Tag Archives: Martin Luther King

Ethics Reflections, Post Christmas, 12/26/2018: Quotes, Dummies, Movies And Scams

Still Merry Christmas.

1. Quotation ethics. The church next door has a message out front this week that says, “The time is right to always do the right thing”—Martin Luther King.

That’s not the quote. Misquotes get into the public lexicon that way; it’s unethical to go around posting sloppy versions of quotes on message boards. Stated like that, the quote is a tautology: if you always do the right thing, of course the time is right to do what you do anyway. Not that King’s actual quote is one of his best. The actual quote—“The time is always right to  do the right thing” is pretty fatuous, and incorporates  Rationalization #60. The Ironic Rationalization, or “It’s The Right Thing To Do” by assuming that what is the right thing to do is intrinsically obvious. Sometimes the right thing is to wait. Sometimes the right thing is yo be sure what you think is the right thing really is. King was dangerously arming ideologues and the self-righteous who think they are the ultimate arbiters of what is “right.”

Davey Crockett’s quote is better: “Be sure you are right, and then go ahead.”

2. Is it political correctness to point out that Jeff Dunham’s act is racist? After being told by my wife that I couldn’t watch any more holiday movies or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, my channel surfing today took me to Comedy Central and Christmas-themed performance by ventriloquist Jeff Dunham. Dunham’s low-brow act makes Charlie McCarthy seem like Oscar Wilde, and I cannot watch him and his howling audiences without thinking about this scene in “Blazing Saddles”…

He began his set with “Walter,” his bitter old curmudgeon dummy, whose face is perpetually scowling and whose arms are crossed in disgust with the world. To my amazement, Walter launched into an extended section ridiculing black speech, black slang, hip-hop, Kwanza and the Black Entertainment Network, and the huge, apparently all-white mid-West audience roared with laughter. How ugly and disturbing. These were jokes of denigration, about people who weren’t there. This was never anything but hate-mongering humor, not in 1948, 1958, 1968, or now. It’s an audience laughing at other people for simply being different than they are.

I kn ow, I know: how is this different from what Stephen Colbert, or Bill Maher, or Samantha Bee does in every performance? It isn’t different, really: it’s just that treating white people who aren’t “woke” as the “other” is considered acceptable, while doing this to minorities, gays or women is considered bigotry, hateful, and cowardly.

3. It annoys me that I should even have to say this, but calling “Die Hard” a Christmas movie is nothing but a cynical way to diminish Christmas and the spirit of kindness and love that the holidays are supposed to foster in order to promote future holiday marathons of a violent action movie. Celebrating the film’s 30 Anniversary, some Grinch at 20th Century Fox decided that it would be cute to promote Bruce Willis’s break-out film as “The Greatest Christmas Story” ever told, according to 20th Century Fox. Right: the movie ends with a strained family brought back together, takes place during a Christmas party, and Bruce’s wife is named “Holly.” It also involves the killing of  more than twenty people, including police,l FBI agents, and innocent victims in addition to the bad guys the hero smokes.

And I like “Die Hard.” I even like two of its four vastly inferior sequels. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: CNN And Marc Lamont Hill”

More self-flagellation is in order: the problem when one gets behind in posting important Comments of the Day, new entries tend to push themselves into line, making it harder to catch up. The quiz about whether CNN was ethical to fire Marc Lamont Hill spawned this too- interesting- to- put- off discourse on the use of violence in activism in the U.S.  To recap, Hill had told the U.N, in the course of advocating pushing the Jews into the sea,

“Contrary to western mythology, black resistance to American apartheid did not come purely through Gandhi and nonviolence. Rather, slave revolts and self-defense and tactics otherwise divergent from Dr. King or Mahatma Gandhi were equally important to preserving safety and attaining freedom.”

To this,seasoned Ethics Alarms commenter Isaac wrote,

He’s also wrong about uprisings and violent tactics being “equally important” to African freedom and equal rights in America. Not even close to true. If anything such tactics, while understandable, hindered the hard uphill battle being fought by the likes of Douglass and King. You can trace virtually every single concrete step forward in both the abolition and civil rights movements to peaceful activists, non-violent advocacy, and people working within the American systems to change them. Not sexy, but true.

