Hollywood Ethics: The Top Twelve Movie Clips Used On Ethics Alarms [Updated 9/13/20]

My back is out, I’m feeling sick, and I’m not up to any complicated analysis right now. For some time I’ve wanted to put all of the iconic movie clips that I turn to when the circumstances demand, so it’s time.

1. To illustrate the folly of suspending or violating the rule of law, the Constitution, or due process for “the greater good” as it appears to some to be at the time:

 

2. To comment on a strikingly incompetent argument, theory or proposal:

 

3. When I feel I should resist the impulse to attack an ethics miscreant with special vigor, but decide to go ahead anyway…

 

4.  To explain the conduct of some individuals or organizations that cannot be justified by facts, principles of logic, or any other valid motivation:

 

5.  To illustrate the impulse to respond to injustice and the abuse of power by resorting to symbolic acts of pure defiance, even when they are likely to fail…

 

6. When a individual abandons integrity or other ethical values for a non-ethical consideration…

 

7. When an individual feigns indignation and disapproval of conduct that he or she has either participated in or enabled:

 

8. Used to signal that a politician, journalist or scholar has intentionally or negligently used such impenetrable rhetoric as to be completely incomprehensible [Forgot this one: thanks to Phlinn for catching the omission]:

 

9. When an incident or argument makes no sense whatsoever, or that drives me to the edge of insanity:

 

10. When a politician, a pundit or someone else  uses a term or word incorrectly to support an unethical action or argument:

 

11. Warning that a likely event or revelation will contribute to an Ethics Train Wreck already in progress or about to get rolling:

12. Commenting on a particularly incompetent, irresponsible, or otherwise unethical decision with disastrous consequences:

 

New Media Gaslighting Update, And An Insufficiently Inflammatory Rant

As the majority of Americans gradually come around to appreciating the President’s efforts and leadership in the uncharted metaphorical waters of a strange and still infuriatingly under-understood pandemic, the Get Trump media has shifted into pure propaganda and fiction to claim otherwise. Here’s David Leonhardt, arguably the most rabid and untrustworthy of all the op-ed writers in the Times “resistance” stable, claiming, Trump Is Hurting His Own Re-election Chances: Don’t be fooled by snapshot polls.” That should be, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” Even worse is The Atlantic, which is literally a full time Trump Derangement publication now. Peter Wehner is the prime balladeer of the magazines fantastic songs: two weeks ago, he wrote, “The Trump Presidency Is Over: It has taken a good deal longer than it should have, but Americans have now seen the con man behind the curtain.”

This kind of hysteria-mongering is even worse: “How Donald Trump Could Steal the Election.” The First Amendment allows publications to publish such vomit, but that doesn’t mean its ethical for them to do it. Like earlier article about how the President might just refuse to leave office if defeated, or use the epidemic to declare himself dictator, such fever-dreams are based on nothing but clinical obsession and hate. The author The Atlantic dredged up is a professor of political science at the University of Maryland named Jeffrey Davis. He, his university, and The Atlantic should all be discredited in the future, as their judgment is stunningly awful and their trustworthiness is non-existent.

Then there’s this: In an open letter to Vice-President Pence, British journalist Mehdi Hasan writes in The Intercept that he must  invoke 25th Amendment and have the President removed as “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Yes, it’s good old Resistance Plan E (on the list that goes up to S.) And what triggered the resort to this oldie but goodie? The President was mean to a reporter, Hasan is a journalist, so that settles it! Cementing the total lack of seriousness in his article, Hasan cited Bandy Lee as authority—you know, the discredited Yale psychiatrist who has breached her profession’s ethical standards by diagnosing the President from afar, and who is thus the go-to guest any time CNN or MSNBC has another “How do we get rid of this guy without beating him in an election?” panel. (She also exposed her integrity and motives recently by refusing to diagnose Joe Biden’s cognitive problems.) It’s another embarrassing article. Why would anyone publish such garbage? Continue reading

The Unethical Face Of Martin Shkreli

Smirk

The face above belongs to Martin Shkreli, who was subpoenaed to testify before Congress over  last September’s decision as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals to raise the price for Daraprim, an antiparasitic commonly used to treat HIV patients, from $13.50 to $750 a pill. Shkreli bought the 60-year-old drug from Impax Laboratories in August for $55 million and swiftly raised its price. Three months later he stepped down from that position in December following his arrest on securities fraud charges. He is now free  on $5 million bail.

He is probably the less able to justify that face above, which he displayed to the elected representatives of the United States of America  on earth while refusing to testify, repeatedly citing his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. Nobody could justify that face, of course; not a ten year old brat, and definitely not a greedy, narcissist corporate executive and predator. In a setting where he should be humble and remorseful, he was defiant and disrespectful. The face is an affront to the entire nation and everyone in it. Continue reading

Vice President Biden May Be A Boob, A Hypocrite And An Ethics Dunce, But He Understands The American Culture Better Than Most Of His Party

I’m late to the blog today, because I spent it giving a special program for the Smithsonian Associates called  “From Stagecoach to Django Unchained: The Hollywood Western and Its Influence on American Values, Aspirations and Culture.” It consisted of me talking, a terrific Powerpoint presentation by the gifted Grace Marshall, and almost three hours of clips from classic Westerns—the whole session was five hours. My primary message is that anyone who is not literate  regarding the Hollywood Western really doesn’t understand the myths and archetypes that powerfully influence U.S. culture to this day. Within that “anyone” are the majority of pundits and journalists, a large percentage of citizens under 50, and the vast majority of women and minorities. This is a problem.

