Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/16/2020: Zugswang!

Good morning, inmates!

I’ve been reading that social isolation may be deadly. Zugswang!

Last week “ethics zugswangmade a return to Ethics Alarms, and you can expect to read a lot more of it. The chess term describing the dilemma is which the only safe move is to stay still, and staying still is impossible, seems to be applying to increasing numbers of dire situations recently, especially in the ethical sense, in which all choices are unethical.Upon reflection, several posts involved ethics zugswang even when I didn’t use that term. The woman whose student loan debts topped 900,000 dollars is in zugswang. Progressive feminists who use gender-baiting as a partisan weapon are in self-condemned zugswang when political allies use misogynist terms against conservative women.

It’s really fun saying “zugswang,” but I will try to touch on some matters that don’t involve ethics zugswang….like…

1. “Hogan’s Heroes” ethics. I never thought it would happen, but a cable channel is re-running “Hogan’s Heroes” episodes. The very popular Sixties sitcom about POW prison camp and the wacky and inept Nazis running it has been thoroughly excoriated as outrageously tasteless and politically incorrect. My father loved the show because anything that made the Nazis look ridiculous was aces with him. Is it tasteless and offensive to show “Hogan’s Heroes” today?

It was clearly satire, in the same spirit as Larry, Moe and Curly playing Hitler and cronies, or Charley Chaplin in “The Great Dictator”—or, to pick a recent example, the child’s view of Hitler as an imaginary friend in “Jo-Jo Rabbit.” The show obviously took its inspiration from “The Great Escape,” of which it is virtually a parody (without the executions, of course.) WW II vets like my father were accustomed to the Nazis being ridiculed and trivialized in the process. In an age that has seen the Holocaust Museum’s exhibits and widely distributed documentaries about the full barbarity of Nazi Germany, the satire may no longer work.

There are other reasons why “Hogan’s Heroes” is no longer funny, despite the very talented cast. Its laugh track is annoying now, especially when the jokes are old and repetitive: how hard can you keep laughing when Sgt. Schultz (John Banner) says “I know nothing! NOTHING!” for the thousandth time? Perhaps the kiss of death for the series is the ubiquity of series star Bob Crane as Hogan, Crane was always smarmy for my taste, but knowing his fate—Crane was bludgeoned to death by a likely participant in his sick S & M porno ring that involved, among other revolting activities,  secretly videotaping women engaged in sex—make watching the show a painful experience. Continue reading

Joe Biden’s Eye

“Joe Biden’s eye just started bleeding? This isn’t a joke what in the hell just happened,” tweeted one individual who for some reason had nothing better to do than to watch CNN’s “climate change town meeting.” Indeed it had, and in some universes, like social media, this was the big story of the night. The Washington Times and Washington Examiner reported it; so did Fox News and The New York Post.  If you couldn’t figure it out from those clues, it was the conservative news media that thought this was an event worth knowing about. In the parallel an corrupt universe of the mainstream news media—you know, the ones determined to  influence the election so Donald Trump is a one-term President? That one?—it was “Eye? What eye?”

The New York Times hasn’t mentioned it yet. On Memeorandum, the useful news aggregator that I thought was non-partisan but now I’m wondering, didn’t have a single link about it. Even CNN, which hosted the debate, ignored the moment. I couldn’t believe it, so I searched for “eye” in the debate coverage  on the CNN website, and got only “At times, candidates waged a bidding war to show liberal activists their plan was the most audacious — and even expensive. But with an eye on November 2020, others warned against throwing the economy out of the window.” The story was headlined “What happened during CNN’s climate town hall and what it means for 2020,” so as far as CNN is concerned, nothing happened. Politico, the left-leaning website, at least alluded to the eye by joking, “Even the shallow matter of what we now call “optics” went badly for Biden. He chose to sit through his appearance—Harris, Sanders, and Warren all stood—and by the end of it, a burst blood vessel in his left eye was noticeable.” Optics, get it? AOL, which I would call anti-Trump, distingished itself by importing coverage from the Wrap headlined, “Biden’s mysterious bloody eye overshadows CNN climate town hall.”

Wait: how could something “overshadow” the event, and simultaneously not be worthy of news coverage? Continue reading

The Ethics of Outing the Movie Star

My least favorite website, the ethically challenged Gawker, became the latest media source to publish rapidly spreading tales of the gay sexual escapades of a well-known Hollywood leading man who is also married, has children, attracts a great deal of positive publicity because of his family life, and, to cap it all off, is a high-profile member of a church (the Church of Scientology) that has in the past treated homosexuality as a curable malady. A book is coming out, and the author is pumping up interest in the tabloids.

The ethical question: is this legitimate news? Should it be reported? If it isn’t news, but rather a vile and mean-spirited invasion of privacy, then Gawker, as usual, is wading in slime. If, however, it is news, then why is the mainstream media ignoring the story?

This is a messy ethical conflict. Continue reading