Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/8/2020: George Floyd Freakout Follies, Starring… Black Lives Matter!

This patter trio from “Ruddigore,” Gilbert and Sullivan’s follow-up to the phenomenal world-wide success of “The Mikado,” has a strange history. It was a much-loved highlight of the relatively under-appreciated operetta (though among my favorites) until the song was transplanted into Joseph Papp’s 1981 Broadway production of “The Pirates of Penzance.” That production  ran for 787 performances (longer than the original production), winning the Tony Award for Best Revival and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical, and spawning a 1983 film adaptation starring most of the Broadway cast, including Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Klein. Then the Broadway adaptation of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” in 2002 also interpolated a version of  “It Really Doesn’t Matter” into the score, so two hit Broadway musicals included a once barely remembered song from a Gilbert and Sullivan show not regarded as one of the pair’s successes.

The version above is the one I learned the song from. Martyn Green, the best of D’Oyly Carte’s patter baritones, sings the first verse, and does so the only way it can be done properly, which is in a single breath. As you will hear, the other two singers are not quite able to  pull it off. (But I can!)

1. Wait, what matters? As with Colin Kaepernick’s original kneeling stunt, Black Lives Matter has made its agenda infinitely flexible, ranging from addressing “police violence” to “systemic racism” to “defunding police” to various Marxist nostrums, depending on their mood, the spokesperson, and the tolerance of the audience. African-American actor Terry Crews invited the enmity of the George Floyd mobs by opining that if Black Lives Matter’s message became “Black Lives Better,” it would spark division rather than support. Crews, who can hold his own in any debate, agreed to be interviewed by CNN’s Black Lives Matter shill Don Lemon. Crews said, Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/26/2018: Our Amazing, Evolving, Contentious Culture

Good Morning!

1. Outrageous Self-Promotion Dept.: Just in case you live in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., AND are interested in the cultural impact of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan in the U.S., AND would like to see me (and three long-time friends and colleagues who will periodically join me in performing some selections from the brilliant satirical operettas) discuss this rich and wide-ranging topic (Politics! Satire! Movie scores! Broadway musicals!) over a three-hour session that will fly like the wind, all it will take is a mere 50 dollars (just 35, if you are a Smithsonian Associates member) and your attendance. I’d love to see you. The program is Gilbert and Sullivan in the 21st Century, this Saturday, June 30, at 9:30 a.m. Here are the details.

2. Speaking of culture…If you want to feel better about the state of U.S. culture, I recommend watch a Beach Party movie. I just saw the first one all the way to the end for the first time—to realize that it was easily the best of its line (there were six—SIX!!!—more) is mind-boggling all by itself—and found it immediately uplifting. The 1963 William Asher-directed relic looks like it’s from some particularly demented parallel universe, depicting a weird place where 30-year-olds pretend to be  loitering teenagers who do nothing all day but gyrate to frenetic versions of the Twist, listen to awful surf music that makes the Jan and Dean sound like Brahms in comparison, do some surfing themselves (but just the males), and interact with B-list comics like Morey Amsterdam and Harvey Lembeck. The songs and their hackneyed lyrics make you yearn for the nuanced hip-hop musings of Kanye West; the comedy makes “Big Bang Theory” seem like Oscar Wilde, and to speculate on what kind of populace would actually enjoy such badly-conceived and sloppily-executed crap is to risk madness. If this was America in 1963, a) Good riddance, b) How did we survive? and c) No wonder the Soviet Union thought they were going to win!

No blacks are to be seen; indeed no skin color of any shade but glistening white is visible anywhere—didn’t these people even tan? Here’s a typically clueless exchange to ponder:  Annette Funicello: “The professor got his robe from the chief of the Tokyo Fire Department!” Random 30-year-old teenage beach bum: “Great! I’ll call him if my rickshaw catches fire!”  [laughter]. In the hilarious motorcycle gang, where all of the actors appear to be at least 45, the male members’ leather jackets say “Rats” on the back, and their female cohorts’ jackets say “Mice.” None of the”girls” have any function in the film, and no higher purpose, than to moon after the guys and gyrate in their faces.  Accepted conduct is for every male youth to gawk, pant, and emit some sound the equivalent of a wolf whistle every time a shapely female passes. The romantic lead (of sorts), teen idol Frankie Avalon, trying to make virginal, had-to-get Annette jealous, grabs a generic Scandinavian waitress and just starts kissing her. It’s like a magnet. Just kisses her He doesn’t  even wait. When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Then he tells her he loves her so she’ll make out with him until Annette loosens up. This is the hero, remember.

