Tag Archives: reality shows

The “Survivor” Ethics Bomb: Dubious Setting, Interesting Issues

An ethics bomb exploded on  the CBS reality show “Survivor” last week.

Ethics bombs are unforeseen and unforeseeable incidents that suddenly start a chain reaction of ethics problems, dilemmas and conflicts in all directions. This was a lulu. Well, it was a lulu unless one thinks that nothing that happens on a reality show can teach any ethics lessons at all, since they are all, by definition, fake news. If you watch the show, what happens on it matters to you; you have accepted the devil’s bargain of pretending what is manipulated and edited  by writers and directors is “real” in exchange for being diverted and entertained—so the ethics scenarios that periodically break out seem worthy of serious consideration. If you would rather watch paint dry—this is my niche—caring about the pseudo-real crises that actually happened months ago in the most contrived situation imaginable makes as much sense as cheering at a professional wrestling match.

However, just as illuminating ethics issues are raised on “The Walking Dead”—kind of a post-apocalyptic version of “Survivor” with zombies—they can arise on a reality show. In this case, the ethics bomb spread out into unscripted “reality.”

“Survivor” has been on the air for 17 years and 34  seasons—I can’t believe I just wrote that— and is itself an ethics bomb, since it launched the reality TV virus into the culture. Copied from a Japanese show, the idea is that a group of contestants are forced to compete in a remote and harsh location, divided up into teams (tribes) that are guided through daily challenges that yield various prizes, ranging from food to immunity from being ejected.. Each episode sees the losing team gathered around a campfire (“the tribal council”) where they vote on which team member to kick “off the island,” a phrase that has entered our lexicon. Contestants form alliances with each other and often reveal their character, or lack thereof, by engaging in various Machiavellian tactics to survive, all captured on camera. Some contestants lie, cheat and steal. Sometimes it works.

Last week, the tribal council took a sharp turn into real world social tensions when player Jeff Varner, knowing that he was poised to be jettisoned by his tribe and desperately trying to get their ire focused elsewhere, attempted to undermine fellow contestant and tribe member Zack Smith. Varner began by darkly claiming that all was not as it appeared, for there was widespread “deception” afoot.

“There is deception here,” Varner said. “Deception on levels, Jeff, that these guys don’t even understand.” “Continue,” said show host and producer Jeff Probst, who has presided over and moderated each tribal council from the beginning of the franchise.

Varner then turned to  Smith and said: “Why haven’t you told anyone you’re transgender?”

BOOM!

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Ethics Quiz: Dr. Phil, Shelley Duvall, And Exploitation

shelley-duvall

A 30-second promotional clip for today’s episode of “Dr. Phil” is disturbing, beyond question. It shows Shelley Duvall, from “The Shining,” “Popeye,” “Nashville” and other well-known films talking to the fake doctor about her mental illness.The syndicated advice show’s promo shows Duvall, almost unrecognizable, talking about how her “Popeye” co-star, the late Robin Williams, is alive and “shape-shifting.” She says she is being threatened by Robin Hood’s Sheriff of Nottingham, and that a “whirring disc” is inside her.

The ad ends with Duvall, 67, telling Phil McGraw, “I’m very sick. I need help.”

She certainly sounded like it, and looked like it too.

Now Dr. Phil is being criticized for exploiting a vulnerable mentally ill woman for her audience drawing powers. The daughter of Stanley Kubrick, who directed Duvall in her most famous role as Jack Nicholson’s terrorized wife in “The Shining,” is leading the charge. Vivian Kubrick called for a boycott of the popular daytime program, tweeting, “You are putting Shelley Duvall ‘on show’ while she is suffering from a pitiable state of ill health. Unquestionably, this is purely a form of lurid and exploitative entertainment — it’s appallingly cruel.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is it unethical for “Dr. Phil” to feature Shelley Duvall this way?

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Ethics Mega Dunce And Ethics Corrupter: “Dancing With The Stars”

Ryan Lochte, role model

Ryan Lochte…liar, boor, jerk, TV star, role model.

This announcement would warrant a KABOOM! if ABC’s popular reality show/ dance competition hadn’t already demonstrated its lack of responsibility and decency so many times before. I guess my still unexploded head should be grateful for that, at least.

