father, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, detested the big budget movie of the same name, which he found outrageously sloppy, and which he summarized as “Henry Fonda won the war.”)

Not “The Longest Day,” however. Since seeing the movie with my father as a kid, I have learned a lot about what was left out, but the movie is remarkably clear and accurate about what happened and why without being either too detailed or too simplistic. It’s also just a great, inspiring movie.

That we have “The Longest Day” is entirely due to the courage of one of Hollywood’s most dynamic, flamboyant and successful studio moguls, Darryl F. Zanuck. The original producer of the adaptation of Ryan’s book (which is terrific ) gave up on the project when 20th Century Fox refused to allow him an adequate budget. Zanuck, who was still producing films but no longer ran the studio he had built,  bought the rights, and was determined to do the story, the event, and the men who fought the battle justice by mounting a production almost as ambitious as the invasion itself. Continue reading

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