Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/9/2020: As Fact Begins To Imitate Outrageous Fiction, For Some Reason

Be careful out there…

People appear to be going nuts….in many cases, the exact same people who have, in the recent past, pressed Impeachment/Removal Plan E, ”Trump is mentally ill so this should trigger the 25th Amendment.” Ironic.

This week I stumbled across a comedy now playing on Netflix starring Stephen Yeun, most memorably seen on “The Walking Dead” with half his head caved in and his eyeball hanging out. The movie is called “Mayhem,” and is about a kind of flu that removes people’s impulse control, causing them to do and say whatever they feel like doing or saying, no matter how inappropriate or illegal. The illness strikes a BIgLaw firm, which is quarantined and locked down while its employees go bananas. It’s an excellent metaphor for what is going on right now, but much funnier.

And so far, at least, bloodier.

So far.

1. And now for something completely stupid...Even after being warned at the Golen Globes by Ricky Gervais that they know nothing about the real world and should avoid making political pronouncements, Best Actor winner Joaquin Phoenix announced after the award show that in order to help save the planet from climate change, he would wear the same tux to all the awards shows this year. He really said that. No, seriously, he really did, and he was not engaging in satire (but if the Babylon Bee used that as a story, everyone would assume it was satire.) Then designer Stella McCartney company, also apparently seriously, tweeted (because that tux the actor will be wearing is one of theirs), “This man is a winner… wearing custom Stella because he chooses to make choices for the future of the planet. He has also chosen to wear this same Tux for the entire award season to reduce waste. I am proud to join forces with you.”

I’ve worn the same tux for ten years. Phoenix doesn’t even pay for his tuxes (I pay for mine!), like his female colleagues who get their designer gowns free. There have been some funny jokes about the actor’s ridiculous virtue signaling, many involving underwear, but never mind: what I want to know is, how can anyone take people who think like this seriously, or respect anyone who solemnly nods when they hear about such pompous nonsense, “Hey, right on, man. Save the planet”? Yet a substantial chunk of an entire political party appears to be this far gone.

2.  Wait—are they trying to make our heads explode like those robots and computers that Captian Kirk would destroy by making them think about a contradictory statement? Is that their plan? I admit: I don’t understand this at all. A “Saved by the Bell” reboot, sequel, whatever you want to call it, is on the way. Starring original stars Mario Lopez (who now hosts celebrity gossip shows) and Elizabeth Berkley (whose career never recovered from her starring in the camp classic “Showgirls,” the plot sounds nauseatingly ‘woke,” as it involves now California Govetnor Zack Morris (the gown up character in the original played then by Mark Gosselaar, who actually has a career and doesn’t need to stoop this low) being criticized for closing too many low-income high schools, so he announces that the affected students will be sent to the highest-performing schools in the state, including  his old stomping grounds, Bayside High. Hilarious! I smell a hit! But here’s the beauty part: playing the role of the cutest, most popular cheerleader at Bayside, the role originally played by Tiffany Amber Thiessen, will be played by Josie Totah, a transgender female ( transgender male? I’m still unsure of the right terminology. She began life as a male). Isn’t this just a stunt? On one hand, I’ll fight to the death for the right of any actor to play any role, wear any make-up, use any device, as long as the vehicle itself doesn’t suffer. On the other hand, by casting a transgender actress who has made a point of publicizing her biological origins, the production guarantees that nobody will be able to watch “Lexi” without thinking about things that have nothing to do with “Saved by the Bell.” Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/18/19: Complainers, Climate Hysterics, Tiny Tims And Fake News

Good morning!

Good news! You won’t be thinking I’m dead any more, at least not until I am.  The combination of some complicated travel itineraries and the death of my laptop resulted in uncharacteristic interruptions of the dialogue here, twice causing soem readers to speculate on my demise, or at least incapacity. No, it was just that budgetary priorities made replacing the travel computer a bit less urgent than things like a new roof, a car that runs, things like that. Over the weekend I address the computer problem, and not a second too soon, as I will be setting off today on yet another New Jersey odyssey. Paul Morella and I will be presenting editions of our Clarence Darrow legal ethics program for N.J. lawyers in Brunswick and Fairfield,  sandwiched in between about 9 hours of driving, but I should be able to keep the ethics fires burning to some extent. Unless I’m dead, of course. As my fatalistic father liked to say cheerily , driving my morbid mom crazy, “You never know!”

