Cartoon Ethics, Part I: Here…

In Margate, Florida…

…a controversy erupted in South Florida when a shopper at the Presidente Supermarket in Margate saw the logo on a package of  Azucar Morena brown sugar (above). Paul Taffe, the indignant shopper, immediately reported to the local political correctness station—well, a local TV news squad—and expressed his horror.

“Doesn’t matter how you look at it, it’s racism in any form,” Taffe said. “Bottom line, and it should not be on the shelf. When you see an image of a Mammy dancing around with two sugar cane stalks in her hand, thinking that she’s having a jolly old time, it’s not. It was never a jolly old time for us.”

Not to be picky, but how does he know what “Mammy” is thinking? To be clear, like it or not, the fact of life in the U.S. is now that no cartoon representation of blacks is safe to present, unless the approach rejects the exaggeration of prominent features that makes it a cartoon as opposed to just a crude drawing. Exaggerated features on a white cartoon character…

…are recognized as humor and accepted as such; doing the same with any other race is racist, as with the sugar image above or Dr. Seuss’s now banned drawings…

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Ethics Quiz: The Announcer’s Suspension

North Carolina State basketball and football announcer Gary Hahn, broadcasting the NC State-Maryland Mayo Bowl game, said at one point, “down among all the illegal aliens in El Paso it’s UCLA 14 and Pittsburgh 6.” Learfield Communications suspended the Wolfpack Sports Network play-by-play announcer “indefinitely” following the game.

Various media outlets have described the statement as “offensive,” but it was unquestionably factual.

illegal immigrants are crossing the border into El Paso, Texas at a record pace. The mayor has declared a state of emergency. If it was the politically incorrect term “illegal alien” that was deemed offensive, the description is still used on some official government websites, perhaps because that’s what they are.

There is some crucial information we don’t have yet, though. Does Learfield Communications have a policy forbidding its announcers from making political comments during broadcasts? It should. There is no justification at all for sports broadcasters to bring non-sports topics, opinions and commentary into their broadcasts. I regard doing that as offensive whether I agree with the commentary or not. It is unprofessional: I don’t care what a baseball of football play-by-play announcer thinks about anything other that the game he or she is describing, and using that role to make gratuitous comments on public issues and current events is an abuse of position.

Was Hahn warned about this in the past? If this was his first offense, even if there is a policy, an indefinite suspension is unethically severe, so I won’t even bring that factor into today’s employment ethics Ethics Quiz, which is…

Can suspending Hahn for making a gratuitous reference to El Paso’s “illegal aliens” be ethically justified?

Outkick points out that Hahn might be excused for thinking that such editorializing is acceptable today based on the conduct of broadcasters like ESPN’s Mark Jones. ESPN (that’s Disney!) seems to encourage Jones, who routinely injects his extreme, woke, biased opinions into his basketball game coverage, constantly slamming Donald Trump, denigrating conservatives, even at one point making the false claim that Jacob Blake was unarmed to jibe with Black Lives Matter propaganda. The problem with that excuse for Hahn is 1) ESPN has clearly given Jones, at least, a green light to be unprofessional 2) Jones is black, and as we have seen elsewhere (CNN’s Don Lemon), there are different standards of professionalism for some black broadcast journalists. 3)Making gratuitous statements that offend conservatives is okay; offending progressives, even with facts, is currently far more risky.

My quiz answer: Absent a written policy, Hahn should have been warned and nothing more. If he violated a policy, a brief suspension would send a valid message.

I, however, am not broadcasting football or basketball game. They are illegal aliens (or illegal immigrants), not “migrants” or the other euphemisms and cover phrases, and that’s what they should be called, so the public understands the issue.

Stanford Goes Big Brother With A Newspeak List

That’s Isaac Asimov above, expressing his doubts that attempts at vocabulary restriction by totalitarians actually works.

I don’t think the ethical issue is whether efforts to “compress” language are successful. The issue is what the effort tells us about the people and institutions who make those efforts. The latest is Stanford University.

Stanford’s IT department released an list x of “harmful language” that it wants erased from the school’s websites, and, by extension, campus discourse.The list is an outgrowth of the “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative,” which aims to “eliminate” words that may be deemed “racist, violent, and biased.”

The IT department’s censorious document is a mess, a mixture of apples, oranges and passion fruit. Some of the words and phrases marked as unacceptable are rude and archaic. Others are completely innocent as well as useful, condemned because they might have been used somewhere, sometime, by someone in a derogatory context.

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Ethics Hero (Maybe): Actor John Boyega

The British star of the third “Star Wars”  trilogy films “The Force Awakens” (2015), “The Last Jedi” (2017), and “The Rise of Skywalker” (2019) launched a social media tempest when he stated in an interview with GQ,

“I only date Black…then it’s about chemistry, personality, goals. Is there a synergy? Can I help you? Can you help me?”