This sparked Michael R’s Comment of the Day on the post Ethics Quiz: CNN And Marc Lamont Hill:

I would disagree with you on your points about violent tactics. Violent self-defense was an integral part in the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The Deacons for Defense and other armed groups of black men provided armed guards for civil rights leaders. Without groups of armed black men like the Deacons for Defense, CORE would have been wiped out. The KKK would have won and the civil rights movement would have collapsed. Continue reading

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From The Scary Tales Of The Cognitive Dissonance Scale Files: The Ram Trucks Super Bowl Commercial

Perhaps more than any other field of endeavor, advertising depends on the Secret of the Cognitive Dissonance Scale. But the scale abused is a jealous and angry mistress, as Chrysler/ Fiat discovered when its Super Bowl for Ram Trucks turned into a public relations disaster.

It must have seemed so simple! Brainstorming about how to promote Ram Trucks while appealing to a divided the country during the iconic NFL game, after a year in which pro football in particular was torn by strife over players, mostly black, kneeling during the National Anthem to protest something or other, depending on which helmeted social justice warrior you asked, some rising, present-day Mad Man, cynical to the core, drew Dr. Festinger’s scale on a white board as he shouted, “Eureka!”

“It’s perfect!” the fuzzy cheeked, rising young advertising genius cried, marking the diagram with the red marker. “I know how we drag our truck up the scale!”

“Ram is a powerful truck and a symbol of toxic manhood, when everyone’s talking about how men, and especially white men, are the source of all that’s rotten in Denmark! Well, not Denmark, but here. You know what I mean. Anyway, for some of our clients we’ve been using little, scrawny, androgynous guys as spokesmen, like the geek Lou dreamed up for Petsmart.

 

He’s not scary, and you know he must be a Hillary voter. But come on: this dork probably drives a Smartcar. We can’t use someone like him to promote a truck. No, Fred, we can’t use a sexy female model, either, like we used to. Sexy models are now below zero on the scale. They’d pull our trucks DOWN. Oh, a lot of men would still secretly love this stuff like we used to do,

but now  their girl friends or wives or daughters would glare at them, and getting flack from women in the family is LOW on the scale. So sex is out. Sorry.

Now, the Petsmart geek does have a dog with him. Dogs are high on the scale, as we all know: Ralph, you were the one came up the ad with the Golden Retriever driving the Subaru, right?

 

Gold! But come on: kids and dogs have been done to death in Super Bowl ads. There will probably be all sorts of cute dog ads during the Super Bowl; there always are. [ Actually, there weren’t…]  So think: we want a man’s voice, a manly man, but one that doesn’t scream white male patriarchy or Harvey Weinstein.  We want someone the fans of those National Anthem protests and Black Lives Matter will have high on their Cognitive Dissonance Scale, so associating Ram Trucks with him will yank the trucks right up. We also want someone  the fans who were getting sick of political grandstanding when they wanted to watch a football game also admire, someone who knew how and why to protest. And, at the same time, we want Ram to look socially conscious—you know, “woke.”

One figure, and only one, will do all that, from a position so high on the scale that we can’t lose! Martin Luther King! Heck, all of those blue collar workers just got a day off because of the guy; it’s fresh on their minds. They love him! A day-off pulls MLK right up the scale himself!

And look: I did some googling, and found this from some speech he gave: “If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. … By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great. … You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know the theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

Great stuff, right? There’s “greatness: for the MAGA crowd, and “love,” which is Scale magic, and we can fill the ad with heartwarming scenes—with kids!

—all leading up to our Dodge Trucks theme, ‘Ram trucks are built to serve‘!

The cheering in the meeting room was deafening.

Morons.

Today, that once rising ad exec starts his new job at Taco Bell.

Martin Luther King didn’t pull Dodge Trucks up the scale. Cynical exploitation of a civil rights icon and turning a black martyr into Morgan Freeman’s competition as a rival pitch man (Morgan was doing Mountain Dew) is so low on the Cognitive Dissonance Scale that it pulled the product’s rating right through the floor.

This is rank incompetence. If you are going to try to exploit the image and words of a dead hero, at least learn something about him. At the time of his death, King was getting ready to make a push for socialist reforms, which meant attacking capitalism. You also should read the whole speech you are cherry picking from; you can bet someone else will. Here’s a section from that same speech:

“…we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. … I got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car. … I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America.”

This means that using King’s voice and words to appear to endorse a truck ad seen by millions is a lie.

