Remembering Arturo Di Modica, The Artistic Ethics Train Wreck

Talented and bold artist? Shameless self-promoter? Hypocrite? Unethical jerk? Arturo Di Modica, the Sicilian-born sculptor who died earlier this year was all of these. He was also a one-man ethics train wreck.

In mid-December of 1989, the artist illegally dropped his “Charging Bull,” a 3.5 ton bronze sculpture (that’s a similar model he had mounted in China above), in Lower Manhattan one night in 1989. He claimed it was a gift to his adopted country, the United States, urging courage and defiance after its 1988 financial collapse. Maybe. Or he just wanted to grandstand and get publicity. Either way, you cannot put a giant statue in a public place without permission, permits, owning the property involved, little things like that.

This was a planned crime. Di Modica spent weeks prowling the Wall Street area after midnight, noting when and where police officers walked by. He had about forty accomplices waiting at around 1 a.m. when he loaded his sculpture onto a flatbed truck and drove to Broad Street, next to the Stock Exchange. But it was nearing Christmas, and the Stock Exchange had put up a huge Christmas tree where he had planned to drop “Charging Bull.”

So he put it under the tree.

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Ethics Quiz: The Marilyn Monroe Statue

MM statue

Alternate title: “At Last A Statue Everyone Can Get Behind!”

At least this statue ethics controversy has nothing to do with the Civil War.

Palm Springs, California’s City Council voted last month to place a giant sculpture of Marilyn Monroe, her white skirt blown up above her waist and her mouth poised in the semi-erotic smile everyone remembers from the classic movie moment, in the middle of the city. For three years, 2012 to 2014, the sculpture by Seward Johnson enlivened downtown Palm Springs, and now it will be coming back with financing from a local hotel consortium. The 26-foot high “Forever Marilyn,” turned up as a short-term tourist attraction in other cities in the intervening years (many visitors enjoyed posing for photographs between MM’s feet, looking up) but now Palm Springs is offering it—her?— a permanent home.

Ah, but all statues are controversial now. Marilyn will stand across from the entrance to the Palm Springs Art Museum, and its executive director Louis Grachos objects. “You come out of the museum and the first thing you’re going to see is a 26-foot-tall Marilyn Monroe with her entire backside and underwear exposed,” Grachos pointed out to the council. “We serve over 100,000 school-age children that come to our museum every single year. What message does that send to our young people, our visitors and community to present a statue that objectifies women, is sexually charged and disrespectful?” The museum’s previous three directors, Elizabeth Armstrong, Steve Nash and Janice Lyle, designer Trina Turk and others issued a joint op-ed in The Desert Sun condemning the statue as “blatantly sexist.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is...

Is Johnson’s statue of Norma Jean unethical public art?

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Rainy Monday Ethics, 11/30/2020: Statues, Dogs And Lies

Also getting me down, Karen Carpenter songs. As with great movies with O.J. Simpson or Gig Young in them, these are hard to enjoy now, at least for me. One of the most lovely natural voices in pop music history was silenced by the pernicious disease of anorexia, exacerbated by, among others, her brother, her family, and music industry executives, who made Carpenter so self-conscious about her weight and appearance that she slowly starved herself to death before her 33rd birthday. I wish I could hear her sing—and I will do that a lot in the days approaching Christmas—without thinking about that, but I can’t.

1. Proposition: any nation’s historical figures who had the impact on those nations that Margaret Thatcher did in Great Britain over a significant period of time deserve to be memorialized with statues, absent some cataclysmic disqualifying act, like Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal. Even in Nixon’s case, I would support a public memorial to such a historically influential figure.

In the English town of Grantham, where Thatcher grew up, an 11-foot pedestal awaits the arrival next year of a large statue of “the Iron Lady.” Apparently many in Britain, and a large proportion of Gratham’s working class residents, disapprove of Thatcher’s conservative politics and policies, and thus oppose the statue, which will be in immediate danger of toppling the minute it is erected.