He’s either very frank and courageous, or extremely naive. Naturally, the Right is pointing to him as an example of the Hollywood culture’s hypocrisy. “Imagine if a white celebrity said this the other way around,” asks the conservative “Gotcha!” site “Not The Bee.” ” If you’re putting skin color above things like chemistry and personality, however,” Holly Ash writes, “I might argue that you’re technically, per the definition of the term, a little racist.” Oh? I might argue that you are using a lousy definition. Racist means that one regards one race inferior to another, to the extent of regarding individuals of the race intrinsically inferior. What Boyega is describing as a bias, and biases are innate, natural, human, unavoidable, and yes, they make us stupid. It is our duty as ethical beings to try to recognize biases and their emotional, irrational nature, and, if possible, get past them. However, preferring the company of people more like yourself than not is a a very natural bias, especially when it comes to romantic and intimate relationships. A racial bias like Boyega’s has to be kept in its proper place, just like, say, a man’s preference for attractive women. That is his right as sexual creature, but the bias is unethical if he’s hiring a staff….unless he’s directing a “Charley’s Angels” movie, or something similar. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce, And That’s Not The Half Of It: ESPN Host Sarah Spain

Yesterday, Ethics Alarms noted the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays had decided to brand themselves during “Pride Month” as LGTBQ boosters with yet another rainbow themed patch meant to go on player uniforms, and that five players had chosen to duck the pandering. Around the same time I was writing the post, ESPN hostess (I bet she hates being called that rather than “host.” Tough.) Sarah Spain went on a rant in which she called the Rays players who decided not to go along to get along “bigots.”

Nice. Also Stupid. Also unethical.

“[This] is what tends to happen when frivolous class isn’t affected by things. That religious exemption BS is used in sports and otherwise also allows for people to be denied health care, jobs, apartments, children, prescriptions, all sorts of rights. We have to stop tiptoeing around it because we’re trying to protect people who are trying to be bigoted from asking for them to be exempt from it, when the very people that they are bigoted against are suffering the consequences you say trying to be bigoted.”

Wait, this woman’s a host and the best she can do off-script is that gibberish? I could talk better than that after a closed head injury.

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The Great Stupid Marches On: Plant Name Political Correctness And The Wandering Jew

Sometimes it all seems too much to bear. When I stumble upon something like this, I feel like smashing my head with a croquet mallet enough times to reduce my brain function to that of Margorie Taylor Greene or Cori Bush, and spending the rest of my days watching “Three’s Company” re-runs. Then I decide to write a post, and realize that once again, the most appropriate graphic is the “Blazing Saddles” “You know: morons” video clip. I could use that clip on ten posts a day now. More. Why do I bother writing this blog if insane ideological extremism is making the culture, society and public dumber by the second?

But I digress.

Let me tell you a story…

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At Columbia, Free Speech Chilling Takes A Great Leap Forward

The assault on free expression as well as the speech-chilling practice of seeking to publicly crush those who do not observe the social justice dictates of progressives in power advanced ominously yesterday. Unsurprisingly, the episode at issue occurred at an Ivy League University, as our educational sectors have been among the trailblazers in speech and idea suppression. Unsurprising to me at least was that it involved Twitter. Just like in the Illya Shapiro controversy at Georgetown Law Center, a scholar didn’t use quite the words he should have (to be safe, and safety is everything these days) according to the Democrats’ Little Red Book. This time, however, the hammer fell harder. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/9/2021: It’s A Great Stupid Christmas, Charlie Brown! [Corrected]

It’s Christmas season song time, and that means more political correctness “updates” of classic songs that someone spent a lot of time figuring out how to be offended by. #1 on the political correctness hit list is the Frank Loesser naughty duet “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which I admit to calling “date-rapey” six years ago. I regret that, which is an over-statement, but not this post (#3 in a 2017 Warm-up) that expressed my annoyance at the song being treated as Christmas fare at all.

But I didn’t know until today that the song debuted in the Esther Williams watery 1949 musical comedy”Neptune’s Daughter” (which I have never watched), that it had nothing to do with Christmas in the film, and that the movie presented the song in two versions, one in which the man (Ricardo Montalban) is trying to get the woman (Esther) to stay over—neither of them can sing, incidentally—and a gender-flipped version later where an aggressive Betty Garrett (who can sing) is trying to seduce a reluctant Red Skelton (who can’t). Salon, of all places, featured a balanced analysis of the song last month, here.

1. Deception by omission, as usual. Kyle Buchanan, the New York Times movie columnist (“The Projectionist”), issued a column about how to “fix” the Oscars broadcast, which has seen its rating fall like Joe Biden’s approval numbers in recent years. Now what is the most obvious and annoying reason for much of America tuning out the Academy Awards when once following them was considered a national tradition? It’s the politicizing of the event, the woke speeches and virtue signaling, the decision to base awards on diversity rather than merit, the oppressive partisanship and Trump-bashing, and the stars revealing their depressing ignorance by shooting off their mouths as if anyone cares what they think, of course. Buchanan doesn’t mention any of this! It’s a Jumbo: “Politics? What politics?” Yes, it’s another “Bias makes you stupid” classic. Buchanan doesn’t think the oppressive politicizing of the broadcast is a problem, because it’s consistent with his politics.

