“Miracle On 34th Street,”An Ethics Companion,Chapter 4: Is Kris Crazy, Or What? [Corrected]

Miracle-on-34th-Street-2

(The Introduction is here.; Chapter I is here.;Chapter 2 is here; Chapter 3 is here.)

When we last saw Kris Kringle, he had become a big hit at Macy’s by sending shoppers to Gimbel’s, and even was making inroads on young Susan’s precocious skepticism after she heard him speak Dutch. The story really begins going off the ethics rails at this point.

Doris decides that it would probably be responsible to have Kris checked out by the company psychologist, Mr. Sawyer, since her Santa is, after all, nuts. Yah think? In truth, it is per se irresponsible for Macy’s to knowingly employ a Santa Claus operating under the delusion that he is really Santa. The first authority a store would consult in real life, yes, even in the 1950s, would be a member of the legal department. If anything happened to a child in Macy’s store while sitting on the lap of a man who openly claimed to be a mythological figure, the lawsuits would write themselves. Thus the story really takes a turn toward an indictment of capitalism and corporate ethics: Macy’s is willing to put children at risk for some extra profit. Luckily, nobody has noticed in the past half-century.

Here we have a famous breach of competence by the screenwriter, George Seaton. While boasting to Doris about all the mental acuity tests he has passed, Kris says,

“I’ve taken dozens of them. Never failed one yet. Know them by heart. “How many days in the week?” Seven! “How many fingers do you see?” “Four!”….No damage to the nervous system! “Who was the first President of the United States?” George Washington! “Who was Vice-President under John Quincy Adams?” Daniel D. Tompkins! I’ll bet your Mr. Sawyer doesn’t know that!”

He doesn’t know that because it isn’t true. Tompkins was Vice-President under James Monroe, the fifth President, not Adams, #6. It drives me crazy when Hollywood allows historical misinformation to pollute the minds of the historically ignorant public, because there’s no excuse for it. Even before the internet, this fake fact could have been checked using any dictionary or encyclopedia. Nobody cared enough to bother. To make the mistake worse, John Quincy Adams’ VP was, unlike Thompkins, an important historical figure, John C. Calhoun.

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Saturday Ethics Nightcap,12/12/2020: Bad Journalism, Bad Governors, Bad Santas

nightcap

That’s just ginger ale, in case you’re wondering…

1. “Nah, there’s no outrageous, flagrant, shameless mainstream media bias!” April Ryan, arguably the worst, most unethical, most biased and most unprofessional of CNN’s reporters (but it’s such a lively competition), attacked the confidential sources responsible for leaking a recording of Joe Biden making weaselly comments about his stance toward the “defund the police” movement. Ryan demanded to know who was responsible for allowing the embarrassing comments to be made public, because, as we all should know by now, the job of the media isn’t to report the facts, but to empower and protect Democrats. (She didn’t come out and say the last part, but after her performance over the last four years, she doesn’t have to.) Jonathan Turley appropriately nailed this one:

The fact is that Ryan was just stating what has become the approach of many in the media. As we recently discussed, we are moving dangerously close to a de facto state media with the cooperation of Big Tech companies.  Ryan believes that it is outrageous to rely on unapproved material if it is critical of Joe Biden (despite her use of such material for the last four years against Trump)…CNN has not expressed any disagreement with Ryan’s view of the new journalism.

2. Santa Claus Ethics: If you can’t do any better than these Santas, you shouldn’t even try. But they do provide one reason to be grateful for social distancing. I think my favorite is this one…

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Ethics Dunce: Santa Claus

In a video that has “gone viral,” a mall Santa, socially distanced of course, engages in conduct that by Ethics Alarms standards triggered a duty to confront on behalf of the mother of the child he mistreated.

I wish we could determine when and where this episode occurred; I half expect to find out that it was staged by Breitbart or James O’Keefe. Assuming the video is genuine, howeverit is an example of a Santa Claus seriously abusing his authority.

In the video, a little boy is seen sitting across a table from Santa who asks, “What do you want for Christmas?” The child inaudibly asks for a toy gun, and Santa responds, “No guns.” Even after the mother clarifies that her son only meant a Nerf gun—you know, these sinister playthings…

Best-Nerf-Guns-for-Toddlers

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“Miracle On 34th Street,”An Ethics Companion, Continued…Chapter 3: Kris Joins The Macy’s Family! [REVISED and CORRECTED!]