They should show this film in every junior high school American History class. I’m very serious about this.

3. An abject lesson in how the news media uses language to manipulate public perception: Virtually every news report about the Trump administration’s actions at the Mexican border described them, and are still describing them, in headlines as “family separation.” The cumulative effect of this is to make casual, not fully-engaged readers and listeners think that family separation is the objective of the policy. The objective of the policy is to enforce current immigration laws while obeying other legal requirements, such as the one that forbids children from remaining with federally  detained parents.  This is, under the Ethics Alarms definition, fake news: deliberately deceitful reporting that conveys a false impression. The equivalent would be characterizing the imprisonment of African American men convicted of felonies as “the Trump policy of making black families into single-parent households.” Continue reading

Happy Non-Birthday, Frederick! And Welcome Rationalization 25A, Frederick’s Compulsion or “It’s My Duty!” To the Ethics Alarms Rationalization List

As any Gilbert and Sullivan fan knows, February 29 is the troublesome birthday of Frederick, the dim and conflicted hero of “The Pirates of Penzance.” (He doesn’t get a birthday this year.)  Apprenticed to a pirate as a child by mistake (his nurse heard “pirate” rather than “pilot”),  the lad was bound to serve as a cutthroat until his 21st birthday, and thinking that the terms specified his obligation to reach until his 21st year, quits the pirate band that raised him and joins the police, who are  seeking to put his old comrades behind bars, or worse. But poor Frederick  learns that because he would only be free of his obligations until his 21st birthday, and since he was born–Oh, horror!—on Leap Year,  he is technically only five (“and a little bit over”), and won’t be 21 by the terms of his apprenticeship until he is 84 years old. His beloved, the equally dim Mabel, vows to wait for him. Meanwhile Frederick, declaring himself a “slave of duty,” joins the pirates again, as they prepare to murder Mabel’s father.

W.S. Gilbert, who wrote this famously nutty plot, was satirizing the substitution of duty (and legal contracts) for reason, morality, ethics, and sanity. The latest addition to the Rationalizations List,  Frederick’s Compulsion is a sub-rationalization of #25. The Coercion Myth: “I have no choice!” Frederick believes that the existence of a contract creates a duty that he must obey without question, regardless of the consequences. He would have made a fine Nazi soldier. He would have shined in the Nixon White House. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Duchess of York’s Website And The Duke of Plazatoro

The category is Celebrity Ethics, Royal Ethics or Marketing Ethics, depending on your point of view. Unfortunately for ethical clarity, how you answer today’s Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz may depend on which category you choose.

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, is embarrassing the Royal Family again, only this time it isn’t by throwing snowballs at photographers or by not being as demure and lovely as the late Princess Diana. This time, the self-exiled and divorced Fergie is trading on her title to make a living as an internet huckster. She has a website that peddles a juicer for weight loss and “The Perfecter Ultra”:

The Perfecter Ultra Heated Styling Brush combines innovative ionic technology with pure black tourmaline heating plates for ultimate convenience in achieving salon quality hairstyles at home. Create silky straight styles or beautiful bouncing curls, reduce frizzies or add volume to thinning hair, the Perfecter Ultra is the remarkable styling tool that does it all.

The Duchess has also been appearing on QVC, the cable shopping network where shopping addicts, lonely recluses and easy marks hang out. Among the Royals, with whom she is already on the outs, this is considered…unseemly. Concludes Tom Sykes at the Daily Beast:

“Her website majors in its attempts to cast her shill as public service, saying, “One of my missions in life now is to help people fight their weight challenges so they can live longer, healthier and happier lives. Take it from me: you can do it!”  But the truth is, Fergie is selling her title, and getting paid a no-doubt healthy fee for her promotional activities.”

There’s little doubt that “selling her title” is a fair description.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

As Duchess of York, does Sarah Ferguson have an ethical obligation to behave like the symbol of the British Commonwealth that she and the rest of the Royal Family is, or can she ethically use her title as she chooses, including to sell junk on the internet?

