Bee Ethics: A Brief Addendum To Today’s Ethics Warm-Up…

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I meant to have this as the opening to today’s first post, but the painting of Joe hugging Kamala while dead anti-Trump icons looked down from heaven shorted out my brain.

I believe I may have discovered the beginning of American society’s ruinous capitulation to claims of being offended and organizational submission to contrived complaints of coded prejudice and bigotry. I found it, of all places, at the end of the terrible 1978 Irwin Allen (“The Poseidon Adventure;” “The Towering Inferno”) disaster movie “The Swarm.” For some reason, TCM devoted last night to famously bad movies, like John Wayne’s hilarious “The Conqueror,” in which the Duke played Genghis Kahn for producer Howard Hughes. Many critics said at the time it came out that “The Swarm” was the worst movie ever made; I don’t know how they could say that when the sequel to “The Exorcist,” “The Heretic,” came out just a year before. I don’t think “The Swarm” is even the worst big all-star cast movie ever made: I’d give that distinction to “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”

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“Predator,” “White Christmas” And “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”: Among Other Benefits, Freedom Of Expression Is Just A Lot Easier Than Creating And Enforcing Taboos

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We were watching “Predator” over the weekend, and saw Arnold Schwarzenegger color his skin black—using mud—to escape the deadly alien’s heat-based vision. Now, why doesn’t this qualify as blackface, thus threatening Arnold with “cancellation” and the film, an action classic, with permanent shelving? Don’t tell me it’s because there is a good reason for Arnold, who is as white as you can get, darkening his skin. We have been told that intentions don’t matter when it comes to this crime against racial justice. Fred Astaire wearing dark make-up to honor his black tap teachers in “Top Hat” is per se racist. Wearing black make-up to portray a black historical character in a private Halloween party is racist. Lawrence Olivier wearing dark make-up to play Othello is racist. Robert Downey, Jr. wearing dark make-up to satirize actors who go to excess to get in character for their roles is racist. Where is the “Exception for someone trying to avoid being killed by a hunter from outer space” written down?

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“Miracle On 34th Street,”An Ethics Companion,Chapter 4: Is Kris Crazy, Or What? [Corrected]

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(The Introduction is here.; Chapter I is here.;Chapter 2 is here; Chapter 3 is here.)

When we last saw Kris Kringle, he had become a big hit at Macy’s by sending shoppers to Gimbel’s, and even was making inroads on young Susan’s precocious skepticism after she heard him speak Dutch. The story really begins going off the ethics rails at this point.

Doris decides that it would probably be responsible to have Kris checked out by the company psychologist, Mr. Sawyer, since her Santa is, after all, nuts. Yah think? In truth, it is per se irresponsible for Macy’s to knowingly employ a Santa Claus operating under the delusion that he is really Santa. The first authority a store would consult in real life, yes, even in the 1950s, would be a member of the legal department. If anything happened to a child in Macy’s store while sitting on the lap of a man who openly claimed to be a mythological figure, the lawsuits would write themselves. Thus the story really takes a turn toward an indictment of capitalism and corporate ethics: Macy’s is willing to put children at risk for some extra profit. Luckily, nobody has noticed in the past half-century.

Here we have a famous breach of competence by the screenwriter, George Seaton. While boasting to Doris about all the mental acuity tests he has passed, Kris says,

“I’ve taken dozens of them. Never failed one yet. Know them by heart. “How many days in the week?” Seven! “How many fingers do you see?” “Four!”….No damage to the nervous system! “Who was the first President of the United States?” George Washington! “Who was Vice-President under John Quincy Adams?” Daniel D. Tompkins! I’ll bet your Mr. Sawyer doesn’t know that!”

He doesn’t know that because it isn’t true. Tompkins was Vice-President under James Monroe, the fifth President, not Adams, #6. It drives me crazy when Hollywood allows historical misinformation to pollute the minds of the historically ignorant public, because there’s no excuse for it. Even before the internet, this fake fact could have been checked using any dictionary or encyclopedia. Nobody cared enough to bother. To make the mistake worse, John Quincy Adams’ VP was, unlike Thompkins, an important historical figure, John C. Calhoun.

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Ethics Quiz: The Marilyn Monroe Statue

MM statue

Alternate title: “At Last A Statue Everyone Can Get Behind!”

At least this statue ethics controversy has nothing to do with the Civil War.

Palm Springs, California’s City Council voted last month to place a giant sculpture of Marilyn Monroe, her white skirt blown up above her waist and her mouth poised in the semi-erotic smile everyone remembers from the classic movie moment, in the middle of the city. For three years, 2012 to 2014, the sculpture by Seward Johnson enlivened downtown Palm Springs, and now it will be coming back with financing from a local hotel consortium. The 26-foot high “Forever Marilyn,” turned up as a short-term tourist attraction in other cities in the intervening years (many visitors enjoyed posing for photographs between MM’s feet, looking up) but now Palm Springs is offering it—her?— a permanent home.