Morons. One doesn’t have to personally agree with a historical figure’s position or even admire her to appreciate the impact that figure had. The criteria for memorializing prominent citizens should center on whether future generations need to know who they were and what they did, not whether their achievements and conduct are approved of according to often fleeting political, social and cultural values. Charles Moore, who wrote an authorized biography of Mrs. Thatcher, says, “It’s obvious there should be statues to Britain’s first woman prime minister. But…but…George Floyd! The New York Times’ article on the controversy says that statue toppling has become a world-wide phenomenon since the death of George Floyd. Now that makes sense: one of Great Britain’s most successful and important leaders should be robbed of her legitimate honors because a rogue cop accidentally contributed to the death of a black criminal in Minnesota.

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Saturday Ethics Aftermath, 11/14/2020: Art And Ethics

Brussels statue

1. Movie plot ethics. It’s clear that I have watched far too many movie and TV programs. I am now at the point where certain routine plot and directorial devices not only annoy me, they insult me. I regard these now as disrespectful and incompetent, and in that sense, unethical. I’m not talking about the cliches that still work with the young and uninitiated, like how the apparently dead/injured/ betrayed/ rejected or abandoned character you forgot about is always the one who shows up to save the day. (Among the reasons I love the “Magnificent Seven” so much is that when the one member of the team who had quit shows up to rescue his pals in the final gun battle, he is shot and killed immediately.) I’m referring to tropes that are self-evidently stupid and should seem so for any viewer over the age of 12.

For example,  if there’s a vicious, murdering psychopath chasing you, and you knock him cold with a steel pipe or incapacitate him in other ways, you don’t assume he/she/it is dead and leave the killer there to revive and slaughter you. You make sure the manic/monster is dead. Beat his head to a pulp; heck, cut it off.  This is often paired with another idiotic scene, the ill-timed hug. The world is going to blow in seconds, zombies are coming, crazies are beating down the door: save that passionate embrace for later, you morons! The same applies to long, emotional conversations in the midst of disasters when every second counts. Which is worse, I wonder: the long debate in “Armageddon” between Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck when they have literally seconds to save the Earth from an asteroid apocalypse, or the even longer argument among three fire fighters in the middle of a burning building?  That was in “Backdraft,” and I never quite felt the same about director Ron Howard after that.

2. Statue ethics again.  A new London  sculpture dedicated to Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th-century writer and feminist hero (and the mother of Mary Shelley) is attracting much hate from art critics and the public.

MW memorial

The work by the British artist Maggi Hambling features a small, naked woman standing on a pillar silvered bronze, set on a cube of dark granite. The overall form is just larger than an average person, and sits well with the park: “Why is Mary naked?” critics are demanding. One Twitter user said: “I had no idea Mary had shredded abs.”

Morons. Read the statue’s base: “For Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797.”  This is not intended to be a likeness of, but a tribute to,Wollstonecraft, whose most famous quotation from her “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” published in 1792, appears on the other side of the base:  “I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”

Before one starts criticizing anything, it is essential, fair and responsible to know what one is talking about. Every day I send to Spam Hell comments from Ethics Alarms critics who obviously didn’t read the post they are commenting on. I once went to great lengths to get a local theater critic fired who reviewed a show I directed after I saw her walk out before the second act.

On the other side, as a stage director who made being clear my prime directive, I hold the artist partially responsible when a large proportion of viewers don’t understand what is being communicated.

3. Then there is this:

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The Pre-Unethical Condition Of Planning A Public Memorial: The Maya Angelou Debacle [Corrected]

_maya_angelou_proposal

(The ghost family isn’t part of the design, in case you were wondering…)

I use the term “pre-unethical conditions” to describe situations which have a record of leading directly to ethical conflicts and misconduct. “Ethics Chess,” another Ethics Alarms term mandates that a participant think multiple moves ahead, and thus anticipate, plan for, and with luck and skill, even avoid the ethical perils ahead. The task of honoring a famous or accomplished public figure with a monument or memorial structure for the ages once was simple and straightforward: you put up a statue after a respected and credentialed artist designed it. Of course, if you picked a hack to do the job and got something like this…

Lucy statue

That’s supposed to be Lucille Ball, in a now-replaced statue in her home town.

..there would be trouble, but usually the standards for statues were reasonable and the public easy to satisfy. That was fortunate, because any committee decision involving art of any kind is bound to be contentious; as the saying goes, there’s no accounting for taste. I’ve had to oversee the organizational acceptance of a new logo more than once, and it is impossible. When the board meeting reaches the point where members are scribbling their own crude designs on pads, you know you’re doomed. Public art is much, much worse, because it’s more visible, there are people who make their livings criticizing whatever the final result may be, and it’s expensive. Good luck.