Continue reading

One Class, 114 Valedictorians….W.S. Gilbert Warned Us About This

Apparently this has been going on at Arlington, Virginia’s Washington and Lee High School, from which my niece graduated, for years.  The school calls about a third of its graduating classes “valedictorians,” so 1) the school can put it on their college applications and deceive those who haven’t connected the dots; 3) make certain the school can claim a female valedictorian, a black valedictorian, an Asian-American valedictorian, a trans valedictorian…you know, because everyone is above average, like in Lake Woebegon, and 3) the official rationalization, to eliminate competitiveness for honors among students, because life isn’t competitive.

Back when I wrote about this in June, 2010, the news was that…

In many high schools around the country, as many as fifty graduating seniors were designated “valedictorians…

Now honor inflation ins some schools is  more than double that, so this atrocious practice is obviously catching on. Integrity is such a chore. Excellence, superiority, achievement…they are all chores too.  As for the genuinely superior students, they are out of luck: this is the high school equivalent of all the gladiators standing up and crying “I’m Spartacus!,” except now it’s “I’m the smartest one in the class!” This Maoist denial of the fact that some of us earn more success than others and that there is nothing wrong with doing so is all the rage, and you can expect to hear more such ideas as the various candidates to lead the nation, one founded on the principle of personal self-determination based on ambition and enterprise, argue about how to deal with “income inequality.” Income inequality is but a subset of talent, industry, risk-taking and ability inequality…and good fortune inequality too. Might high schools sending graduates out into the world with the cuckoo concept that everyone should be regarded as equally accomplished whether they really are or not also contribute to income inequality?

Why yes, I think so. Continue reading

On Peter Pan, Pippi Longstocking, And Ethics Of Applying Political Correctness To Art And Literature

Cultural events earlier this month brought to light, on two continents, the problem of maintaining the integrity of art and literature under the onslaught of political correctness.

In Sweden, a controversy has erupted over the re-broadcast of a 1969 television adaptation of the Pippi Longstocking books, the children’s classics authored by Astrid Lindgren. The Swedish national TV station, SVT, announced that it is revising a scene from the 1969 television series about Pippi  which she says her father is “king of the Negroes,”a direct quote from one of the stories. Believe it or not, this has set off a contentious national debate.

The family has approved the station’s  desire to change the TV version, but is keeping the term in future editions of the books. In 2006, the family added a preface explaining that today, the word is considered “offensive,” but that when the books first appeared, “Negro was a common expression for people with black skin who lived in other parts of the world than ours.” That’s a sensible solution. Period and context is important in art and literature: the urge by some to constantly purge the world of any reference, word or attitude in past creations that seem out of place now leads to a form of cultural self-lobotomy. Erik Helmerson, a columnist at Dagens Nyheter, an influential Stockholm newspaper, called the changes a form of censorship. “I’m very sensitive to the fact that people are offended by the N word,” he said in an interview. “I’d never use it myself.” He even called revising the TV series  “a huge interference into freedom of speech.”  “Where do we draw the line? What do we cut and what do we keep? Who should decide? Who needs to be offended before we cut a word?” Continue reading

Oh, NO!!! “The Mikado” Ethics Again (Political Correctness Division)!

[Here…listen to this while you read the post.]

I am apparently the official protector of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” from ridiculous accusations of ethics offenses, so once again, I will charge into the breach. No thanks needed, Mr. Gilbert, Sir Arthur—I owe you debts that can never be repaid.

In a brain-endangering op-ed for the Seattle Times, expresses the opinion that the operetta is a “racial caricature,” and thus “every snap of the fan was a slap in the face.” The nature of the complaint has old origins: the original show in 1885 nearly caused an international incident, as Japan registered an official complaint to Great Britain claiming a grievous insult to its people. W.S. Gilbert, who was skilled at such things (a few years later he stifled French indignation over a song in “Ruddigore” that pretended to make fun of the French while actually ridiculing British bravado), explained that “The Mikado” in no way ridicules anything about Japan or its people, but is entirely a witty and original satire on everything British. This was true then, and is true now. Then, however, people, including the Victorian era Japanese, were able to see distinctions, and were not seeking victim status and leave to play public censor under the authority conferred by political correctness. Today, people like Ms. Chan are not so easily calmed.

