The Damning Ethics Bombshell In “The Crown”

The Netflix series The Crown, which had its 4th season debut over the weekend, is a terrific historical soap-opera featuring some superb acting by its regulars and walk-ons. It is also historical fiction involving living people, notably Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, and other members of Great Britain’s royal family. This is an ethically problematic area that Ethics Alarms has delved into before. There are legitimate ethical objections to a work of fiction misrepresenting the actions of any historical figure to that individual’s detriment and damage to his or her reputation. The ethical breach is worse when the fictional version of reality involves those who are still alive, and worse still, at least in the eyes of many Brits, when the dubious narratives put into vivid dramatic form involve the current head of state. This is an issue in part because such works of artistic license are too often accepted as fact by viewers who are too lazy to check Google, Wikipedia, or a history book.

“The Crown’s” scriptwriter, Peter Morgan, has said, “Sometimes you have to forsake accuracy, but you must never forsake truth,” whatever that means. The four seasons of his series have made sensational use of some genuinely disturbing chapters of British royal history that the monarchy would like to forget—this infamous cover-up of a Communist spy in Buckingham Palace is particularly stunning— but Morgan has also been justly criticized for making up events out of gossamer and parallel universe annals.

In the current season, for example, a lot of time is devoted to a rift between Prince Charles and Lord Mountbatten that Morgan admits never happened. The problem is that when complete fantasy is mixed in with real events, public understanding of what is fact and what is fiction becomes blurred. (See “Titanic” and “JFK”)

This may allow the Royals to wiggle out of the implications of the astounding scandal revealed in one of Season 4’s episodes, “The Hereditary Principle.” Some of the details are fudged—the horrible truth was not, as far as we know, uncovered by Princess Margaret (played by Helena Bonham Carter)—but it is true that five of her and Queen Elizabeth’s cousins were secretly committed to a mental hospital in 1941 and declared dead.

Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Aftermath, 11/14/2020: Art And Ethics

Brussels statue

1. Movie plot ethics. It’s clear that I have watched far too many movie and TV programs. I am now at the point where certain routine plot and directorial devices not only annoy me, they insult me. I regard these now as disrespectful and incompetent, and in that sense, unethical. I’m not talking about the cliches that still work with the young and uninitiated, like how the apparently dead/injured/ betrayed/ rejected or abandoned character you forgot about is always the one who shows up to save the day. (Among the reasons I love the “Magnificent Seven” so much is that when the one member of the team who had quit shows up to rescue his pals in the final gun battle, he is shot and killed immediately.) I’m referring to tropes that are self-evidently stupid and should seem so for any viewer over the age of 12.

For example,  if there’s a vicious, murdering psychopath chasing you, and you knock him cold with a steel pipe or incapacitate him in other ways, you don’t assume he/she/it is dead and leave the killer there to revive and slaughter you. You make sure the manic/monster is dead. Beat his head to a pulp; heck, cut it off.  This is often paired with another idiotic scene, the ill-timed hug. The world is going to blow in seconds, zombies are coming, crazies are beating down the door: save that passionate embrace for later, you morons! The same applies to long, emotional conversations in the midst of disasters when every second counts. Which is worse, I wonder: the long debate in “Armageddon” between Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck when they have literally seconds to save the Earth from an asteroid apocalypse, or the even longer argument among three fire fighters in the middle of a burning building?  That was in “Backdraft,” and I never quite felt the same about director Ron Howard after that.

2. Statue ethics again.  A new London  sculpture dedicated to Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th-century writer and feminist hero (and the mother of Mary Shelley) is attracting much hate from art critics and the public.

MW memorial

The work by the British artist Maggi Hambling features a small, naked woman standing on a pillar silvered bronze, set on a cube of dark granite. The overall form is just larger than an average person, and sits well with the park: “Why is Mary naked?” critics are demanding. One Twitter user said: “I had no idea Mary had shredded abs.”

Morons. Read the statue’s base: “For Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797.”  This is not intended to be a likeness of, but a tribute to,Wollstonecraft, whose most famous quotation from her “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” published in 1792, appears on the other side of the base:  “I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”

Before one starts criticizing anything, it is essential, fair and responsible to know what one is talking about. Every day I send to Spam Hell comments from Ethics Alarms critics who obviously didn’t read the post they are commenting on. I once went to great lengths to get a local theater critic fired who reviewed a show I directed after I saw her walk out before the second act.

On the other side, as a stage director who made being clear my prime directive, I hold the artist partially responsible when a large proportion of viewers don’t understand what is being communicated.