Ah, but all statues are controversial now. Marilyn will stand across from the entrance to the Palm Springs Art Museum, and its executive director Louis Grachos objects. “You come out of the museum and the first thing you’re going to see is a 26-foot-tall Marilyn Monroe with her entire backside and underwear exposed,” Grachos pointed out to the council. “We serve over 100,000 school-age children that come to our museum every single year. What message does that send to our young people, our visitors and community to present a statue that objectifies women, is sexually charged and disrespectful?” The museum’s previous three directors, Elizabeth Armstrong, Steve Nash and Janice Lyle, designer Trina Turk and others issued a joint op-ed in The Desert Sun condemning the statue as “blatantly sexist.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is...

Is Johnson’s statue of Norma Jean unethical public art?

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List Ethics Case Study: “The 25 Greatest Actors Of The 21st Century (So Far)”

Lists are fun (that’s why “The Book of Lists” was a runaway best seller); they also drive me crazy. Unless the lists are based on incontrovertible statistics and identifiable features (American League batting champions since 1900; states that begin with the letter “N”) they are essentially a stranger’s arbitrary opinions misrepresenting themselves as facts. I’ve posted about this a couple of times, first in 2011. That one concluded (in part), “I know these lists are all intended in good fun. When one is dealing with history, however, fun doesn’t excuse advancing misinformation at the cost of enlightenment.”

The list in question today involves subjective aesthetic judgments, not history, but it still has ethical problems. It was compiled by the New Your Times film critics—you know: experts!”—and purports to show us the “25 greatest actors of the 21st Century (so far).” That’s a lie. I guarantee that the authors themselves do not believe these are the 25 greatest actors by any standards.

Let’s look at the list:

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Ethics Alarms’ Annual Holiday Re-Posting Of The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide, Updated And Reconsidered, With A New Introduction

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2020 Introduction

There is no better year to watch Frank Capra’s masterpiece “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I sincerely hope that President Trump screens it again, assuming he has ever seen it.

“It’s A Wonderful Life,” as I wrote last year, “would be an excellent basis for a middle school ethics course. I haven’t seen a better, richer film for that purpose come along since, and I’ve been looking. Despite the many ethics complexities and nuances that the film glosses over or distorts, its basic, core message is crucial to all human beings, and needs to be hammered into our skulls at regular intervals, far more often than once a year.”

But in addition to being a movie about ethics, it is also a movie that is itself a result of an ethical instinct.

Director Frank Capra was already known as Hollywood’s master of celebrating common Americans doing extraordinary things, the nation’s families, the power of love and American exceptionalism. They called his movies “Capra Corn”: “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” “Meet John Doe,” and other critical and box office hits. He spent World War II making inspirational documentaries about the war effort. When the war was over, he sensed the dark mood in much of the nation, despite the exhilaration of victory. Returning soldiers found the culture changed and their emotions raw. Families whose .loved one had died or returned with disabling wounds struggled to believe that their sacrifices were justified. The atom bombs that ended the war also opened up a dangerous new era of paranoia and fear.

The post-war movie that seemed to capture the mood of much of the nation was William Wyler’s “The Best Years of Our Lives,” a film my World War II veteran father refused to watch for fear that it would send his mind and memories to dark places he struggled not to go.

Capra had a new production company, and decided that “It’s A Wonderful Life,” based on an idea by author Philip Van Doren Stern. Unable to get his short story published, he had sent it to friends as a 21-page Christmas card. Film producer David Hempstead read it, and bought the movie rights for Capra’s company. The story was just what America needed, Capra reasoned, to restore its belief that what the nation had accomplished was worth the pain, loss and sacrifice, and that the nation itself had led a “wonderful life.” The new film could restore the nation’s flagging optimism, pride and hope.

Capra immediately thought of actor and now war hero James Stewart to play protagonist George Bailey. Three years of flying bombing raids against the Nazis in the US Air Force had left the the 37-year-old suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. He returned home in 1945 to find that everything had changed: his contract with MGM had run out, his agent had retired, and other stars had taken his place. He trusted Capra, even though the story he described sounded depressing. Stewart signed on.

Production finally began on the film in April of 1946, and the cast and crew felt they were making an important movie. Bedford Falls became one of the largest American film sets ever created to that point at four acres, with 75 fake stores and buildings, a three-block main street, and 20 full-grown oak trees. To avoid the traditional problem of fake-looking snow, the special effects department invented a new and more realistic process.

The story also touched the cast, especially Stewart, who was still suffering from the effects of the war and at times was close to quitting. In the scene where George, in a roadside bar, desperate and defeated, is praying to a God he doesn’t believe in. He rubs a trembling hand against his mouth, and starts to cry. The gesture wasn’t in the script, or requested by Capra. It was real.

Stewart explained years later,

“I felt the loneliness, the hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn, and my eyes filled with tears. I broke down sobbing. That was not planned at all.”

Stewart felt it was his best performance (it is) and Capra believed he had made his best film. “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made,” he said later. “Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

But it was a catastrophic flop. The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote that “the weakness of this picture is the sentimentality of it”, describing George Bailey as “a figment of simple Pollyanna platitudes”. The New Republic’s Manny Farber accused Capra of taking “an easy, simple-minded path that doesn’t give much credit to the intelligence of the audience”. The movie lost money and crippled Capra’s production company. His career never retained its former status, and what he believed was his greatest work was forgotten for decades. Republic Pictures, which owned the film’s copyright, didn’t bother to renew the rights in 1974. It was essentially free to local television channels, and they began showing it constantly.

