Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/27/18: It’s Video Thursday!

Happy inevitably confusing and disorienting period between Christmas and New Years!

1.. Is this a racially problematic TV ad, or an encouraging one that signals progress?

For me, the commercial raises the question: Have we reached a point when depicting an entire black family acting as moronic as white people are routinely depicted on TV is permissible and white people are allowed to laugh at it?

It made me uncomfortable. Am I alone?

2. Charley Parkhurst. The New York Times project to catch up on all the significant and remarkable women who never received the recognition of an obituary in its pages has been fascinating, and there has been no more interesting entry than this month’s remembrance of Charley Parkhurst, 1812-1879. Parkhurst was a famous driver of six-horse stagecoaches during California’s Gold Rush, a challenging job requiring strength, skill, and unusual honesty. Parkhurst was described as “short and stocky,” a hard-living whiskey drinker, cigar smoker and tobacco chewer, who wore  a patch  over the empty eye-socket where a horse had kicked out the eyeball. Charley was also universally regarded as male until a doctor discovered, post mortem, that she wasn’t. At a time when a women’s options  were severely limited, Parkhurst decided at a young age to live as a man, and was mighty good at it. She even registered to vote in 1868, and some give her the distinction as the first woman to vote in a Presidential election, though there is scant proof of it.

Looking at and thinking about a women “identifying a male” in a different cultural context is fascinating. Was Charley a woman, a male, trans, gay, a fraud, a hero (a heroine?), or just an opportunist and a gutsy realist who did what she wanted to do the only way it was possible for her to do it?

And does it matter? Should it matter?

We are told that Charley also was a lumberjack for a time. I wonder what she would have thought of the Monty Python song?

3. An Althouse quote: Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Harassing McGruff: Oh-Oh…Am I Going Crazy?”

I’m going to post the whole ad at issue again, because it is an essential reference point for context:

My almost entirely serious post about the GEICO ad showing McGruff the Crime Dog being subjected to office harassment based on his appearance and species/race prompted more and more diverse commentary than I expected, and one slam-dunk Comment of the Day, by Zanshin, who has a record of deconstructing oddball Ethics Alarms posts.

Three points:

1. I was not aware that McGruff had starred in anti-bullying videos, and I doubt that any but a tiny fraction of the intended audience for the GEICO commercial is either,

2. Kudos to Zanshin for seeing a connection to The Jehovah Paradox, which I did not. It is not often that I am told that I don’t understand my own inventions, but he makes an excellent argument. I also need to add TJP to the Ethics Alarms list of concepts and special terms, which I had neglected to do.

3. I just saw the ad again, and it still feels to me like GEICO is making light of workplace racism, bullying and harassment, and

Here is Zanshin’s Comment of the Day on the post, Harassing McGruff: Oh-Oh…Am I Going Crazy?:

Jack asked, […] am I just seeing an ethics breach that isn’t there?

My answer, You saw only the unethical part in this commercial because you didn’t have the context to ‘see’ the ethical part in it.

tl/dr

1. McGruff is subjected to cruel bullying and office harassment.

2. Is that an ethics breach? No, not if one understands “The Jehovah Paradox”.

3. In the commercial McGruff doesn’t break character.

4. (At the minimal) the commercial doesn’t go against the teachings of McGruff.

5. The commercial makers should have done a better job in making the teachings of McGruff more explicit.
(But maybe couldn’t given intellectual property/licensing issues?)

Let me explain. Continue reading

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.

CORRECTION! GEICO Ethics Dunce RETRACTED! It’s All Frank Sinatra’s Fault!

Emily Litella1There is apparently a diabolical law regarding Ethics Alarms that the more trivial a subject is, the more likely I will screw it up, or it will be a hoax, or something else. The previous post, chiding GEICO for allowing the lyrics of “You Make Me Feel So Young” to be massacred by Peter Pan in its current TV ad is an epic example.

First, I posted a video of Sinatra singing the song as an example of the right way. It is hard to find a video of anyone BUT Sinatra singing it, for he made it one of his standards. Then LoSonnambulo, a frequent commenter here, properly chides me for using a crooner who regularly changed lyrics as the paragon of lyrical certitude. Yes, that’s pretty stupid. Thus I resolve to change the embedded video, and what do I find? I find that the non-English, slangy abomination, “You make me feel so young, You make me feel so spring has sprung” did not originate with GEICO, or Peter Pan, but Frank Sinatra, who sang the polluted lyric in the earliest recording I could find. It appears to be his invention.

It gets worse. Because Frank sung it like that, everybody started doing it: Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Jack Jones, everybody.  It’s the wrong lyric, damn it!