3. Then there is this:

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Of Intent, Offense, And Uncivil Parrots

The Lincolnshire Wildlife Centre in Great Britain has a problem, or thinks it does. Billy, Eric, Tyson, Jade and Elsie, gray parrots all,  joined  to zoological park’s  flock of 200 gray parrots in August, and quickly proved to be a bad influence.  All five have a penchant for telling visitors to “fuck off,” and one reportedly has called a zoo manager a “fat twat.”  Zookeepers believe the five  were encouraging each other to be potty-beaks, and risked turning the entire group of gray parrots into little feathered versions of Bill Maher.

Can’t have that. The zoo is separating Billy, Eric, Tyson, Jade and Elsie for being  bad influences on each other and threatening to corrupt the other parrots.

This episode has special resonance with me. In 1988, I had just joined the staff of The Association of Trial Lawyers (now called, to the group’s great shame, The Association for Justice because a consultant found that people don’t like trial lawyers) to run its various profit centers. Almost immediately, I found myself in Maui overseeing the group’s winter convention at the Ka’anapali Beach Hyatt in Lahaina. That sounds nice, but my convention manager was in the process of going nuts, and I was tasked with minimizing the damage when, among other things, she locked herself in our convention headquarters weeping and screaming.

I had other responsibilities as well, including dealing with rebellious exhibitors and moderating various meetings at which virtually no members were attending, given the lure of the warm breezes and Hawaiian surf. On the day ATLA’s new Executive Director screamed at me for not being able to talk my convention manager out of her fortress of solitude, and the exhibitors ambushed me at a meeting and called me a Nazi, I was walking, disconsolate and exhausted, from a meeting room back to the exhibit hall in the late afternoon. As I walked past a large, colorful macaw in a cage, I heard a voice say, “Fuck you!” I remember freezing, turning around, and staring at the bird. “Really?” I said. “Really? That’s just what I needed to hear today.” Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 8/2/2020: Imaginary Fans In New York, Elusive Justice In England, And Utter Cluelessness In Colorado

There’s nothing like a great hymn on a Sunday, and it’s always a good time to hear the rousing Battle Hymn of the Republic. When they sang it at Winston Churchill’s funeral—he chose it for that occasion–the moment was unforgettable. I made sure it was sung at my father’s funeral service at Arlington as well in 2010. Thanks to the largely theatrical mourners in the chapel,  side benefit of directing so many musicals and operettas, the rendition was spectacular. “Wow!” the surprised chaplain exclaimed.

It’s a good thing Dad wasn’t singing. He loved belting out that song, and he was completely tone deaf. His version of the Star Spangled Banner would bring anyone to their knees. It made Rosanne seem like Beverly Sills.

1. A gaffe with signature significance. The governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, was widely conceded to be a shoo-in to take the Senate seat away from Republican incumbent Cory Gardner. Then he said “All lives matter.” The Horror. Worse, he said that George Floyd was shot. He really did.

I can’t imagine a more conclusive sign that a politician is simply exploiting an event rather than bothering to learn what happened or think about it. The entire catalyzing effect of Floyd’s death was the symbolism of the cop’s knee on his throat. This guy even ran for President, and this is the seriousness and diligence with which he approaches political leadership. What were all those “I Can’t Breathe!” signs about, Governor?

Glenn Reynolds often says that we have the worst political class in U.S. history. I am reflexively opposed to “this is the worst it has ever been” pronouncements, but in this case, I am inclined to agree.

2. Yecchh! Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Independence Day With Ethics Alarms 1… Ethics Quote Of The Month: President Donald Trump”

Adding international and historical perspective  to yesterday’s post regarding President Trump’s “dark and divisive” speech at Mt. Rushmore ( the mainstream media narrative has been so remarkably consistent that it has been credibly suggested that a memo went out. I could believe it…), E2 gives us this Comment of the Day on “Independence Day With Ethics Alarms 1… Ethics Quote Of The Month: President Donald Trump”:

Re the media’s race/Trump racism false commentary:

Doesn’t anyone know any history? As an amateur historian of British history, Churchill, the Holocaust, and WWII, I understand the horrors of British imperialism in the 18th-19th century (Africa, the Near and Far East, and on and on), but…

Queen Victoria (against the South’s fond hopes) refused to support the Confederacy for one reason: slavery. Despite England’s need for cotton, she wouldn’t put her stamp of approval on slavery in the interest of their economy. Of course one could argue that British imperialism was almost as bad as slavery, but it really was not, and unlike the French, who conquered African nations, hunted with chieftains, slept with their women, stole their resources, then left when it seemed appropriate or necessary, the British, in their unique fashion, created whole government structures (e.g. India) that survived as useful bureaucracies after WWII and the end of British imperialism. Smart they were, though, creating the British Commonwealth, which their conquered countries could join if they chose. An amazing number did.