(The Introduction is here.; Chapter I is here.;Chapter 2 is here.)

 Kris takes Santa’s throne

Kris’s rave reviews as Santa in the Thanksgiving Day Parade are so good,  Doris hires him play Santa at Macy’s flagship New York City store on 34th Street. He agrees, which is strange, when you think about how busy he should be at this time of year, supervising the elves and all. If he really is Santa, or even if he thinks he is, taking the job in New York is irresponsible.

His supervisor gives him a list of toys to “push”—toys that are overstocked. “Now, you’ll find that a great many children will be undecided as to what they want for Christmas. When that happens, you suggest one of these items,” Kris is told. “You understand?”

Kris says he understands, but later makes it clear in his comments to a co-worker, that he has no intention of “pushing” the merchandise.:

“Imagine…making a child take something it doesn’t want…just because he bought too many of the wrong toys.That’s what I’ve been fighting against for years!”

That being the case, there is exactly one thing Kris needs to do. He needs to quit. What he cannot do, and must not do, and has a clear ethical obligation not to do, is to accept a job when he has no intention of doing what the job requires. This is a sales job. If Kris doesn’t want to sell, then he will be accepting a pay check under false pretenses. This isn’t noble conduct, as the film would have you believe. It’s unethical conduct. It’s wrong.

Kris needs to put himself on his own naughty list. Continue reading

“Miracle On 34th Street,”An Ethics Companion, Continued….Chapter 2: The Story Unfolds…

The Introduction is here.

Chapter I is here.

Let’s get this out of the way up front: Kris is not really Santa Clause. The sooner you understand that, the more sense the movie will make.

Now onward:

2. The bad mother and the sneaky lawyer.

While Kris is enjoying his starring role in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, we meet Susan Walker, Doris’s young daughter, and Attorney Fred Gailey,  who lives in the apartment next door. Susan has been raised  to be a joyless little cynic, the victim of an arrogant and misguided single mother who needed to read more Bruno Bettelheim ( except that Bruno didn’t write The Uses of Enchantment  until 1976).  Doris, as we soon surmise, has allowed a bad marriage to make her suspicious of dreams, hope, and wonder, and she is passing her own disappointment in life off to her daughter at the tender age of nine. Nice.

Lots of parents do this, I suppose, but that doesn’t mitigate how cruel and damaging it is. I remember how horrified I was at Susan’s brainwashing when I first saw the film at about the same age as Natalie Wood was in the movie. My parents, particularly my mother, surrounded my sister and I with fantasy and whimsy. They went to elaborate measures to make Santa Claus seem real, and the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. At one point my sister, having read a story about a lollypop tree, planted a lollypop stick in the back yard. My mother pooh-poohed the idea, telling my sister that this was just a fantastic story she was believing, and that she was  going to disappointed.  Then, three days later, my father exclaimed as he looked out the kitchen window,  “I don’t believe it! Look at that!” And there, about four feet height and covered with lolly pops of all  the colors of the rainbow, was the lollypop tree.

My sister and I weren’t idiots; we knew that our parents had made the tree. But we played along, and the lesson was taught.  Life is more fun and bearable if you believe in the unbelievable, and are open to a little magic in the world. Our parents gave my sister and me a gift that made us love music, literature, humor, mystery, and surprises. Doris Walker, out of ignorance, grief or anger, was an incompetent and selfish parent. ” We should be realistic  and completely truthful with our children  and not have them growing up believing in  a lot of legends and myths like Santa Claus, for example,” she says.

And your authority for this proposition is what, Doris? Generations of children have grown to healthy, happy maturity being raised on myths, legends and fairy tales, and you, with your invaluable perspective as a department store employee, are confident in your certitude that their parents were wrong, and you are right. Wow. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: Santa In A MAGA Cap”

The issue of whether a mall should have fired a long-time Santa who posed for gag photo in a MAGA cap inevitably invited comparisons with the Naked Teacher Principle, which holds “that a secondary school teacher or administrator (or other role model for  children) who allows pictures of himself or herself to be widely publicized, as on the web, showing the teacher naked or engaging in sexually provocative poses, cannot complain when he or she is dismissed by the school as a result.” There are many variations of the NTP, including the recently visited Naked Congresswoman Principle, which cost Rep. Katie Hill her seat.

The question: Is there, or should there be a “President Trump-supporting Santa Claus Principle?

Here is Alizia’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Quiz: Santa In A MAGA Cap”

“I think this one might fall into The Naked Teacher Principle.”