But I can hardly blame GEICO for not fixing the version in its ad when most who are familiar with the Sinatra version think those are the lyrics.

Never Mind.

UPDATE (4:00 AM): ARRGH! I just woke up with the song in my head, and realized what Frank was doing, or thought he was doing, with this lyric change. Since I know the correct lyric, I assumed that substituting “so” for “as though” or “like” meant that “so” was supposed to mean “as though” or “like” and so doesn’t mean “as though” or “like,” which is why I also assumed this was some kind of Jersey slang. But no! Frank altered the lyrics more than I realized. What his version is, is a parallel construction comparison:

You make me feel so young,

You make me feel so “Spring has sprung!”

In Frank’s version, “Spring has sprung” is presented as a synonym for “young,” as it replaces “young.” In the original, “You make me feel as though Spring has sprung” is a related but separate thought, as it should be, because feeling young and feeling like it’s Spring are not the same thing. If they were, then so would make lyrical sense. For example, if I write the a song that goes,

You make me feel so old,

You make me feel so Spanish gold…

That works, because Spanish gold is old. But Spring springing isn’t young. It’s a bad lyric change. It makes the song worse.

Nonetheless, I suppose that a singer who didn’t know the real lyrics, and maybe even a listener, would hear the song as making sense, sort of.

There.

Maybe I can get back to sleep now.

Trivial Ethics Dunce That Is Driving Me Crazy Anyway So I Have To Mention It: GEICO

The current GEICO ad campaign, “It’s what you do,” has already scored an ethics foul; the latest one is less substantive. Nonetheless, it is in the increasingly common category of “They just didn’t care,” which is a subset of disrespect and lack of diligence. Besides, it involves a great American song.

In the GEICO ad featuring Peter Pan annoying former classmates at a high school reunion ( the kid playing Peter is terrific), the spot concludes with Peter entertaining the class while flying over their heads with a mike and singing, “You Make Me Feel So Young,” a 1946 classic composed by Josef Myrow, with lyrics written by Mack Gordon. It begins,

You make me feel so young.
You make me feel as though (alt. “like”) spring has sprung.
And every time I see you grin,
I’m such a happy individual.

But for some damn reason, Peter sings,

You make me feel so young.
You make me feel so spring has sprung..

..which isn’t even English, and definitely isn’t the lyric. How hard would it have been to fix this? GEICO just couldn’t be bothered, so the song is misrepresented in its first widespread media us in decades.

Here’s the song sung the right way, Peter, you little snot:

UPDATE: See here.

Unethical TV Ad Of The Month: Geico

“If your boss stops by, you act like you’re working — It’s what you do. If you want to save 15 percent or more on car insurance, you switch to GEICO.

Actually, it’s not what you do if you are diligent, responsible, fair to your employer and deserve to have a job. It’s what you do if you are an unethical, dishonest slacker who is stealing your salary and ought to be fired.

These are apparently the kinds of people GEICO believe are its prime market.

Good to know.

_________________

Pointer: Grace Marshall

Maybe I’m Losing My Mind, But I Think Geico’s “Maxwell The Pig” Ads Are Racist

Well, not racist, exactly, since there is no such human race (yet) as “Pig Men.” If there were such a race, however, there is no question that Geico’s humorous ads would be regarded as racist and offensive. And in Geico Universe, where Maxwell the Talking Pig resides, there is such a race. Therefore the ads are racist. Right? No?

Hear me out.

This has been bothering me for a while, and I don’t think I am imagining it. If we had, living among us, anthropomorphic swine like Maxwell (first discovered being driven home by a friend’s mother and yelling “Wee wee wee!” all the way), would making not so subtle, demeaning pig references (“when pigs fly” in one commercial, “pig in a blanket” in another) be considered acceptable or civil? Clearly not. Obviously Maxwell is a minority, and obviously sensitive about being a pig. Using “when pigs fly” around him is like intentionally inviting an obese friend to “chew the fat,” or accusing a Native American of being an “Indian giver.” Maxwell gets the intent of the insult in both ads, too: “I can’t believe she said that,” he says after one swine-slur, and “I walked right into that one,” after another.

Geico laid the foundation for Maxwell to be a “harmless” stand-in for harassed minorities that the commercials couldn’t mock without serious consequences in an earlier ad, where his car is stopped by a policeman. The cop asks, “Do you know why I stopped you?” Maxwell suggests profiling. “Because I’m a pig driving a convertible?” Yes, it’s strange. The more I think about it, the stranger and more subversive it seems…

This is ridiculous, I know, but also, I think, sinister. Continue reading