Dancing With The Stars is going to include Ryan Lochte in its line-up of competing celebrity dancers in the upcoming season. Why? Because he urinated on the wall of an establishment belonging to someone else, lied about the immediate consequences, insulted the hosts of the Olympic Games he competed in, and thoroughly embarrassed the United States, of course.  He’s infamous! He’s cute! He’s a moron! Naturally, this makes him attractive to “Dancing With The Stars.”

The undeniable message such casting sends to younger citizens whose sense of ethics and appropriate social conduct are still being formed is that wrongful conduct pays. DWTS is proving that as long as what you do makes you famous, it doesn’t matter if it is reckless, stupid, harmful or illegal. Then you can cash in.

This is the message that the show has often broadcast. Kim Kardashian was a contestant because she made a sex video, was the daughter of one of O.J.’s lawyers, had a freakishly large butt and epitomized hedonism, venality, and style over substance. Perfect! Tom DeLay was on the show because he was a famously vicious and corrupt—and successful— politician. Bristol Palin’s sole qualification for the show was that she managed to be an unwed mother-to-be, engaged to a jackass, while her mother was trying to convince the nation that she was qualified to be a heartbeat away from the White House. Reality shows and the ranks of washed-up actors have  supplied the show with a steady stream of drug addicts and low-lifes  whose sole distinctions have been that they were primarily famous for doing things that would get normal people fired or imprisoned. Continue reading

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KABOOM! TNT Promotes A Tainted Prosecutor As A Star

coldjustice

And all this time I believed that TNT reality star Kelly Siegler was a real star prosecutor who had actually convicted guilty people while observing the law and professional ethics.

Kaboom!

head_explodes

That was the sound of my brains exploding through the top of my skull, this time because they deserved to. I never learn.

Or is the state of prosecutorial ethics in the United States so wretched that Kelly Siegler is the best ex-prosecutor that TNT could find?

I’ll stick my neck out and say, “no.” I say that even though the state of prosecutorial ethics is pretty terrible. Kelly Siegler left her job as a Harris County, Texas district attorney in 2008 after successfully prosecuting 68 murder trials. In 2013, TNT signed her up to star in a reality show called“Cold Justice,” now in its third season on the cable network.

Good title! A state-court judge recommended a new trial for a Texas inmate named David Temple, prosecuted by Siegler in 2007  for allegedly killing his pregnant wife. He was convicted, but the court says the “legendary prosecutor” illegally withheld critical exculpatory evidence.  Wrote Judge Larry Gist in his opinion calling for a re-trial: “Of enormous significance was Siegler’s testimony at the habeas hearing that apparently favorable evidence did not need to be disclosed if the state did not believe it was true.”  Continue reading

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So Caitlyn Jenner BOUGHT Her ESPN Arthur Ashe Courage Award From Disney: What Does It Mean, And Why Is Anyone Surprised?

Arthur Ashe was too good for you, Cait...

Arthur Ashe was too good for you, Cait…

I should have already given ESPN an Ethics Dunce for designating an “Espy,” an award given by the cable sports channel to justify having an awards show—to Caitlyn Jenner for the courageous sports achievement of being an aging reality show star who once won an Olympics event and decided that he was now a she.  Why I didn’t, I don’t recall. I think my reasoning was that since the awards are just a PR gimmick anyway, it wasn’t worth the post.  I wasn’t paying attention: I did not sufficiently focus on the fact that “Espy”she would receive was named after Arthur Ashe. I did already discuss  the ethical problems with turning Jenner into a trans icon, since her transition seemed to be in part a money-driven career move. Now, following Jenner’s tearful and touching acceptance of “the Arthur Ashe Courage Award” on TV, we learn this:

“Reports have emerged that Jenner’s team approached ESPN with the idea that she win the Arthur Ashe Courage Award just as details were being finalized for her 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC. ABC and ESPN are both owned by Disney, and ABC aired Wednesday’s awards ceremony. “It was a brilliant move because the executives at ESPN loved the idea, and immediately began making sure it got done,” a source familiar with the negotiations told RadarOnline.The talks hit a stumbling block, and Jenner’s agents were reportedly prepared to pull out of the interview with Sawyer. “It was ironed out, and ABC owns one of the biggest stories of the year.” The build up to Jenner accepting the award will be featured in her upcoming reality show, “I am Cait”, generating a great deal of publicity for both ESPN and the awards.”