1. God bless them, every one! This is one example of non-traditional casting I agree with: increasing numbers of “A Christmas Carol” productions are casting children with disabilities to play Tiny Tim. I would fight to the death for the right of a fully-able young actor to play the roles, as well as for the right of a director to cast one. However, the show presents such an ideal opportunity for a child who normally might not  have many chances to a play any  role on stage  because of his physical limitations that it seems like a shame to let it pass. I also agree with the directors who opine that having a genuinely challenged Tiny Tim gives some extra oomph to the show.

Is it exploitative? Sure, to some extent. That, however, is show business.

I draw the line, however, at casting Cratchit children who are different races than their parents, making it look like Mrs. Cratchit has been turning tricks to make ends meet, or “Tiny Tina.”

2.  Here’s another kind of “fake news”…Yahoo! News felt that an entire post was necessary to inform the world that the President had screened “Joker” at the White House. Why is this news, or even mildly interesting? It’s a big movie, with lots of buzz. Presidents have screened movies at the White House for decades, usually without comment from the news media. Now, if he had screened the original “Birth of a Nation,” like racist Woodrow Wilson, or “Tusk,” that might be worth a small news item.

Let’s see, what other fake news items (as in thins that don’t qualify as news) are there on Yahoo!? How about “Michelle Obama Looked Incredible in a Yellow Corseted Schiaparelli Gown at the American Portrait Gala”? For some reason, I thought the fawning over Michelle, which as always hyperbolic and excessive, might have abated since she left the White House, after all, the news media quit going bonkers over every Jackie Kennedy ensemble once she wasn’t First Lady any more. Then there’s the matter of the gown Yahoo! is raving about… Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/28/2019: I See Stupid People…Also Unethical People, “Best People,” Short People, And Wise People

Good Morning!

Ah! After a long, long weekend, I feel wefweshed!

1. “The best people,” (cont.):  Ugh.

a) From the Wall Street Journal:

“Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has retained shares in a construction-materials company more than a year after the date she promised to relinquish them.Shares of the company, Vulcan Materials Co. , the country’s largest supplier of the crushed stone, sand and gravel used in road-paving and building, have risen nearly 13% since April 2018, the month in which Ms. Chao said she would be cashed out of the stock, netting her a more than $40,000 gain.”

I have a personal bias against Chao, which I have described before, so I’ll just leave this as a res ipsa loquitur item. Her husband, of course, is GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell.

b) I would rank Chao as more palatable than this hack, however, who should be fired outright, and kicked on her way out the door.

In an apparent attempt to show that Dr. Ben Carson, HUD Secretary because he is black and was nice to Donald Trump during the GOP debates, is NOT the most unqualified official at his department,  HUD regional administrator Lynne Patton defended Carson’s cringingly inept recent performance (“Is there any other kind?” Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup  might ask) before Congress  by retweeting a message praising Dr. Ben while mocking Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Then she  took to Facebook to say  that her comment “may be a Hatch violation. It may not be. Either way, I honestly don’t care anymore.”

Nice. A government official who announces publicly that she doesn’t care if she violates the law! Then she responded to criticism of that post with a classy tweet that said, “What part about “I don’t give a shit” don’t you understand? “

“The best people.” You could throw a rock into a crowd and have a good chance of finding better people for government service than Patton. If you are keeping score, the ethics breaches here are all six “Pillars of Character”— Trustworthiness, Responsibility, Fairness, Respect, Caring and Citizenship, distributed among Patton, HUD, and the President. You can’t do much worse. Continue reading

More Casting Ethics Madness: “Colorism” And Will Smith

Perusing the Ethics Alarms essays on casting ethics (there are a lot of them), I think I finally understand the rules. It’s wrong to cast a black actor to play a black character when the original character was white, but if the black character is playing a white character as white, that’s OK. Casting an African-American actor to play a fictional Arab sheik in “Ben-Hur” is fine, but casting a black Samoan-American as fictional black icon John Henry is unacceptable. It’s wrong to cast an abled actor to play a disabled character, wrong to cast a cis actress to play a real life woman who pretended to be a man, wrong to cast that same actress to play an animated heroine who was originally drawn as Japanese, but brilliant to cast black and Puerto Rican actors to play Alexander Hamilton and the Founders. Oh! I nearly forgot! It’s wrong to cast a white actor to replace a black actor who replaced a white actor playing the role of a white character.

Clear?

