Mid-Friday Ethics, 6/12/2020: The Fame Edition

Good afternoon!

1. On Fame. One of my pet peeves is the pursuit of fame as a life objective. It is inherently unethical, because fame itself is unrelated to good or evil; it is a neutral value, and its pursuit is pure self-interest mixed with ignorance.

First, as too many celebrities to count have informed us, fame is at least as much of a burden as a boon, and second, there is no such thing as “immortality” through fame. As Shelley wrote,

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

 

The lyrics of the theme song from the movie and TV series “Fame” so annoyed me that I refused to view either:

Remember my name, fame
I’m gonna live forever
I’m gonna learn how to fly, high

I feel it comin’ together
People will see me and cry, fame
I’m gonna make it to heaven
Light up the sky like a flame, fame
I’m gonna live forever
Baby, remember my name!

Yeah, good luck with that life plan. Who remembers Irene Cara, the star of the film who sang the song? If you enter the field of performing, or any field, to become famous rather than to contribute something of value to society, you’re an asshole.

Chasing it is a fool’s pursuit, but sometimes fame finds you. I just read that former MLB baseball player Claudell Washington died. I remember him, but few do: he arrived heralded as a future superstar, but never reached that status. He is famous, however, because a foul ball he hit in a game of no importance is “immortalized” in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” a cult classic, as the ball Ferris (Matthew Broderick) catches in the stands while playing hookie.

It’s more immortality than most of us get. Continue reading

Wuhan Virus Ethics Updates, Part 1

1. Why keep calling it the Wuhan virus? Because the largely successful news media and political correctness assault on the completely legitimate (and non-racist) label continues to bolster Chinese Communist propaganda and blame-shifting, and because the effort emerged as yet another use of Big Lie #4: “Trump Is A Racist/White Supremacist.”

As for me personally, I will keep using the term because I resent being told that what cannot possibly be racist is racist, especially when my capitulation enables similar political correctness bullying. See the Third Niggardly Principle.

2. Because it’s so darn difficult to maintain social distancing while playing tennis... About  200 yards from my home in Alexandria, Virginia, the public tennis courts have their nets removed by another proto-fascist. Yesterday, I saw two people playing on one of the courts using a self-rigged net.  Good for them.

3. The problem is, you can’t force bank employees to come to work. Our bank, a large national chain, has all of its offices closed in this area, Banking is certainly an essential  service, but the fact is that you can’t do banking completely remotely, though the bank is pretending you can. Its website asks for a social security number at the same time as scammers are sending out fake emails that lead you to an authentic-looking clone of the bank’s site so they can steal your personal data. Try to call to clarify or address any problem, and you get a message about how wait times are longer than usual. I’ll say they are: to try to get a fraudulent $4000 charge to our account cancelled, I had to wait for an hour and 40 minutes, then be transferred to wait another 35 minutes, then be cut off when a transfer failed.

Meanwhile, the bank’s on-hold music is played at an unbearable volume, and is an endless loop of some hellish arrangement of a melody that would have been rejected for a theme park ride. I am certain that the recording is designed to make you hang up, or, in the alternative, go crazy and run into the street naked.  It is exactly like the deliberately uncomfortable seats and garish color schemes fast food outlets use to ensure you vacate the premises the second you finish eating. I swear that there cannot be a single person on the globe who would find this music anything but torture. The genre is “loud, abrasive, repetitious semi-music,” and there is no market for that. It makes hip-hop seem like Chopin.

Banks are essential, and rather than stopping stores from selling “non-essential” items, the government ought to require really essential services to have open outlets to serve depositors and bank customers experiencing their own emergencies. If a 7-11 clerk can come to work, so can a bank employee. Banks have my property within their control, and in exchange for the privilege, they are obligated to respond when I need service related to that money. Continue reading

Pop Music Ethics History: “My Sweet Lord” And “He’s So Fine” [UPDATED]

The ABA Journal finally provided a brief, clear, fascinating account of exactly how it was that George Harrison was found to have  “unintentionally” plagiarized  the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” when he wrote his biggest hit single as a solo artist, “My Sweet Lord.”

It also clarifies what I always suspected: when courts have to decide the question of when a song is too much “like” another, anything can happen.

George Harrison’s first solo album “All Things Must Pass” was released  in 1970, the same year the Beatles officially broke up, with “My Sweet Lord” the triple album’ s signature hit. I remember the first time I heard the song, and thinking, “Wow, that reminds me a lot of ‘He’s So Fine’!”  Others thought so as well, including  Bright Tunes Music Corp., which held the copyright on the Chiffons’ 1963 classic. It sued Harrison’s publishing company, Harrisongs Music Ltd., for copyright infringement.

As  litigation proceeded, Harrison admitted in court filings  that he was familiar with “He’s So Fine”—how could he not be?—but denied that he had used it to create “My Sweet Lord.”  At trial, Harrison  brought his guitar to  the witness stand to demonstrate how  he had composed “My Sweet Lord.” This, onlookers agreed,  was sufficiently convincing to persuade the judge that George was not guilty of intentional infringement. Continue reading

Happy Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 4/27/19: Conniff, Cohen, California, And Co-opting A Classic

Weekends, unfortunately, are only a rumor when you run a business out of your home…but I’m still HAPPY!

