The Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ, consisting of 180 congregations with 40,000 members from Richmond to New Jersey, voted unanimously to boycott of the Washington Redskins’ games and merchandize at its annual meeting. This decision is expected to pass to the national governing body of the church, which oversees 5,100 congregations with about 1 million members, which is expected to endorse it.
It would be good to know that the world is in such fine shape that this is the most pressing of our earthly challenges as far as United Church of Christ can see. Unfortunately, that’s not the import of this story. The story shows how political correctness, illicitly pursued by the abuse of official power, can and will spread throughout the culture, leading institution and organizations to believe that it is ethical to try to bend others to their will based on subjective views of “offensiveness.” It is not, however. Continue reading
Peeps Last Supper by Leonardo DiPeepchi
Extradimensional Cephalopod’s thoughtful answer to today’s ethics quiz was instantly recognizable as a Comment of the Day, so here it is, EC’s musings on the ethical limits on peeps art, as posed by the post, Ethics Quiz: Peeps Ethics:
Full disclosure: I identify as a freethinker, which in my case means my opinions are informed by this idea: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” –Aristotle (or so the Internet tells me)
With that in mind, offhand I’d say anyone who can’t handle the juxtaposition of a serious scene with a cutesy or comical medium is not emotionally mature enough to be trusted to react appropriately in today’s complex and nuanced culture, and their reverence is likely to be taken to unhealthy levels. I think it is not only ethical, but a requirement for intellectual health to be able to entertain different perspectives and styles of presenting even the most serious subjects. Before someone asks, yes, that includes depictions of the prophet Muhammad, along with all other historical figures on pedestals. I think taboos are unhealthy for a society because they limit critical thinking and creative free thought, both of which are necessary (yet seldom employed) to resolve social issues and differences in perspective.
Bad taste is still a valid concept, but it is context-dependent. It is possible that a subject is not appropriate for most contexts because it leads people to feel bad, but it is imperative that there be some place where it can be discussed, even if it is only under the Jester’s Privilege. My subjective judgment rules that depicting the Civil Rights Movement with marshmallows in this case is not intended with disrespect: the contest stipulated that the medium be marshmallows, and the artist chose a powerful scene without regard for the medium, as is the artist’s prerogative. I personally think the marshmallow scene is quite dignified, but then I am a bit out of sync with humanity as to what I take at face value and what I don’t. I form opinions of peeps by their actions, not by their countenance. It’s unethical for an artist to deliberately spread misconceptions about history, and it may be unethical for an artist to deliberately show disrespect to powerful agents of good. Disrespect is usually unethical because it causes so many problems. However, I’m not sure a sincerely respectful artist can be unethical in their art, unless they simply fail to do the research on the facts they depict and the cultural context for showing respect.
If depicting scenes from the Civil Rights Movement with marshmallows (and putting a good deal of effort into it) is wrong, though, what else is wrong? Crayon drawings by kids? Macaroni? Charcoal? Embroidery? Spray paint? Etch-A-Sketch? Is anything that looks insufficiently grandiose for depicting humanity’s legendary heroes an affront upon their memories? Are scenes of historical importance off-limits to mediocre artists, for fear the general public will lose respect for heroes drawn with funny expressions and ridiculous poses? What if an artist is deliberately depicting a heroic person comically, but without telling lies? Why can’t we be mature, and tell the history with respect while artists do their best in sincerity or spite? Why not simply say, “Well, it’s nice, but it really doesn’t do it justice,” and walk away?
I collect sentences that can safely be said to have never been uttered before in the history of mankind, and encountered one this morning in a letter of complaint to the Washington Post. It read…
“To take a sacred and historic event in our nation’s history and depict it using marshmallow candy is highly insulting and offensive to the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and to all those who worked, and continue to work, for racial justice in this country.”