Thus is art harmed, entertainment stifled, laughter stilled and music forgotten. A good argument could be made that “The Mikado” is the greatest musical comedy entertainment ever written.* It certainly caused the biggest international sensation (the closest rival is another Gilbert and Sullivan classic, “H.M.S. Pinafore”): it is estimated that by the end of 1885, at least 150 companies in Europe and the U.S. were producing the satire. As recently as the 1960s, it was credibly claimed that a “Mikado” was going on somewhere in the world every minute of the day.

The show is fun in every respect: comedy, music, lyrics, satire, characters. It is also fun to act in and produce, for children as well as adults. Unfortunately, several factors have led to the gradual scarcity of productions in recent years, from the cyclical (Gilbert and Sullivan go out of style, but always come back) to the ridiculous ( it seems like every production has to cope with some absurd controversy, like the 2011 Montana production that was accused of threatening Sarah Palin’s life). Political correctness aversion has been the biggest factor in making the very best G&S show rare while productions of Broadway musical junk flourish, however. Since the characters are supposedly “Japanese,” shouldn’t all the singers be Asian? Isn’t Asian make-up offensive like blackface? Oh, hell, let’s just do “The Pirates of Penzance.”

From Ms. Chan: Continue reading

Feel Smarter Now? Don’t.

There’s been a lot of gratuitous Harvard-bashing lately, lately being defined as, oh, the last two hundred years or so. The latest plot to embarrass Harvard, my alma mater, came from the campus newspaper, the Harvard Crimson. This also isn’t a new development: I often found the Crimson embarrassing to Harvard back when I was student, when its staff was as often as not on a picket line chanting “Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?

It’s latest effort was to send a roving reporter out with a video camera to show how ignorant Harvard students are. The question featured: “What is the capital of Canada?”  Here is the video:

Sure enough, none of the students shown could answer the question, except a Canadian. How humiliating! I can only imagine how many people will be flush with pride because they know that the capital city is Ottawa, and Harvard students don’t.

Of course, the video is meaningless. One Crimson reader, a student, wrote in to point out that he was interviewed for the stunt, gave the right answer, and turned up on the cutting room floor. He theorizes that there were others like him, and I wouldn’t be surprised: “Only six out of 19 Harvard students know the capital of Canada” isn’t much of a headline, is it? “Lame” was this student’s verdict for the Crimson’s rigged version of “Jaywalking.” I agree. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Ronbo” on His Own Previous “Frivolous Complaint of the Month”

Ron Barbour, Tea Party warrior, has a priceless post on his website in response to Ethics Alarms’ flagging of his letter “demanding” that the Secret Service arrest the director of the Missoula “Mikado” for updating “The Lord High Executioner’s” gag list of societal irritants to include Sarah Palin.

I would normally post highlights at this point, but everyone should check out his website to see the face of hateful extremism first hand, and how it burns up IQ points like kindling. This is political activism mutated into a total war mentality, where fairness to the perceived enemy is translated as proof of alliance with the enemy. Ron thinks I am a Leftist, which is tied only with “New York Yankee fan” as the thing I have most seldom been accused of being.

Don’t miss this…you will find it here.

Frivolous Complaint of the Month: Ronald Barbour

I considered several possible titles for this: Unethical Abuse of a Government Employee’s Time of the Month, False Accusation of the Month, and the like. I considered calling it Most Unfair Attack on the Missoula Community Theater of the Week, but I’m not even sure that is true. I even considered, Document That Almost Makes Me Regret That I Ever Opposed Unfair Attacks on the Tea Party, but that is a bit off topic.

This published letter by “Ronbo” Barbour completely fooled me; I really thought it was satire,  which reveals a truth: the less one understands satire, the more likely one is to unwittingly emulate it without ever getting the joke.

I will say this: W.S. Gilbert would love this.

And now I present the actual letter sent to the Secret Service by Mr. Barbour, a Montana Tea Party official, relating to Sarah Palin’s inclusion in the classic comic song, “I’ve Got A Little List” [ Scroll to the end of the post for two versions of the song, the original and a Monty Python adaptation ] in the Missoula Community Theatre’s production of the 125 year-old operetta, “The Mikado.” I wouldn’t make this up; this is an ethics blog… Continue reading