1. “To Kill A Mockingbird” ethics. I asked an old friend and talented director to give me her review of the controversial “To Kill A Mockingbird” on Broadway (previously discussed here, and here…). What I was most interested in was whether the new version (by “The West Wing” auteur and liberal political advocate Adam Sorkin) actually meets the contractual requirement insisted upon by Harper Lee’s estate, that “the Play shall not derogate or depart in any manner from the spirit of the Novel nor alter its characters.”  Well, I knew it would not be; Sorkin and the producer held out for being able to make a “woke” “Mockingbird” reflecting “current sensibilities,” and Lee’s greedy relatives wanted the money more than they cared about what Harper Lee might have wanted, like preserving the integrity of her novel.

Sure enough, my friend reported that the play was full of anachronisms and felt nothing like a story set in a small Southern town in the 1930’s. Most jarring of all, she said, was the oft repeated message that the racially prejudiced individuals in the town were “bad people.” This is the exact opposite of what Atticus Finch tells his daughter in the novel.

2. The GDP. Today the New York Times had the good and unexpected GDP news on its front page, so I’ll retract yesterday’s criticism  of the Times for burying that important news, and evidence of some Trump success. Instapundit pulled out this LA Times article  from 2017. It begins, Continue reading

Give My Regards To Broadway

Broadway is officially irrelevant to American culture, and it’s their own damn fault.

A half-century ago, Broadway fare provided rich common content for Americans of all classes, creeds and ages. It was rare when a song from a Broadway musical wasn’t on the Top 40. Cast albums were found in most households. Broadway dramas provided the sources for a high percentage of non-musical movies.

Books could be written and have been about the forces that sent The Great White Way reeling toward irrelevancy, from popular music moving away from forms that told stories taking musical scores off the charts for good, to TV supplanting both movies and live stage as  the primary source of drama. Substantially, however, the problem is financial. Unions drove the prices of live theater to an unsustainable level, to the point where most American have no opportunity to see a professional stage show and no desire to spend their resources so recklessly if they did. Broadway shows are routinely priced at three figures, and even far away from Broadway, like near me in Arlington, Virginia, single tickets for musicals often top a hundred dollars. Well, as the Ancient Greeks and Elizabethans knew, live theater is important cultural connective tissue, permitting common experience, group bonding, and mass emotional release. It’s healthy for society, and was once thought to be essential. No more.

The Broadway League has released the results of its annual audience survey, which are being called “good news.” I call the results death throes. The survey already cooked the books by only surveying Broadway ticket buyer, which is a tiny and shrinking percentage of the public.

Among the findings:

  • That good news was that the average age of the Broadway theatergoer last season was 40.6, the lowest it’s been since 2000. 15% of all theatergoers are under 18 years old,, with the average age at a musical at 39,  51.5 at a play. Got it: more very rich people are taking their kids to see Broadway shows. Meanwhile, the family-friendly shows are not teaching new things or breaking new ground, for they are mostly re-hashes of movies the less affluent kids can see for almost nothing, and are better versions too.. Here are current shows deemed “family friendly”: “Frozen,” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” “Mean Girls” and “SpongeBob SquarePants,” as well as the continuing runs of “Aladdin,” “Anastasia,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Hamilton,” “The Lion King,” “The Play That Goes Wrong,” “School of Rock” and “Wicked.” Let’s see: four adaptations of Disney animated films, an animated TV show, Harry Potter, two hit movie comedies about schools, teachers and parents, and a couple others.

So Broadway producers pandering to families seeking low-brow “culture” have succeed in masking the aging of the core Broadway audience.

  • The percentage of the Broadway audience made up of people from the New York area continues to rise, with 38 % of Broadway patrons were from the New York metro area, with 20% from New York City. Increasingly Broadway is a local phenomenon.

A question nobody asked: How many people from west of the Mississippi saw a Broadway show last year? Or wanted to? Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Racist Political Correctness, Casting Ethics, Double Standards, And The Rock”

Yes, this comment has little to do with ethics, but it’s so interesting as a supplement to the main post that it deserves greater circulation.

Here is Pennagain’s fascinating Comment of the Day on the weekend’s post, Racist Political Correctness, Casting Ethics, Double Standards, And The Rock:

I knew there were at least two versions of the song, “The Ballad of John Henry,” but I’ve so far found dozens more online, most of them having umpteen verses, and a work-song rhythm – the most basic of which my 7-year-old self stomped in that driving stop-rhythm around the classroom (chanting?), with that hammer-driving oomph! at the end of each line, to lyrics like “gonna die with the hammer in mah han’, Lord, Lord”.

For what it’s worth, a “real” John Henry is pretty well authenticated in at least one version of the story, ending fatally at the C&O’s Big Bend Tunnel in Talcott, West Virginia.