For example, no one can consider the vast influence of the Western genre on American culture and be the least bit surprised that gun control has an uphill battle with the American public. No other culture has as its primary source of heroes, legends and lore figures and events so dependent on firearms as a means to right wrongs, protect the innocent, and punish evil. Frankly, if a pundit doesn’t understand why John Wayne (who died in 1979) just set a Harris poll record by being included in its annual list of top ten most popular movie actors for twenty consecutive years, from 1994 to 2014, I don’t think they can comprehend the nation sufficiently to opine on it.

Joe Biden, however, understands. I have been critical of Joe, as he is frequently an embarrassment, and there was a lot wrong with his comments today as he was honored with the “Voice of Solidarity” award by Vital Voices, a women’s rights charity, at their event celebrating “men who combat violence against women.” Still, Biden proved that whether he knows it or not, he is more atuned to U.S. culture than most of his colleagues. He deserves credit for that, if nothing else.

You see, Biden told a fascinating personal anecdote from his childhood. He related:

“I remember coming back from Mass on Sunday Always the big treat was, we’d stop at the donut shop…We’d get donuts, and my dad would wait in the car. As I was coming out, my sister tugged on me and said, ‘That’s the boy who kicked me off my bicycle.’ So I went home—we only lived about a quarter mile away—and I got on my bicycle and rode back, and he was in the donut shop.”

Biden said the the boy was in a physically vulnerable position,“leaning down on one of those slanted counters,” so he took immediate advantage:

“I walked up behind him and smashed his head next to the counter.His father grabbed me, and I looked at his son and said, ‘If you ever touch my sister again, I’ll come back here again and I’ll kill your son.’ Now, that was a euphemism. I thought I was really, really in trouble… My father never once raised his hand to any one of his children—never once—and I thought I was in trouble. He pulled me aside and said, ‘Joey, you shouldn’t do that, but I’m proud of you, son.’”

The lesson, Biden said, was that one should to “speak up and speak out” to correct wrongdoings. Like much of what come out of Biden’s mouth, this was nonsense in the context of his own story, and was not what the lesson was at all. The lesson was that force, punishment, violence and intimidation is sometimes necessary to stop bullying, discourage misconduct, protect the innocent and vulnerable,  set standards, and give more than lip service to core values. Little Joey Biden didn’t “speak up”: he bashed a bully’s head and threatened to kill him. Apparently it worked, too. America, Americans, the culture and our history—as well as the Duke–have long believed that sometimes violence is necessary to stop violence, and send important messages, and can therefore be virtuous and ethical.  Biden understood that when he was ten, and somewhere deep in that mess of mush he calls a mind, he understands that now. Continue reading

TV Ethics, Viewed From A Sickbed

This isn’t how I look. This guy looks BETTER than I look…

[ As regular readers here might have guessed, I am ill, and have been since Thanksgiving. I can barely read, can’t really research, and whatever appears below was composed in 10 minute increments with hours or days in between. I’m hoping to be catching up very soon. Thank you for your patience]

What do you do when any movement or exertion makes you cough your guts out, when you can’t sleep but have to rest, when your brain is so blurry from viruses and medication that you can’t even compose a blog post for three days? (Sorry.) If you are me, and I hope for your sake that you aren’t, you watch TV.

I got one jolt of legal ethics horror that I hadn’t remembered re-watching Kevin Costner’s “The Untouchables,” directed by Brian DePalma. In the movie’s climax, Al Capone’s trial on income tax evasion has come to a crisis point, as Elliot Ness (Costner) realizes that the jury has been bribed to acquit him. Despite documentation of that fact, the corrupt judge tells Costner that the trial will proceed, whereupon Costner extorts him to prompt “a change of heart.” Now the judge shocks the courtroom by announcing that he is trading juries with another trial next door. The new, un-bribed twelve will decide Capone’s fate.

This is, of course, beyond ridiculous. Adversary attorneys must be able to choose a jury in voir dire, where each potential juror is questioned. Trading juries just invalidates two trials. Even if they could trade juries, which they couldn’t, the Capone trial would obviously have to start all over again since the new jury wouldn’t know what was going on.

None of this occurs to Al Capone’s panicky lawyer, however, who, realizing that the jig is up, announces that “we” are changing “our” plea to “guilty.” Chaos reigns. Capone (Robert DeNiro) punches his lawyer in the face, and I don’t blame him one bit.  A lawyer can’t plead guilty against the wishes of his client! The judge couldn’t accept such a plea, and Capone wouldn’t be bound by it. This would be an embarrassing distortion of the justice system in a Warner Brothers cartoon, but for a movie based on historical figures and events to sink so low is unforgivable. (“Carrie” aside, Brian DePalma was a hack.) Continue reading