The King family’s greed and poor stewardship of King’s image also shares some of the blame for the fiasco. The King Center quickly went on  Twitter to say that neither the organization nor the Rev. Bernice King, one of Dr. King’s daughters, was responsible for approving the offensive Super Bowl commercial. That’s not exactly true. Eric D. Tidwell, the managing director of Intellectual Properties Management, the licenser for the estate, said that Ram, as it must, came to them for permission to use King’s name, voice and words. “Once the final creative was presented for approval, it was reviewed to ensure it met our standard integrity clearances,” he said in a statement. “We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others.”

Obviously the King family did not take proper steps to ensure that those who handle the family profit center depending on commercial uses of Dr. King’s legacy understand the difference between embodying Dr. King’s philosophy and cynically distorting it to sell stuff. Intellectual Properties Management is paid to take the PR hit, but I’d be willing to bet that such a high profile use of King was approved by the family itself. After all, King isn’t pulled down the scale by a foolish commercial. The controversy might even help King’s image, by sending people to read the speech. Maybe the King family knew the commercial would burn Ram, but was willing to take their fee and watch the fun, as the Cognitive Dissonance Scale wreaked its terrible vengeance on those who would abuse its power.

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From “The Ethics Incompleteness Principle” Files: Memphis, Tennessee’s Confederate Statues

A better application of the Ethics Incompleteness Principle would be difficult to find than the decision by Memphis, Tennessee to remove a huge monument to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and an even larger heroic equestrian statue (above) of Nathan Bedford Forrest, swashbuckling Confederate general and (allegedly) the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan,  from two public parks.

As we have discussed here in great detail, I am unalterably opposed to the current mania among our Left-leaning friends and neighbors  of tearing down statues, monuments and memorials honoring  past historical figures because their lives, beliefs and character do not comport with current day standards or political norms.  This primitive exercise in historical censorship has been especially focused on famous and notable figures from the Confederacy, although recent efforts have targeted George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and even Theodore Roosevelt. Of the attacks on memorials to Confederate figures, I wrote,

[ Union veterans]  didn’t think of the former Confederates as traitors, or racists, or slavery advocates. They, like the Union veterans, were just men of their times, caught up in a great political and human rights conflict that came too fast and too furiously for any of them to manage. They were caught in the same, violent maelstrom, and knew it even 50 years earlier. Soldiers on both side wrote how they admired the courage of the enemy combatants they were killing, because they knew they were, in all the ways that mattered, just like them. It was the Golden Rule.  After the war, these soldiers who had faced death at the hands of these same generals, officers and troops, did not begrudge them the honor of their statues and memorials, nor their families pride in the bravery of their loved ones.

Yet now,  self-righteous social justice censors who never took up arms for any cause and in many cases never would, employ their pitifully inadequate knowledge of history to proclaim all the Civil War’s combatants on the losing side as racists and traitors, and decree that they should be hidden from future generations in shame. We have honored men and women for the good that they represent, not the mistakes, sins and misconduct that are usually the product of the times and values in which they lived. In doing so, we leave clues, memories, controversies, differing views, and stories for new generations to consider and better understand their own culture and society, and how it came to be what it is.

Those who want to tear down monuments to the imperfect, whether they know it or not, are impeding knowledge, perspective, wisdom, and understanding. They want only one view of history, because they will only tolerate one that advances their ideology and values—just as the Americans of the past believed in their values. Foolishly, I suppose, they trusted future generations to act on their own ethical enlightenment without corrupting the historical record.

I feel strongly about this, as the tone of that post, far from my first on the subject, shows.

But… Continue reading

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Desperately Seeking A Justification For The Unjustifiable Mizzou Meltdown, And Failing

protest-mizzou

Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Janelle Moss, an African American issues columnist, presented an aggressive, dishonest and insulting justification for the destructive black student protests at the University of Missouri. In an earlier essay, I described them as an “I’m mad at the world and somebody has to pay for it” tantrum. I’m sticking by that description, despite the ennobling spin being put on it by apologists, many of whom are trying to blunt the damage being done to civil rights advocacy by the events of the last several days.

[N]owhere in this still-young week has there been a better example of the tension between the conservative and liberal views of race and the politics around it than behind the podium where University of Missouri President Timothy M. Wolfe stood and resigned Monday,” she wrote.  This is setting up Wolfe’s speech as a straw man. He was forced to resign, and ordered to do it without making matters worse. He was also protecting himself, and, I believe, was a weak and inept leader. How nice to be able to take a hastily written statement by such a dubious representative of any group and declare it the exemplar of “conservative views on race.”

Moss’s introduction was smoking gun proof that this was an example of an advocate picking out evidence to support what she already was committed to supporting, and atrocious evidence at that.

