Introducing “Introducing Selma Blair”

Selma Blair

Ethics Alarms spends a lot of time and criticism on celebrities and the celebrity culture, so when one finds a way to use fame, even as it is fleeting, constructively attention must be paid. Meet Selma Blair, an always appealing actress previously known for her supporting roles over the past two decades. Blair was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder multiple sclerosis, which attacks the central nervous system, in August of 2018. She revealed her illness with an Instagram post in October of that year; this in itself was unusual, for revealing an incurable and progressive disease is usually career suicide. Most Hollywood actors hide maladies from bi-polar depression and alcoholism to cancer for as long as they can.

Not Blair. As a former impish ingenue now in her forties, her career was already on the wain, and she felt that publicizing her struggles could help the many people who not only suffer from MS but other chronic diseases. Blair continued to track the course of her illness on Instagram. She attended Hollywood events with a jeweled cane. She did not avoid interview, allowing the public to witness her periodic difficulties speaking and impaired movement. “She was in turn glamorous and clumsy, funny and mournful,” writes Teo Bugby in the Times. (Ethics Alarms saluted her courage here.)

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/1/2019: Mania In Pennsylvania

Hello from Cannonsburg, PA.

Mr. Adams, but Mr. Adams
The things I write are only light extemporania
I won’t put politics on paper, it’s a mania
So I refuse to use the pen in Pennsylvania

—-Ben Franklin, in “Mr. Adams,” 1776

(But Ben didn’t have a computer…)

1. Like watching a zombie outbreak. Predictable, embarrassing, scary, disgusting, and hilarious. The comments on my Facebook feed by Trump Deranged friends and friends of friends really does begin to make me wonder if protected Trump Hate is mental illness. Multiple people were willing to go on record as saying that they believed Michael Cohen, and—get this—that they found him to be a sympathetic character! Now it’s true that these same people believed Jussie Smollett, Nathan Phillips, Bill Clinton and Christine Blasey-Ford based on nothing more than ideological bias and anti-Trump animus, but even these four are paragons of honesty and trustworthiness compared to Cohen. It is also amazing that these Coehn fans are so confident of the Facebook echo chamber that they don’t hesitate to write something so mind-numbingly stupid.

2. Petty perjury. The Republicans who are trying to prompt an investigation of Cohen for alleged perjury before Congress are abusing process, and worse, they are  imitating the bitter Democrats who argued that Bret Kavanaugh committed perjury by giving his recollection of an innocent definition of “boofing.” Among Cohen’s alleged “lies” is that he said he never wanted to work at the White House in the hearing, but said elsewhere that he did want to work there. The man is inately unbelievable (but sympathetic!) He’s a criminal. He has violated too many legal ethics rules to count. He betrayed his client’s confidences. He has lied under oath. He’s been disbarred. It is literally impossible to have less credibility than Michael Cohen. There is no point in proving petty perjury, except to be vindictive.

3. Testing the tolerance, determination and gag reflex of those who believe in innocence until proven guilty. Michael Jackson’s family is out in force to condemn “Finding Neverland,”is out in force to condemn “Finding Neverland,” a documentary debuting on HBO this weekend.  It purports to chronicle the King of Pop’s alleged serial child abusing, featuring two former kiddy pals who slept in Michael’s bed, all in good fun, according to the Jacksons. No jury ever found Michael guilty, though one has to wonder if the result would have been the same if he looked and sounded like Vin Rhames. On the other hand, Jackson was so, so strange that virtually anything is believable, including the theory that he really was just a big, famous, harmless, case of arrested childhood whose motives were pure as the driven snow. The Jacksons say his now grown playmates are just seeking money and book deals. That’s certainly plausible. What isn’t plausible is that the Jacksons say they never thought Michael’s obsession with young children was suspicious or troubling, and that they see no reason why anyone would have expected them to advise their brother not to act like a pedophile, whether he was one or not.

4. Selma Blair. Selma Blair never became a big star; I remember her best in “Hellboy.” She was talented, though, and now we know she’s gutsy, appearing on the Oscars red carpet using a cane. Blair has multiple sclerosis, which has disabled a career already shot by another crippling malady for movie ingenues–getting older. Blair announced her illness on Instagram, saying, “I am disabled. I fall sometimes. I drop things. My memory is foggy. And my left side is asking for directions from a broken gps. But we are doing it. And I laugh and I don’t know exactly what I will do precisely but I will do my best.” Now she is defying typical Hollywood vanity to appear in public, giving invaluable support to the million-plus Americans who suffer from MS. Wrote Ed Tobias on the MS support website, MS News TodayMS News Today:

“If a photo is worth a thousand words, then the video of Blair and her cane, as she slowly made her way along the red carpet at the Oscars, is worth a million. It shows pain and persistence. Caution and class. It shows what many of us have to handle each day. And Selma Blair showed an audience of millions how to do it. Bravo!”