But slavery of a particular race was not in the British ethic. (Or the Romans either, who enslaved everyone they conquered, regardless of race/origin/culture…) The result — especially after WWII — is that Britain became populated by traditional Englishmen, Indians, African blacks, Asians — all with the hope and most always the realization of good, safe, respected, lives. (The European Union, Brexit, etc., is changing that, I’m sure. It’s been a decade since I’ve been to England.) But to the point: Continue reading

A Nazi Jumbo!

OK, OK, I put the mustache in. I couldn’t resist.

In Great Britain, the enlightened isle that has never quite embraced the  concepts of “freedom of speech” and “freedom of association,” is putting four neo-Nazis in  jail for being “active members” of the banned  group National Action (NA).

Alice Cutter and her former partner Mark Jones, along with Garry Jack and Connor Scothern, appeared at Birmingham crown court, where they were convicted of being members of the group. NA was banned in December 2016 after a series of rallies and incidents that included praising the murder of the MP Jo Cox.  Not killing her, mind you. Praising her murder.

Cutter denied that she was an active member of the group as the prosecutor had argued to the court. True,  Jurors were shown messages in which she joked about gassing synagogues and using a Jew’s head as a football.  Joke! She was joking! But I’d say where she really ran into trouble denying that she was a Neo-Nazi was the fact that she competed in the “Miss Hitler” beauty pageant. Cutter entered the  pageant under the catchy name “Buchenwald Princess.”

Führer ? What Führer ?

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/3/2020: Rationalizations #1 And #64

Well, maybe the Nicholas Brothers will cheer me up….

I wrote about Fayard and Harold here. Talk about victims of systemic racism: the only reason these guys aren’t as famous as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly is that Hollywood wouldn’t let them be. Justice would be making sure every single American kid sees this routine before they are 18.

1. Of course rioting is domestic terrorism. What else would you call it? It’s calculated violence against innocent citizens to promote fear and to advance a political objective. That’s terrorism.

If the truth hurts, tough. Boy, Rationalization #64. Yoo’s Rationalization or “It isn’t what it is” has had a work-out this year!

2. New York Times priorities: Here’s the top front page headline in the Times today: “How Trump’s Idea For Photo Op led To Havoc in the Park.”  Riots, looting, attacks on police and deaths from the George Floyd riots, and that’s the story the Times believes should be first today. Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias. Continue reading

Sunday Evening Ethics Nightcap: 5/3/2020: It Isn’t What It Is

Good NIGHT!

Yoo’s Rationalization, or “It isn’t what it is” seems to have become popular in recent weeks, and this collection reflects that hellish development.

1. Some things just aren’t true because you want them to be. In Great Britain, Freddy McConnell gave birth after transitioning (but obviously not completely, correct?), so he is fighting in the courts to be officially listed as his child’s father rather than his mother. His argument has been repeatedly rejected, most recently when he unsuccessfully appealed the court decision that he could be registered only as his son’s mother. He now wants to take his case to Britain’s Supreme Court.

What is it about people who think that the law can and should declare up to be down (because they prefer down) and why do they feel it is reasonable and ethical to take up time and resources to try to force the government  to endorse an eccentric  interpretation of reality? This reminds me of the argument that Bruce Jenner’s victories in the Olympics should be recorded as wins by his future female alter-ego. But women can’t compete in those events, can they? Similarly, the human being that gives birth to another human being is that individual’s mother, by definition. Like Abe Lincoln’s quip about how a dog doesn’t have five legs just because you call its tail a leg, McConnell can call himself anything he likes, and have his child call him what he likes. But he’s still kid’s mother.

Own it, dude, and stop wasting everyone’s time.

2.  Wait, what? The New York Times has a story headlined, “‘Murder Hornets’ in the U.S.: The Rush to Stop the Asian Giant Hornet/Sightings of the Asian giant hornet have prompted fears that the vicious insect could establish itself in the United States and devastate bee populations.

Explain, please, why it’s somehow racist to call the virus that came from the Wuhan Province in China “the Wuhan virus,” or the Chinese virus, but the same paper that has championed the cheap Trump-bashing  tactic of condemning the naming of a pandemic after its place of origin refers to a “vicious insect” from Asia the “Asian Giant Hornet’?

Then there is this head-exploder: In China, Wuhan has passed Beijing as the top domestic destination for Chinese tourists. It ranked only eighth before the pandemic.