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A Deeper Dive Into The Western Washington University “No Exit” Protest

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Guest Post by Rick Jones

[Before I turn the floor over to Rick, also known here as “Curmie,” a couple of comments are in order. I had hoped that the post yesterday about the Western Washington University student protest over the decision to produce “No Exit,” the 1944 existential drama by Jean-Paul Sartre, would generate commentary from Rick, for several reasons. First, he is one of my favorite bloggers on his own, the proprietor of Curmudgeon Central, which has a new post up right now regarding the George Floyd incident one year mark. More relevant to our topic right here and now, Rick is a distinguished college professor, drama teacher and stage director, who has special insight into university students and live theater. As he reveals in the article to come, he also is better qualified to discuss “No Exit” than I; indeed, he has now convinced me to give the work another chance, since it has been decades since I read or saw it.

I also was thrilled to receive this submission from Rick because I feel very strongly that live theater is imperiled in the U.S. I know most readers here do not share my dedication to theater; few Americans do, and fewer all the time. But I have lived a double life (as a character in Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound” adds “At least!”), spending  as much of my passions and energies on theater as any other pursuit from high school until to five years ago, when I ended the 20-year run of my small, maverick, professional theater company. My timing was excellent, because the panic-driven lockdown has killed many of The American Century Theater’s competitors here in the D.C. area, maybe most of them, and a year of using Zoom and streaming services has undoubtedly convinced many one time audience members that live theater isn’t worth the time, inconvenience or expense. In the same period, toxic political correctness, political obsession and woke fanaticism has grown exponentially, and these were existential threats to theater already.

The “No Exit” controversy is a symptom of a very serious threat to live performance art, which has been a force for uniting societies and enlightening the public for centuries. We need it more than ever now. A lot is at stake. JM]

***

My department has produced “No Exit”(which, by the way, I like a lot more than you do, Jack) twice in the last decade.  The first of these was directed by a talented and intelligent female student (an ardent feminist, by the way) who went on to earn a Master’s from a prestigious university overseas.  And we also did an online-only production last fall, directed by a colleague who’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, with a PhD in Theatre from arguably the best doctoral program in the country.  Oh, did I mention that she’s a lesbian? 

And, of course, the sense of isolation in the play was a major reason the play was chosen: because we all have a greater understanding of that phenomenon now than even the most creative thinkers could have managed a year earlier.  Moreover, please forgive me if I think that perhaps my colleague, who has published and taught courses on Queer Theatre, might have a more sophisticated understanding of the concepts at play in that particular theoretical framework than would a gaggle of pretentiously woke undergrads.

I am apparently lucky not to be at WWU.  When I announced my show for this spring as Jean Genet’s “The Maids”and described the two central characters as “would-be murderers who engage in sado-masochistic lesbian incest,” it generated interest on the part of most of our best actresses; if there was any dissent—from either very liberal students or a very conservative larger community—I never heard about it.  (Side note: although it wasn’t produced until later, “The Maids” was chosen and announced prior to”No Exit” which was a late substitution for a play we were unable to do.  I wouldn’t have chosen to do two existential French dramas from the 1940s in the same season, but that’s what we ended up with.)

But revenons à nos moutons.  When I started this response, I intended to go point by point through the students’ commentary, but that got really long, as virtually everything they say is nonsense.  So: a few general points:

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Ethics Half-Hero: Western Washington University

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When it comes to colleges and universities standing up to political correctness and woke demands for intellectual non-diversity, half-heroes are still better than the norm. The norm is abject cowardice and the ethical integrity of a sea sponge.

At Western Washington University, theater students attempted to cancel the Theater Department’s fall production of “No Exit,” the 1944 existential drama by Jean-Paul Sartre. (Full disclosure: I would rather be cursed to organize a thousand sock drawers than watch or read that play again.)

A letter of protest from students echoed many of the rationalizations for censorship and political cleansing of the arts that have metastasized into serious threats to intellectual freedom and creative liberty across the nation. Not to keep you in unnecessary suspense, the school did not cave to the student demands, nor grovel an apology for daring to arouse their ire, as most colleges (and high schools) would do today. “No Exit” will still be produced in the Fall. The school still only gets a half-hero rating for its verdict of no exit from “No Exit,” however, because it has agreed to provide “trigger warnings” for audience members.

As to the latter: Yecchh. By capitulating to this degree, the school has allowed the camel’s nose of faux ideological trauma into the metaphorical tent of the arts. Art, especially performance art, is intended to provoke strong reactions by introducing new and unexpected experiences and ideas into the unique dynamic of an audience. Someone who is so emotionally (read “politically programmed to be..) fragile that they have to be warned so they can avoid uncomfortable, jarring or, more frightening yet to crypto-totalitarians, non-conforming ideas should avoid the theater, like a tone deaf man who only appreciates commercial jingles should avoid the opera. By pandering to this part of the student demands, the school has abandoned a crucial principle without which theater cannot survive.

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