Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/27/2019: Two Bingos, Two Drag Shows, and Poop

Good morning!

1. Is it me, or is this TV commercial indefensibly gross, and signals the impending end of civilization?

2.  Reasons not to duck the New York Times op-ed pages…Yale student Kathryn Hu contributed a sane and thoughtful essay on the topic of classic operas with characters and plot elements that seem sexist or racist to today’s more enlightened audiences. As we know, today’s “woke” censors of the arts and arbiters of what we are allowed to watch and hear have their own solution: never do the piece again, despite its obvious virtues, or interpret and rewrite it out of existance or into nausea, like John Legend injecting “It’s your body and your choice” into the lyrics of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” I had to suppress my gorge from rising while reading this article, for example, that described the current production of  J.M Barry’s 1904 classic “Peter Pan” in Washington D.C:

In [Playwright Lauren Gunderson’s] version now playing at Shakespeare Theatre Company (retitled Peter Pan and Wendy…), the character of Tiger Lily has been completely reconceived. No more the helpless princess in distress, Tiger Lily is now a spirited and fearless Native rights activist whose people thrived in Neverland long before Captain Hook’s pirate ship dropped anchor and Peter showed up with the Lost Boys.

Because as we know, there were so many Native American activists in 1904. To anyone with brain cells and cultural perspective that haven’t been woked to death, it is obvious that Barry’s Neverland is a child’s fanciful impression of Indians, pirates, and friendly wild animals. It has nothing to do with reality , so imposing current day adult political views on the and characters is neither fair nor necessary.

Hu’s solution to the supposed horrors of 19th Century biases and social mores in opera: Continue reading

Sexual Harassment, Cancellation Culture, Anonymous Accusers, And Placido Domingo

A report last week revealed that nine women accuse towering opera figure Placido Domingo of sexual harassment.  None of the accusations have been investiaged or substantiated, and only one of them isn’t anonymous. Yet two American institutions, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera, immediately canceled their upcoming concerts with him, giving the now-familiar “safe environments” explanation. None of. Domingo’s many upcoming scheduled performances in Europe were canceled, however, as sponsors took what the New York Times calls  “a wait-and-see approach,” or what used to be known in this country as “Let’s not punish someone based on unsubstantiated  accusations alone.” Or fairness. Due process. The Golden Rule.

There are countervailing factors pulling every which way. As I understand it, #MeToo  and “Time’s Up” insists that female accusers must be believed, unless the accused is the black, Democratic Party’s Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, or the harassment is caught on camera repeatedly, as in the case of the Democratic Party front-runner for President. In the arts, these allegations have had mixed effect. Conductor James Levine has not performed in public since he was fired by the Metropolitan Opera last year after accusations of sexually abusive and harassing conduct were substantiated in an investigation, but when Pixar chief and creative muse John Lasseter was fired for being a serial hugger (rather like that Democratic Party front-runner) he was rapidly snapped up by a rival studio that gave him as much power and more money. Go figure.

There is the anonymous factor: it is my long held position that an anonymous accusation relating to the workplace should be regarded as no accusation at all, meaning that there has been one allegation of sexual harassment against Domingo. An accused individual cannot address claims when he doesn’t know their source or facts. I have been the target of false anonymous accusations—not of harassment—in my career, and as a manager in various businesses and associations, I told staff that unless they were willing to go on the record with an accusation of wrongdoing, I didn’t want to hear it. It is too easy to destroy careers and reputations with false accusations with no accountability attached.

The other issue is the multiple accusation factor. In sexual abuse and harassment, there are no one-time offenders unless there has been a massive miscommunication. The typical scenario is that a single accusation triggers several, often many, more with near identical facts. This is why I did not believe Anita Hill and Dr. Blasey-Ford, and why I did believe Bill Cosby’s many accusers.

Timing is also important. Ancient accusations of sexual misconduct—I would say anything more than five years old is dubious—arriving after memories have faded, evidence has vanished and seemingly timed to do maximum damage to the accused should be treated with skepticism and a presumption of  bad will, especially when the accused is a public figure.

And yet… Continue reading

“The Death of Klinghoffer” : The Metropolitan Opera Flunks Its Ethical Duty

Death of Klinghoffer

New York’s Metropolitan Opera is scheduled to present John Adams’s 1991 opera, “The Death of Klinghoffer” this fall. [Full disclosure: Adams, then an unknown, was one of my professors in college] The opera is a dramatization of the 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking,in which the Palestine Liberation Front murdered the wheelchair-bound Jewish-American businessman Leon Klinghoffer. The opera has always been the target of Jewish and other critics who believe that it is too sympathetic to the Palestinians, and is thus anti–Semitic. Predictably (although for some reason the Met seemed not to be prepared for it) the Anti-Defamation League and conservative pundits are condemning the new production, typified by the reliably simple-minded Michele Bachmann, who denounced the Met for sympathizing with terrorists.

This is, and I state this without moderation or equivocation, is anti-cultural, anti-art, anti-free speech political correctness bullying from the right. This is an opera, and it, like any work of art, stands for itself. Whatever the political message of “The Death of Klinghoffer,” it is secondary to the main purpose of any opera, which is music and entertainment. The Met, as an organization dedicated to music and opera, should not be held to any standard in producing it other than whether it meets the company’s standards of excellence. An arts organization like the Met is apolitical, and should never allow the political or ideological messages of the artists whose work is presented there change its programming in any way. This means telling critics like those of “The Death of Klinghoffer,” be they advocacy organizations, would-be public censors or embarrassments to Congress like Bachmann to go fly a kite when they attempt to dictate what art is or isn’t “appropriate.” Continue reading

Robert Reich—Charity Bigot, Culture Dunce

"Charity? Why yes, I send my usual check to Harvard, of course...have to make sure young Ethan gets accepted despite his vehicular manslaughter conviction..."

“Charity? Why yes, I send my usual check to Harvard, of course…have to make sure young Ethan gets accepted despite his vehicular manslaughter conviction…”

Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of Labor, is out with an opinion piece declaring that giving to his favored charitable causes—charities directly assisting the poor– is real charity, while giving to other non-profits, in the arts, humanities and education, is just a self-serving, classist tax game.

“…A  large portion of the charitable deductions now claimed by America’s wealthy are for donations to culture palaces – operas, art museums, symphonies, and theaters – where they spend their leisure time hobnobbing with other wealthy benefactors,” he writes. “I’m all in favor of supporting fancy museums and elite schools, but face it: These aren’t really charities as most people understand the term. They’re often investments in the life-styles the wealthy already enjoy and want their children to have as well. Increasingly, being rich in America means not having to come across anyone who’s not.” 

Reich is an intelligent man, and I have a difficult time, reading this nonsense, believing that he is doing anything but gratuitous class-bashing here. Does he really believe that poor people don’t need and appreciate the arts, don’t go to see theater productions, never listen to music and wouldn’t be caught dead in a museum? Does he really believe everyone in an opera audience looks like the Monopoly Man, and goes there, not to listen to beautiful music, but to “hobnob” with old prep school buddies? Reich’s essay is an ugly example of class bias, and little more. How does he explain generous philanthropists who are childless? What’s their “angle”? Heaven knows,the wealthy never do anything out of compassion or generosity! Reich is engaging in biases on all sides: the poor are mundane, intellectually bereft philistines, and the wealthy are insular snobs. Continue reading