I think I can understand why you would say that, but I think there are a few problems with that assessment. I will try to explain:

First, a school teacher who engages in sexual misconduct, is transgressing in a limited area. Our social norms — though this is changing of course — does not allow teachers of children to appear to be loose sexually. Long ago, and more especially for women who were teachers — and mostly women were teachers — it was part of cultural norms that a teacher have a ‘chaste appearance’.

But in a sense there is no issue of ‘speech’ involved when and if a teacher posts a naked photo. That is, there is no ‘speech content’ or political opinion expressed. If there is a ‘speech’ issue it is only of a vary limited sort.

The Santa who had his photo taken with a Trump hat should never have had to apologize to anyone. He was completely free to take such a photo of himself. There is no possible argument that could be brought out in a so-called free society that could successfully take the man’s right away. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Santa In A MAGA Cap

Frank Skinner, who has played  Santa Claus at a mall in Waycross, Georgia for 50 years, says he was nearing the end of a long shift with kids on on and off his knee and the mall  was finally empty. For fun, he put on a MAGA cap as he sat in his Santa chair and took his own photo. Then he shared it for friends on his Facebook page.Predictably, some jerk sent it  to the mall’s management with a complaint.To be clear, the picture didn’t show Santa reading Hustler, or feeling up a busty co-ed, or snorting coke. It showed him wearing the campaign cap of the President of the United States.

The mall responded, “We apologize for this occurrence and will be addressing this right away. The Mall at Waycross does not support any specific political party. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Kindly, Mall Management.” Then  the mall’s manager told reporters that the posing of the photo was “done completely without our knowledge” and added that “it’s safe to say he will not be wearing this hat around here. This particular Santa has been replaced.” Frank was fired.

Your Ethics Alarms Christmas season Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Was the mall’s action fair and responsible?

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/29/18: ‘Infuriating Stuff I Wish I Didn’t Have To Know About Or Write About’ Edition

Screaming from mountain tops does no good, I know, but this is the life I have chosen…

Good Morning.

(My beautiful Christmas tree is drooping already, despite meticulous care. (Did you know that in Philadelphia it’s called a “Holiday Tree”? Did you know they had gone mad in Philadelphia?) I’ve had some last until February first. Not this one, I fear.)

1. Like most of the journalism establishment here, only less subtle about itDer Spiegel reporter Claas Relotius was exposed this month to be that publication’s version of Stephen Glass, a star journalist who just made stuff up. He, however, made stuff up to play to anti-Trump sentiments abroad, writing multiple stories to show how bigoted and backward the town of Fergus Falls, Minnesota was, explaining why it went for President Trump in the 2106 election.

The New York Times story on the hoax shows how Relotius could have accomplished the same mission using just spin, slanted framing and old fashioned bias. Read the thing: it just drips with thinly veiled contempt for Trump voters, and the President, of course. “The election results speak for themselves,” says the Times, knowing how the typical times reader will take that. The Times reporters reveal that the town isn’t full of racist yahoos as if that is news in itself.

2. Can’t let this pass, unfortunately. President Trump and first lady Melania Trump were taking calls from young children wondering about Santa’s whereabouts on Christmas Eve, as part of the NORAD Santa tracker (which I think is a waste of money no matter what it costs, and an example of the government being involved where it should not be), and had  this conversation  with 7-year-old Collman Lloyd which was videoed on both sides;

Collman told the President about the Santa visit preparations underway at the Lloyd household, saying “Probably put out some cookies and then we’re hanging out with our friends, so that’s pretty much all.”

The President: “Well that’s very good. You just have a good time.”

Collman: “Yes, sir.”

The President: “Are you still a believer in Santa?”

Collman: “Yes, sir.”

Trump: “Because at seven it’s marginal, right?” 

Collman: “Yes, sir.”

The trivial exchange triggered more Trump-bashing and a ridiculous amount of negative commentary. This approaches blind hate at a pathological level. The focus of the attacks were that the President’s “marginal” line supposedly destroyed the girl’s belief in Santa Clause. Ugh.