From KPBS’ “The African-American Railroad Experience”, built on Theodore Kornweibel’s photographic history: The entire southern railroad network built during the slavery era was built almost exclusively by slaves. Some of the railroads owned slaves, other hired or rented from slave owners [later from contracted freedmen or convict work-gangs]. And. . . women as well as men were actually involved in the hard, dangerous, brutal work. … several of the song versions finish with John Henry telling his wife to pick up the hammer and continue the job.

Negative evidence of Henry’s race would be that none of the many, many verses of the songs (recorded by 38 singers besides Ives) nor folk references – negro dialect aside (arguably stretched to “Suthun,”) – refer to that figure as being other than black. And as a black man, and a real, live “Everyman” working-man’s hero, he is proudly and fiercely claimed by South Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, Kentucky . . . and Jamaica. Continue reading

Of Nicki Menaj, Punching Down, Social Media Mobs, And The Burgeoning Culture Of Intimidation

Let’s hear it for Nicki Minaj, everyone! Such a profound insight on the nature of character!  And what an idiot!

Somewhere, somehow, even before Maxine Waters decided to sic every frustrated progressive on Trump officials who just want to enjoy every citizen’s right to the pursuit of happiness, the unethical concept that it is acceptable, indeed virtuous, to harass, harm and and attempt to destroy people because you don’t agree with them took root. Social media has been a prime carrier of this uncivilized and undemocratic plague, and this was a recent, and frightening, example.

Wanna Thompson is a freelance writer based in Toronto whose personal website and social media accounts give her a platform as a cultural critic. Last month  she posted a tweet  about recording and concert artist Nicki Minaj, whose nasal voice is among the most irritating sounds in all of hip-hop. Thompson was trying to prompt a discussion–you know, like I do on Ethics Alarms.

“You know how dope it would be if Nicki put out mature content?” she wrote to her then 14,000 or so Twitter followers. “No silly” stuff, she added, “Just reflecting on past relationships, being a boss, hardships, etc. She’s touching 40 soon, a new direction is needed.”

In an epic instance of punching down and abusing celebrity power, the thin-skinned Minaj attacked the woman on social media, and triggered her many fans to do the same. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/4/2018: White Artists, Black Artists, Brain Damage And The Mad Midnight Pooper

Good Morning!

(On the way to lovely Annapolis, MD to present my Clarence Darrow legal ethics program, along with D.C. actor Paul Morella, the real star of the day and the best Clarence Darrow portrayer alive. Paul starred in my 2000 original one-man show about the iconic lawyer-rogue, and has been performing it for lawyer groups and bar associations ever since.)

Déjà vu!  I would write a full post about this, but you can essentially go to all the football head trauma essays, search and replace NFL with NHL, and you’ll pretty much have it. The New York Times reports on a 53 year old ex-pro hockey player whose brain yielded evidence of CTE, and evidence is mounting the the violent sport is doing damage to players similar to what the NFL denied for so long. Right now, the National Hockey League is denying it too:

To the N.H.L. and its commissioner, Gary Bettman, the diagnosis is likely to be the latest piece of evidence to dismiss or combat. Even as links build a chain bridging the sport to C.T.E., the degenerative brain disease associated with repetitive head trauma, and some of the game’s most revered names push the league to take a more open-minded approach, the N.H.L. has denied any connection between long-term brain damage and hits to the head.

The N.F.L. did the same, for many years, until the evidence became too overwhelming, the numbers too much to counter with plausible deniability. Facing a huge class-action lawsuit, the N.F.L. eventually admitted to the connection and agreed to a roughly $1 billion settlement with former players. (That has not kept the sides from continuing to fight over the payouts, amid accusations of fraud and intimidation.) The N.H.L., following the N.F.L.’s strategy of about a decade ago, still contests any role in the burgeoning science of C.T.E., in the courts of law and of public opinion.

What’s going on here? Violent pro sports are popular and profitable, so they will continue maiming players and devastating their families until the public finally refuses to have blood on its hands. It will take a while, and many lives will be destroyed, but in the end, football and hockey are going to have to be responsible, and also held responsible for the carnage their greed has caused.

2. Yeah, I’m being unfair and partisan when I accuse progressives of being hostile to free speech and diversity of views… A hip-hop and R&B radio station in Detroit has announced that it won’t play Kanye West’s music. The alleged justification was the rapper’s dumb remarks about slavery. On “TMZ Live,” West said,

“When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years? That sounds like a choice. Like, you were there for 400 years and it’s all of you all? You know, it’s like we’re mentally in prison. I like the word prison ’cause slavery goes too — too direct to the idea of blacks.”

That’s pretty stupid for sure, but hardly any more stupid than the kinds of things West has been saying his whole career as his fans cheered him on. He’s welcome to hijack a telethons to say, for example, that President Bush intentionally let blacks die after Katrina, but this goes too far. (Someone please explain to me exactly what he thought he was saying, if you have time.) Continue reading