Like all of the sentences in my collection, my favorite being my sister’s immortal, “That fish looks so good, from now on I think I’ll wear my bra on my head,” this one requires some context. The Post holds an annual contest for its readers around Easter, challenging them to submit the best diorama of a scene, using marshmallow peeps. This year’s winner was created by Matthew McFeeley, Mary Clare Peate, and Alex Baker, and involved meticulously painting the colorful bunny stand-ins for King and his throng at the 1963 March on Washingtonian eight shades of gray to evoke the black-and-white photographs of the event.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz, in the sadly neglected field of peeps ethics, is…
Is it unethical to use marshmallow candy as a medium to portray serious, solemn, or other events that many feel deserve respect and reverence?
I know my answer, but this time, I’ll hold my fire until I hear from readers. I’d also be interested in whether any events—Gettysburg…JFK’s assassination…the Lindbergh baby kidnapping…the Crucifixion…Pearl Harbor…9-11… are ethically off-limits for peeps creativity as inherently offensive, or if this is just an unappetizing mixture of “ick,” art, humor, and candy.
“Actually, I think that’s the official slogan of oppression.”
—-Comedy Central’s Daily Show host Jon Stewart, mocking Megyn Kelly’s statement that “just because it makes you feel uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it has to change.”
Kelly, because she appears on Fox News, is presumed to be an idiot by Stewart, who manages to reserve a disproportionate supply of his barbs for that network as opposed to the even more barbable MSNBC. Her statement, however, was completely correct and responsible, unlike Stewart’s “motto” quip.. In fact, “‘Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it has to change’ is the official slogan of oppression” could be the official slogan of smug, censorious and hypocritical political correctness peddling wise-asses.
This is why nobody should take Jon Stewart seriously, and also why he needs to take pains to discourage anyone from taking him seriously. As an off the cuff comic’s retort to Kelly’s silly defense of racial purity for Santa Claus portrayers, the motto comment is fine—snappy, pointed, properly dismissive. Unfortunately, as Stewart well knows, lots of young, otherwise unread and politically ignorant viewers (and web columnists) view him as a substantive political commentator, and from that perspective, his statement is irresponsible and reckless. Gays make Phil Robertson uncomfortable—should they have to change? Are they oppressing him? Student criticism of President Obama makes some college professors uncomfortable—should the students be muzzled? Stewart’s statement, if it is taken as more than a momentary quip to tweak Kelly, is an endorsement of tyranny of the conveniently offended, which is another form of oppression. There is too much of that going on already, as the current Duck Dynasty flap is demonstrating. Continue reading
Clearly, we need some rational ethics standards for Halloween costumes, but I doubt that we will ever have any unless political correctness is removed from the equation. The holiday is by its very nature in bad taste with a heavy dose of defiance. The tradition is all about invoking the things that frighten us, with death being tops on the list. Trivializing death or mocking it is any way is guaranteed to offend somebody. My solution: if it offends you so much, don’t participate in Halloween. Boycott it. Don’t give out candy. Let everyone else—you know, those enough to distinguish reality from make-believe and satire from insults—have a good time once a year.
Once Halloween is transformed into Halloweenie, as so many of the political correctness police would have it, it isn’t Halloween, and isn’t fun. We have properly purged the vandalism that once part of the ritual, and if every possibly offensive disguise and costume is deemed socially unacceptable, all we have left is an annual event where kids dressed in blinking lights (to avoid accidents) get non-sugar candy, fruit, dental floss or contributions to charities while dressed up as non-offensive politicians, Greenpeace captains, cartoon characters, occupations and maybe insects. Then parents x-ray the candy and limit how much of it the kids can eat. As for adults, they not only have to wear costumes that won’t offend their friends and fellow party goers, but also costumes that won’t offend somebody, somewhere, when an officious jerk at a party takes a photo with his phone and posts it for the world. What fun. Continue reading
Washington Post writer Jonathan Capehart shared a personal experience in a column today. Attending an aunt’s funeral in church in the North Carolina community of her birth, he sat fuming as a guest minister used the occasion to condemn all gays as sinners, and urging them to use faith to give up their sinful ways.