Well, all you have to do is see it. Capra was right, Stewart was right, the cast and crew were right. It is a classic. The story accomplishes just what Cara intended it to accomplish. In a Times piece about the movie by a self-professed cynic, Wendell Jamieson wrote about seeing the movie for the first time as teen in a classroom showing, and confessed,

It’s something I felt while watching the film all those years ago, but was too embarrassed to reveal.

That last scene, when Harry comes back from the war and says, “To my big brother, George, the richest man in town”? Well, as I sat in that classroom, despite the dreary view of the parking lot; despite the moronic Uncle Billy; despite the too-perfect wife, Mary; and all of George’s lost opportunities, I felt a tingling chill around my neck and behind my ears. Fifteen years old and imagining myself an angry young man, I got all choked up.

And I still do.

Yeah, me too.

  In an earlier version of The Guide I described the message of the film this way:

Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you.

Lets’s try to make what’s left of the holiday season as epiphenal and joyous foreveryone in our lives as it was for George Bailey.

And away we go…

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Cat Hands Ethics

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Having gone to great lengths to make comedy impossible, the political correctness police are now working to make drama impossible as well. Yesterday Ethics Alarms again visited this issue as it considered the brain-meltingly idiotic demands by progressives and group identity activists that only autistic performers should be cast as autistic characters. This is a subset of the disingenuous, contradictory and pragmatically impossible demand by the Army of the Woke that only performers with the same physical, gender, racial and ethnic characteristics should be cast in movies, plays and TV productions as characters with those traits….although minority actors should be cast as characters written as or traditionally played by whites whenever possible.

This nonsense has received new gusts of wind beneath its wings in The Great Stupid, which descended upon out culture hand-in-hand with the George Floyd Ethics Train Wreck. It is old nonsense, though. The white cartoon voice actors who announced this year that they wouldn’t give voice to cartoon characters of color hailed from the same progressive nut house as those who criticized the “Lord of the Rings” movies (and others) for using special effects to allow actors of normal height portray fantasy dwarves, or who chased Dwayne Johnson away from his planned “John Henry” film because he’s not black enough.

Critics of film remake of “The Witches” have even bigger and more stupid metaphorical fish to fry, it seems. Now the attack is focused on the tendencies of human beings to be frightened or wary of those who look or act different from what they are used to, and, by extension, artists’ exploitation of that hard-wired human reaction to move, entertain, and communicate with audiences.

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Nicely Timed Ethics Quote Of The Month: John Cleese

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Monty Python legend John Cleese apparently has decided that to hell with it, he’s going to get himself canceled, and he doesn’t give a damn if he is. The tweet above was part of a long string of them tweaking transgender activists, J.K. Rowling haters and more, but his “woke joke” was especially apt.

The Australian singer Sia (never heard of her—you?) wrote and directed an soon-to-be released movie titled “Music” about a young woman with autism. Music is played by actress Maddie Ziegler, who is apparently not on the autistic spectrum.

The Horror.

The cyber-mob, almost all of which have never directed or cast anything, were outraged, with reactions like this from Irish actress Bronagh Waugh:

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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.

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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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Monday Ethics Warm-Up, 11/9/2020: A Bad Date, Pseudo Blackface, Harvard Being Harvard, And Short-Lived Integrity At The New York Post

  1. I was just checking this date in history. Wow. As if Kristallnacht wasn’t bad enough all by itself, the date November 9 seems to have been cursed. Other events on this date include:
  • Lincoln appointing the incompetent General Burnside as commander of the Union Army in 1862. Burnside made George McClellan look like military genius by comparison. He was responsible for the slaughter at Fredericksburg, where he ordered charge after futile charge up a kill into Confederate artillery. He was responsible for the blood mess resulting from a battle for a useless bridge during Antietam (anyone could easily walk across the river at that point), and was the idiot responsible for the crater fiasco at Petersburg, where a great plan was transformed into a disaster because Burnside replaced trained clack troops with untrained white troops, who promptly charged into the hole made by the Union’s underground explosion.
  • The Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge by the state of Massachusetts regarding the constitutionality of the undeclared  Vietnam War by a 6-3 vote.
  • A Sunday school teacher and Boy Scout troop leader Westfield,, New Jersey father John Emil List slaughtered his entire family,  his mother Alma, his wife Helen (in the side of the head), and two three children He then left the murder weapon alongside their carefully laid-out corpses. This was premeditated:  List had  cancel newspaper, milk, and mail delivery to his home in the days leading up to the murder, and called the children’s schools to say that the family was going to visit a sick relative out of town. By the time the bodies were, List had vanished, and he stayed missing for 18 years.

2. Well you know…Harvard. Harvard College undergraduate Joshua Conde, and editor of the school paper and a Government major (like me!)  argued in the Harvard Crimson that the school must fire professors who hold “unacceptable views” and “controversial beliefs.”

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