Agreed.

5.  Now let’s see how many acting jobs David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel get after this. An arbitrator awarded $179 million,awarded $179 million, much of it in punitive damages, to the two and one of their partners in the long-running hit TV show “Bones,” holding that Fox executives lied, cheated and committed fraud at the expense of the show’s stars and executive producer Barry Josephson. That creative Hollywood accounting robs stars is the third worst-kept and longest running secret in show business, #1 being that directors and producers use their power and star-makimg ability to force actresses to have sex with them, and #2 being that an awful lot of actresses take advantage of that illicit entree. James Garner was one of the few big stars to challenge the swindle in court, and he did so more than once. He won, too, but he also paid a price in lost roles. Most stars just put up with the cheating and take their paychecks, which are pretty big anyway.

Maybe Boreanaz, a latter day Garner who may have sensed that he has maxed  out his career as he enters his fifties (surely you remember him as Angel, Buffy the Vampire Killer’s tragic true, un-dead love?) and Deschanel, who has always been oveer-shadowed her younger, cuter, funnier sister Zooey, may have decided that there was no downside in fighting for their fair share. Or maybe—just maybe—they are making a courageous stand for their profession. Either way, it is good ethics news any time the Hollywood moguls get foiled in this game.

Abashed Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/28/17 [Updated]

Good Morning!

1 Following a day in which various exigencies and responsibilities, plus fatigue and distraction, caused me to whiff on getting up at least three posts I thought were worthy of consideration, yesterday I failed to get any up at all. This makes me very unhappy, and I apologize. A fly-in, fly-out assignment in New York City had me up early and back late, whereupon I had my son’s birthday to acknowledge, the World Series to scrutinize and some aching feet to attend to. Priorities can’t be ignored, and being able to recognize when something you want to do and are devoted to doing just cannot be done well in the time allowed is a matter of life competence. Yet I hate failing loyal readers who care about ethics issues and rely on Ethics Alarms to explore them, and feel negligent when this occurs…fortunately, not very often.

Still too often, however.

2. The emergence of Hollywood director James Toback as a serial sexual harasser (at least) had me preparing a post about why theatrical directors are especially prone to this conduct. The gist of it was that in college, where participation in theater is often more social than aesthetic, directors forming romantic relationships with their cast members is neither taboo nor typically exploitative. Similarly, in community theater such relationships are not unusual or unethical, unless they interfere with a director’s artistic duties: casting an inferior performer because she’s your girl friend or because you want her to be is per se unethical. These are the cultures that produce many directors, and they enter professional theater, and later films, with bad habits that cannot be tolerated or continued in a professional context. Similarly, performers also come out of that culture. It may be difficult for some of them to comprehend that what is arguably acceptable in amateur settings is becomes unconscionable in a professional one.

However, this cannot explain Toback’s conduct. An astounding 200 plus women now say they were harassed or assaulted by him, and the list filled up in less than week. Compared to Toback, Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby seem restrained.

Actress Selma Blair, for example, says her agent arranged for her to meet Toback for a possible role in one of his films after her career had begun with promise. Blair says the meeting was scheduled at a hotel restaurant, but  when she arrived the hostess told her that Toback wanted to meet in his hotel room. There, Toback asked her to perform a monologue nude, directed her to have sex with him, and said he would not let her leave until he “had release.” Then the actress says, he simulated sexual intercourse on her leg. 

I begin my sexual harassment seminars by stating that the problem is one of ethics. If you have respect for human beings regardless of gender, if you are fair to people you interact with, if you are caring toward them and obey the Golden Rule, if you apply the three basic ethics alarms checks (“Does this seem right? Could I tell my mother about this? Would I want this on the front page of my local newspaper?”), then you won’t be a harasser. But I can’t begin to explain how someone reaches the point of depravity and utter contempt for women that he would behave the way Blair describes Toback behaving. This is, to understate it, uncivilized. Was he raised by wolves? I suspect even wolves would be horrified by his behavior. My father never had to sit me down at 13 and say, “Jack, it’s time for a talk. It’s never right to simulate sexual intercourse on a woman’s leg when she has come to interview for a job.” I didn’t need to be told this. Who needs to be told this who isn’t already a dangerous sociopath?

Somehow, the culture of Hollywood devolved to such a state that abuse of power and women became a social norm, and even conventionally acculturated adults had their values erased and replaced. That is the only way the Tobacks and Weinsteins could come to exist. That culture is now too sick and entrenched to be wiped clean by a few scandals. It is going to take a long time to change it, if indeed it can be changed. Continue reading