Capehart, who is openly gay, decided that he was obligated not to accept this insult without a response. Here is what he did:
“After the visiting preacher was thanked for his rousing sermon by the congregation and the home pastor, the two made their way to us in the front pew. During his oration, I vowed I would not shake his hand. But I did, given the immediate circumstances. So I used that as opportunity to make my displeasure known. As he shook my hand and leaned down for a sympathetic hug, I told the preacher, “Your sermon was offensive!” He leaned back, looked at me and replied, “What?” I repeated, “Your sermon was offensive to me. I need you to know that. That’s all I have to say.”
That seemed to satisfy Capehart. “As he moved his way down the pew, the anger I felt was replaced by relief and pride. Never before had I faced down religion-based bigotry. And it felt great.”
I feel terrible for Capehart having to endure such an indignity, and I’m glad what he did made him feel better. But in no way did he “face down religious bigotry,” and I agree that facing down religious bigotry was called for. What did he do, really? He told the reverend that he was offended. He didn’t even say why he was offended. Continue reading
“The Family Guy” in a typical moment of sensitivity.
The viewing public was severely divided regarding “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane’s performance as Oscar host, with approximately half appreciating his trademark juvenile and politically incorrect schtick (and being impressed that the guy can sing and dance rather well too), and the rest, including the majority of TV critics, finding him boorish, amateurish and unfunny. Personally, I thought he did a reasonably competent job in an impossible assignment (unless, it seems, you are Johnny Carson or Bob Hope, who are long gone, or Billy Crystal, who is seriously past his pull date), made more so by the misconceived show he had to host.
Then I read Katie McDonough’s essay in Salon. Continue reading
In its advanced stages, 21st century political correctness becomes a kind of delusional illness, causing sufferers to interpret benign, harmless and even socially healthy conduct as offensive and sinister. An outbreak of this variety of political correctness is in full flower in Washington, D.C., where more than the usual number of officious defenders of that which needs no defending are trying to gin up public outrage against a creative, fun, and successful small business enterprise, Fojol Bros.
The company sends food trucks around downtown D.C. and serves strangely named hybrid ethnic dishes inspired by Indian, Ethiopian and Thai cuisines. The Fojol employees who hand out the delicious fare wear turbans, robes and fake mustaches, claim to hail from “Merlindia” and “Benethiopia,” and go by names like “Kipoto.” This was once called “theater” and “fantasy,” no more offensive than Disney employees in Frontierland dressing in cowboy and saloon girl garb and calling themselves “Tex” and “Lilly.” Now some are calling it “offensive,” because too many people have forgotten what offensive is. Continue reading
The traditional "throwing out the first dwarf" ceremony....
Dwarf tossing, a bar sport or spectacle or satire or something, was briefly in the news early last decade. Helmeted and padded little people were used as discuses or bowling balls by large, burly, often intoxicated men. It was weird; it could arguably be funny. Advocates for the unusually small got the activity banned in Florida and New York, and in Canada, while bills to ban it failed, public opinion opposing the games pretty much made dwarf tossing obsolete, like making fun of Paris Hilton.
Now comes the news that a strip joint in Ontario is reviving the sport, and has scheduled a competition. Critics are horrified and outraged, because, well, they are horrified and outraged. Dwarf tossing, they say, is unethical.
Why? Continue reading
Every year one Super Bowl ad sets off an “It’s offensive!” “No! It’s funny!” debate, and this time around it was the commercial for Groupon, the new service that provides short-term discounts for an eclectic variety of products. As we saw a stunning snow-covered mountain, actor Tim Hutton’s voice intoned…
“Mountainous Tibet — one of the most beautiful places in the world. This is Timothy Hutton. The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture is in jeopardy…. But they still whip up an amazing fish curry!!! And since 200 of us bought at Groupon.com we’re getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15 at Himalayan Restaurant in Chicago.”
Twitter, the early warning system of our culture, immediately filled with indignant tweets, pronouncing the ad offensive. Continue reading