  • She later said that she had no idea what “marginal” meant. We  all know Trump can’t talk: this is Julie Principle territory. The only way one assumes that his intent was to shatter the girl’s innocent faith is if one thinks the President is a monster…which is what the news media wants the public to think.
  • If I had to guess, I would say that he was noting that not all of her friends did believe in Santa—which is, studies say, true. My son was a skeptic at 6. I. in contrast, believed in St. Nick until I was 28…
  • Collman also said that what the Evil Scrooge Trump said didn’t cause her not to believe in Santa, though this could be called moral luck.
  • Even at seven, a personal exchange with the President of the United States would have meant so much more to me than any dents in my Santa Claus beliefs that I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Of course, when I was seven it was the norm that all citizens respected and honored the President, because that was whom our democracy chose to lead us.

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Encore: On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

[As promised, here is the Ethics Alarms Christmas package, lightly revised, last posted three years ago]

I don’t know what perverted instinct it is that has persuaded colleges and schools to make their campuses a Christmas-free experience. Nor can I get into the scrimy and misguided minds of people like Roselle Park New Jersey Councilwoman Charlene Storey, who resigned over the city council’s decision to call its Christmas tree lighting a Christmas Tree Lighting, pouting that this wasn’t “inclusive,” or the  CNN goon who dictated the bizarre policy that the Christmas Party shot up by the husband-wife Muslim terrorists had to be called a “Holiday Party.”  Christmas, as the cultural tradition it evolved to be, is about inclusion, and if someone feels excluded, they are excluding themselves.  Is it the name that is so forbidding? Well, too bad. That’s its name, not “holiday.” Arbor Day is a holiday. Christmas is a state of mind. [The Ethics Alarms Christmas posts are here.]

Many years ago, I lost a friend over a workplace dispute on this topic, when a colleague and fellow executive at a large Washington association threw a fit of indignation over the designation of the headquarters party as a Christmas party, and the gift exchange (yes, it was stupid) as “Christmas Elves.” Marcia was Jewish, and a militant unionist, pro-abortion, feminist, all-liberal all-the-time activist of considerable power and passion. She cowed our pusillanimous, spineless executive to re-name the party a “holiday party” and the gift giving “Holiday Pixies,” whatever the hell they are.

I told Marcia straight out that she was wrong, and that people like her were harming the culture. Christmas practiced in the workplace, streets, schools and the rest is a cultural holiday of immense value to everyone open enough to experience it, and I told her to read “A Christmas Carol” again. Dickens got it, Scrooge got it, and there was no reason that the time of year culturally assigned by tradition to re-establish our best instincts of love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, charity and generosity should be attacked, shunned or avoided as any kind of religious indoctrination or “government endorsement of religion.”  Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal.

Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart. What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?

I liked and respected Marcia, but I deplore the negative and corrosive effect people like her have had on Christmas, and as a result, the strength of American community. I told her so too, and that was the end of that friendship. Killing America’s strong embrace of Christmas is a terrible, damaging, self-destructive activity, but it is well underway. I wrote about how the process was advancing here, and re-reading what I wrote, I can only see the phenomenon deepening, and hardening like Scrooge’s pre-ghost heart. Then I said… Continue reading

“Miracle On 34th Street”…An Ethics Companion, Chapter One: “Meet Kris Kringle!”

The Introduction is here.

The movie tells us right at the start that 1) the charming old man in the white beard can’t possibly be Santa Claus, and 2) that he’s nuts. That is, he tells adults who are paying attention this as soon as he starts complaining to a New York City storekeeper that his window display has the reindeer mixed up: “You’ve got Cupid where Blitzen should be. And Dasher should be on my right-hand side. And another thing…Donner’s antlers have got four points instead of three!”

Let’s see:

  • No Christmas display has ever distinguished between Santa’s reindeer (except for Rudolph), because the individual reindeer have never had any identifying characteristics in reality or myth. Are we to assume that there are name-tags on the models? If so, why wouldn’t Kris be complaining about the features of all of them, not just “Donner’s” antlers?
  • The names of the reindeer, even if there are flying reindeer, were 100% the invention of the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” or “The Night Before Christmas,” originally published in 1823.  No one has ever claimed that the author had some kind of special info on the actual names of the reindeer when he wrote,

    More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
    And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

    “Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
    On, COMET! on CUPID! on, DUNDER and BLIXEN!

    …and anyway, if he did, those were their names 120 years before the movie takes place. Nobody has ever claimed the reindeer were immortal, either. I suppose Santa Claus, in a nod to the poem’s popularity (it has been called the most famous poem of all time), could have adopted the practice of always having the reindeer named after the poem’s versions, and when one Vixen dropped of old age, the young reindeer that took her place became the new Vixen.

I suppose. Continue reading