“The Fix is aware that some Americans are inclined to reject, outright, the idea that some words — those that we choose to express our ideas, what we say at critical moments and that which we do not mention — have deeper, often multi-layered meaning, ” she writes.  I don’t know what she thinks she is saying. “Many Americans” reject the idea that words have meaning? “Multi-layered” meanings? Who? Who believes that? What she is trying to do is to justify her next “proof,” which is junk science.

She consulted two minority social scientists, who have clear biases of their own (but coincidentally aligned with hers)  to psychoanalyze what Wolfe said in resigning, and allowing her to use their self-serving diagnosis (one has a book out about “dog-whistle” racism; the other makes his living writing and teaching about how racist the U.S. is) of a short and quickly composed speech to read not just Wolfe’s thoughts but to attribute them to all “conservatives.” The result is, or should be embarrassing. Continue reading

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The Destructive, Useful, Unethical Presumption of Bigotry, Part 2: The Oscar “Snub”

selma-4

For the second time in nearly two decades, and for the first time since 1998, the Oscars will be awarded to only white acting nominees. This, then, if you listen to the caterwauling race-baiters, is because Hollywood is racist. The Academy’s voters just hid it well since 1998, that’s all. Does that make any sense to you?

There are few more infuriating and transparently illogical examples of an unfair slapping down of the race card than looking for bigotry in the notoriously arbitrary, bias-soaked, essentially meaningless choices for “best” in the various Academy Award movie-making categories. Yet the race card sharks were up to the task.  Naturally, the authority on the subject was Al Sharpton, he whose own performance quality on his MSNBC TV show is so amateurish that it would be shut out in any community theater awards.

“In the time of Staten Island and Ferguson, to have one of the most shutout Oscar nights in recent memory is something that is incongruous,” Sharpton told The Daily News. Wait, what??? Incongruous is the assertion that the nominations for film-making excellence should be influenced in any way by how many blacks are killed resisting arrest. Anyone who finds that to be a logical argument for why more black actors should have been nominated for Oscars is useless to any rational discussion of the issue. I want a show of hands. Continue reading

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Ethics Quote Of The Month: Washington Post Film Critic Ann Hornaday on “Selma”

selma-movie

“How to reconcile facts and feelings, art and fealty to the truth? When filmmakers recall with pride about the deep reporting and research they’ve done for their projects, then they deserve to be held accountable for their projects. For fact-based films, accuracy becomes a formal element, along with acting, design and cinematography. It’s up to each viewer to identify the threshold where artistic license compromises the integrity of the entire endeavor. Cinema has more responsibility in this regard precisely because of its heightened realism, its ability to burrow into our collective consciousness and memory, where the myth has a tendency to overpower settled fact. But viewers have responsibilities, too. If accuracy has become a formal element of historical dramas, then the ensuing fact-checks have become just as integral a part of how we view them. That means it’s incumbent on audiences to engage in a mode of spectatorship that, rather than decide who’s right, can listen to and respect expert critiques, and still open themselves up to a piece of filmed entertainment that speaks to less literal, more universal truths.”

—–Ann Hornaday, Washington Post film critic, on the controversy regarding the counter-factual treatment of President Lydon Johnson in the new film, “Selma.”

The question of whether film makers have an ethical obligation to fairly represent history, and particularly individual historical figures, in their movies has been a topic visited frequently at Ethics Alarms, and I’m not going to re-hash conclusions that have been thoroughly discussed before, such as

…here, regarding the casting of “The Impossible” with a gleamingly light-skinned central family and the changing of the real life heroine from Spanish to British

…here,  discussing complaints that a fictional event was not portrayed accurately in “Noah”

…here, exploring the many falsehoods, some quite despicable, in James Cameron’s “Titanic”

…here, regarding unfair criticism of “Argo”

and here, discussing “Lincoln” screenwriter, playwright Tony Kushner’s inexcusable choice to represent a real life former Congressman voting against the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery when in fact he voted for it.

The conclusion of that last one sums up the lessons of the rest, I think. Kushner’s defense against criticism of the collateral damage his invented facts wreaked was to argue that they were legitimate tactics in the pursuit of drama and “greater truths.” He then compared smearing the reputation of a Congressman, to the detriment of his descendants, to misrepresenting the kinds of socks Lincoln wore. (Kushner can be a brilliant writer, but his ideological utilitarianism is repellant.) I wrote:
Continue reading

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