Now we have a casting ethics controversy that has raised its empty head before: Will Smith is on the verge of being cast to play Serena and Venus Williams’ father Richard in a film, and critics and social justice warriors are calling it “colorism,” because Smith isn’t as dark and the tennis stars’ dad.  Black sports writer Clarence Hill Jr tweeted, “Colorism matters..love will Smith but there are other black actors for this role..” Another indignant political correctness warrior  (in Great Britain) wrote, “Why are they whitewashing the dad with Will Smith? Colourism is constantly subconsciously fed to us and we just eat it up…”

“Colorism” is unethical because, the BBC tells us, because

“It can lead to a lack of representation in film, TV and fashion, particularly in Hollywood and Bollywood, as well as discrimination at work or on dating sites, and even to serious health problems from skin bleaching creams.”

Except, you know, casting Smith as Williams isn’t colorism. It is “casting a prominent actor for the role who will put fannies in the seats-ism.” Who cares how dark or light Richard Williams is? What does his skin shade have to do with the reason he’s worthy of a film portrayal? Would Venus and Serena be better or worse athletes if he were the shade of Will Smith?

The “colorism” argument has come-up before, in the controversy over The Rock playing John Henry, and when not-sufficiantly black actress Zoe Saldana was cast to play singer Nina Simone, and wore dark make-up to resemble her.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve finally figured out what’s going on. Just as rape isn’t about sex but about asserting power, so the progressive complaints about casting aren’t truly about race, or color, or fairness, or white-washing, or any of the supposed justifications for manufactured outrage. They virtually always for the purpose of asserting and cementing the power to bend others to their will, to establish the precedent that whatever they demand, even when it is the opposite of what they may have demanded in the day before, even if it is obvious that they are making up the rules as they go along, must be accepted. It is the equivalent of an abusive boss ordering a subordinate to strip, get down on all fours, and bark like a dog.  They do it because they can.

The only way to end this nonsense is to defy it, but as we have seen in most of the casting controversies, since actors are generally too shallow and too cowardly to articulate ethical principles much less take a stand in favor of them, the actor who is the target of the complaint usually grovels an apology and withdraws. I’m hoping that Smith is made of sterner stuff, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

 

Casting Ethics: Color-Blind vs Color Conscious in “All My Sons”

Director Gregory Mosher quit the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” (scheduled to open in the Spring) when Miller’s estate, run by his daughter Rebecca Miller,  blocked him from casting a black actor  to play George Deever, one of the main characters in the classic.  Miller objected to the director’s choice of making the Deever family black when the play’s other central family, the Kellers, had already been cast as white. If the Deevers were black, it would introduce the concept of an interracial relationship in the 1940s.

“My concern was that to cast the Deevers as black puts a burden on the play to justify the relationship in the historical context,”  Miller said “I was worried that it would whitewash the racism that really was in existence in that period by creating this pretend-Valhalla-special family where no one would mention this.”

Nice attempt to put her position in a politically correct context, I have to admit. The objection really is that the play is a period piece, firmly and unavoidably set in the post-World War II era. It will have period costumes, sets and props, and the audience seeing the story unfold in the proper historical time period is essential to the play’s success. An inter-racial romance shatters that illusion, and unnecessarily so. The play is not about race, so race should not be injected into the plot by reckless casting. Miller had previously approved of a production in which both families were black.

Interestingly, she also was willing to approve the casting of a black actor if his sister were cast as white. You see, then the casting would be “color blind,” meaning that it was just a black actor playing a white character (without white make-up, which would be “white-face,” which would suggest blackface, and—oh, never mind…), and that his family wasn’t really “black.” Got that? Otherwise, it would be “color-conscious” casting, in which the race of the performer necessarily requires a different approach to the material. 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

Racist Political Correctness, Casting Ethics, Double Standards, And The Rock

Oh look, another racist “you’re not black enough” casting controversy!

(Here was a previous one…)

Dwayne Johnson, the action hero known as The Rock, announced last week that he’ll be producing and starring in the film “John Henry and the Statesmen” about the black folk hero who died after defeating a steam-driven machine that supposedly would lay track faster than human beings could. Johnson, one of the top drawing box-office stars in 2017 and 2016, said John Henry was one of his “childhood heroes” and that his father, former pro wrestler Rocky Johnson, used to sing “Big John” to him before he put him to sleep as a kid.

Well, I don’t understand the “Big John” reference at all. The Jimmy Dean hit (yes, the sausage guy) was about a mine worker who dies saving his colleagues in a cave-in, and there was nothing in the song suggesting he was black, just BIG, like Dwayne Johnson. Here’s the song…

But I digress…

Continue reading