Wow! Who could have seen that coming—a reality show star, who has been part of the shameless and venal Kardashian family, cynically manipulating the media and gaining phony recognition on a nationally broadcast awards show…and, in the bargain, debasing the name of a real sports hero, the dignified, sportsmanlike, role model Arthur Ashe, an African American champion in the white man’s game of tennis who helped make Serena Williams’ prominence possible!

Yecchh. In fact, that’s a double yecchh at least.

Yecchh. Yecchh.

What does this mean? To begin with, it means that Jenner bought her award. I don’t want to read any Clintonian deceit about how this isn’t technically true….she bought it. There is no reason to believe ESPN would have given the award to Jenner had her agents not suggested it, and ESPN’s parent received value that translated directly into profits with the exclusive, high-rated ABC interview with Sawyer. Jenner might as well have slipped ABC a couple of million in a big valise  under the table. This was a bribe. This was an award bought and paid for.

What does that mean?
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This Is NBC: With All The Ethical Reasons To Fire Donald Trump, It Picks An Unethical One

Dignity...always dignity.

Dignity…always dignity.

It has happened here with Bill Clinton, Bristol Palin, and many others: this is the downside of running a website committed to fairness. I have had to come to the defense of some very unethical people through the years, but I can’t think of anyone I detest defending more than Donald Trump.

From the AP:

“NBC said Monday that it is ending its business relationship with mogul and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump because of comments he made about Mexican immigrants during the announcement of his campaign.”

Let me count the lies:

1. Anyone, including AP, who believes this is why NBC fired Trump is too gullible to function in society. He was fired because Mexico, Univision and illegal immigration advocates were threatening to make NBC’s life miserable. If what Trump said mattered to NBC, NBC would have fired him shortly after he said it.

2. Trump said nothing about Mexican immigrants. His much-maligned quote discussed illegal immigrants from Mexico “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people.”  The unethical and dishonest effort by the news media to confuse the immigration issue and the crucial, material distinction between legal immigrants, whom the nation should welcome, and illegal immigrants, which it should not and must not, is more harmful than anything Trump has said on the topic.

3. The statement is deceitfully phrased to represent what Trump said as a slur on Mexicans, as a racist statement. Trump was talking about, in his typically lazy, crude fashion, our national problem of  unchecked illegals streaming across the Southern border, and the undeniable fact that this group includes criminals and rapists (like here, here, here…how many examples do you want?), as well as “good people.” Trump obviously wasn’t claiming that all illegal immigrants were criminals and rapists, because that would mean that some of the criminals and rapists would also have to be “good people.” But Mexico, which counts on us to solve their social problems for it, and illegal alien activists, who don’t want Americans to know that many of those sneaking into our country are not the salt of the earth, but quite the opposite, have successfully imposed a political correctness embargo on speaking the unpleasant truth.

Now on to the hypocrisy. NBC firing Trump is not just a little like, but almost EXACTLY THE SAME AS A&E firing Duck Dynasty’s scion Phil Robertson for public statements that were completely consistent with the reality star’s persona as A&E understood from the moment it inked a contract with him. The same is true of Trump’s trademark bluntness. The one difference: Robertson’s homophobic statements were blunt and ignorant, while Trumps statements about illegal immigrant were blunt and true. Continue reading

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Outrageous, Unprofessional, Unethical Judge Michael Cicconetti

Pepper spray in the face? Uh, that's not what we mean by "blind justice"...

Pepper spray in the face? Uh, that’s not what we mean by “blind justice”…

In Painesville, Ohio, Municipal Court Judge Michael Cicconetti decreed that Diamond Gaston, tried for assault for pepper-spraying another woman in the face, had to choose between spending a month in jail or getting pepper-sprayed in her face by the victim. Judge Cicconetti—the sly fox—had secretly had the pepper-spray replaced with a saline solution without telling Gaston, who was his victim. In the same week,  Cicconetti sentenced a woman who failed to pay a cab driver for a 30 mile trip to the choice of jail time or paying $100 restitution and walking the 30 miles she stole from the cabbie. This got him on all the cable news shows, so obviously it was a great idea.

Law Professor Jonathan Turley was so upset by these absurd sentences (and others he has condemned) that his blog post on the topic is (uncharacteristically) riddled with errors, as if he wrote it while screaming as tears blurred his eyes. Maybe he did. Unlike your host, Turley is usually reserved and understated, but this really got to him. Here: my view is substantially the same as his, so let’s give the professor his say (with a little editing): Continue reading

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