The hashtag “武汉成为疫情后网民最想去旅游的城市,” roughly translated as “Wuhan is the top city netizens want to visit after the epidemic” has become viral on Chinese social media. Why? Apparently it’s because something momentous happened there. History!

So to sum up: Chinese people regard Wuhan as the origin of the pandemic, and that makes it more attractive to them as a tourist destination, but if Americans identify the same area with the pandemic here, they are racist. Continue reading

Sunday Morning Alarms, 4/5/2020: After The First Two Items, You Won’t Want To Read Any More And Will Just Go Back To Bed…

….like I did…

1. KABOOM! Pennsylvanian Anita Shaffer, 19, decided to flee her York County home  a week ago for a mental health drive.  On her way back home, two Pennsylvania State Police officers stopped her about her car’s faulty tail-light. While talking with the officers,  Shaffer told them that she was just “going for a drive.” In response, they wrote her a ticket for more than $202.25 for violating the Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order.

That’s the citation above. It says Shaffer “failed to abide by the order of the governor and secretary of health issued to control the spread of a communicable disease, requiring the closure of all non-life-sustaining businesses as of 20:00 hours on March 19, 2020. To wit, defendant states that she was ‘going for a drive’ after this violation was in effect,”

State police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski explained the ticket, saying, “Troopers have been encouraged to use contacts with the public as opportunities to reinforce the necessity to abide by stay-at-home orders.”

And how, exactly, does ticketing an individual who is engaged in conduct that cannot possibly infect anyone  accomplish  that?

Well, Tarkowski blathered,  being a soulless bureaucrat incapable of admitting that THE STATE is full of it in this case, “Troopers maintain discretion to warn or issue citations and the decision is specific to the facts and circumstances of a particular encounter.”

Fine. These facts do not justify a ticket by any stretch of the imagination. The officers’ discretion shows they are not qualified to wield the power they have. Indeed, the citation magnifies the extreme arbitrariness of such orders, and their danger when those charged with enforcing them have the judgment of Gestapo officers.

I’m surprised the cops didn’t slap her around a little, shoot her in the kneecap or even rape her, you know, to show the defiant prole who’s boss and not to ever, ever defy Big Brother.

Tarkowski also said Shaffer’s citation is the only one issued for violating the stay-at-home order. It’s good that the police picked a representative one to symbolize the Pennsyvania message to it’s citizens, which is apparently, “You will do as you are told, underlings.”

Well, not to be crude, but screw that.

Shaffer told reporters  she was within her rights to operate her car, and plans on challenging the citation.  Good. And again I ask, where is our vaunted American Civil Liberty Union on this issue? For three years, we have been hearing false cries of outrage about how the President is an autocrat just waiting to crush our civil rights, and now, when the civil rights of citizens are being ignored by tin pot governors all over the country, the ACLU just shrugs and sighs in its bunker, “It’s for the greater good.”

Oh..there was nothing wrong with her tail light. Continue reading

Monday Morning Ethics, 3/30/2020: As Another Fun Week Looms…

Yes, I’ve been thinking about this episode (“The Shinning”) of “The Simpsons” a lot lately…

Of course, in my case, I’m writing on the walls, “No baseball, no seminars make Jack Go Crazy!”

1. And speaking of people going crazy: the various anti-gun mayors and governors who are arguing that gun stores are “non-essential” are displaying their irrational Second Amendment phobia, much like Ohio and Texas attempting to prohibit abortions as “non-essential” surgery. The ability to self-arm is more essential at times of social disruption than usual. Looting and attacks on homes are just around the corner as resources dwindle and people become desperate, and we already have plenty of evidence that irresponsible, anti-social and unstable members of the public are not as rare as we might wish. The comparisons of the Wuhan virus crisis to zombie scenarios (as in “World War Z”) are invitations to hysteria, but in one respect the analogy is apt. Guns are useful tools to have around in both situations.

2. Good. From CNN:

The Justice Department has started to probe a series of stock transactions made by lawmakers ahead of the sharp market downturn stemming from the spread of coronavirus, according to two people familiar with the matter. The inquiry, which is still in its early stages and being done in coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission, has so far included outreach from the FBI to at least one lawmaker, Sen. Richard Burr, seeking information about the trades, according to one of the sources. Public scrutiny of the lawmakers’ market activity has centered on whether members of Congress sought to profit from the information they obtained in non-public briefings about the virus epidemic.

And if this causes the Republicans to lose control of the Senate, they deserve it. Burr, in particular, should resign now. He should not be allowed to run for re-election.

3. I would think that this is a slippery slope we don’t want to get on… Continue reading