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Comment Of The Day: “Ethical Quote Of The Month: French President Emmanuel Macron”

Prolific commenter Steve-O-in-NJ was on a roll last night, ultimately producing the epic Comment of the Day below regarding French President Macron’s unequivocal rejection of historical airbrushing and statue toppling in his country.

Earlier, Steve had made the sharp observation that the George Floyd Freakout mobs and their complicit elected officials and journalists are simultaneously demanding sanctification of the image and memory of Floyd, whose life consisted of a series of socially destructive and irresponsible acts,  while demanding the de-honoring of important historical figures world wide. “The only thing he ever did of note was to die at the hands of a crazy cop,” he wrote. “Yet we’re supposed to brush his history aside and worship him as some kind of new saint. Columbus achieved one of the greatest things ever done. Jefferson wrote the [Declaration of Independence]. Washington was the father of this nation. Churchill saved the world in its darkest hour. Yet we’re asked to forget their achievements and reduce them to their failures. Anyone want to explain the logic here?”

Logic, except to the extent that cultural lobotomies are a tool of revolution and totalitarianism, has little to do with it. Nor does perspective and erudition, as proved by UK Activist Lorraine Jones, who is chair of the Lambeth Independent Police Advisory Group Jones was asked about the wisdom of removing a statue of Winston Churchill in London that has been a target of local protesters.

“I’ve heard many arguments on both sides,” Jones told reporters. “Some say that he’s a racist, some say that he’s a hero. I haven’t personally met him, but what I would say is that that question of whether he should remain should be put to the community.”

She has no idea who Winston Churchill is.

Here is Steve-O-in-NJ’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethical Quote Of The Month: French President Emmanuel Macron”:

I discussed the attempted airbrushing of history here by the removal of several monuments to the Confederacy or its adherents some time ago. At the time I would have described the feeling underlying it as what I would call a moral panic, similar to the overwhelming fear surrounding role-playing games in the 1980s or the unreasonable response to New Zealand’s Mazengarb report. However, moral panics usually ebb and flow and eventually the majority see how silly they really are. I was wrong, this was not a case of a moral panic. This was a case of a chisel often used by the left, that of iconoclasm, finding an opening and being used to chip away at society in an attempt to recurve it in their image. It’s now spread to Columbus memorials, and is starting to seep into memorials to the Founding Fathers and now even to Abraham Lincoln and Churchill(?!).

Iconoclasm, defined broadly as the organized destruction of images or symbols, has been around pretty much since man started erecting symbols and memorials to individuals, groups, ideas, or anyone or anything deemed important enough to build a lasting memorial to. Sometimes it was practiced in straight-up war between nations or civilizations, as a way to damage the enemy’s morale, although it ran the risk of making him angrier instead. Sometimes it was practiced in internecine conflicts, when one group seized power over another. Occasionally it has been performed simply as a matter of political policy, without actual armed conflicts.

Examples of the first category include the sack of the Jewish Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius’ destruction of the Persian fire temple at the Throne of Solomon (this one particularly thorough, with the knocking down of the temple, the extinguishing of the holy fire, and the deliberate pollution of the sacred lake with dead bodies), and the Muslim policy of destruction of religious symbols of those they defeated: the Persians’ holy standard, the original church at Santiago de Compostela (for which the Muslim rulers of Seville later paid a terrible price at the hands of St. Ferdinand of Castile), and countless Hindu idols and temples. Continue reading

Ethical Quote Of The Month: French President Emmanuel Macron

Jean-Baptiste Colbert, controller-general under King Louis XIV, who drafted the Code Noir, or Black Code, which regulated slavery in French colonies.

“I will be very clear tonight, compatriots: The Republic won’t erase any name from its history. It will forget none of its artworks, it won’t take down statues.”

—Emmanuel Macron, President of France,  during a televised speech yesterday.

While vowing to be “uncompromising in the face of racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination, the French president said everyone in the country “should look at all of our history together,” with an aim to find the “truth” instead of “denying who we are.”

Perfect.

Sackler, Tufts, Cancel Culture And The 100th Rationalization: The Reverse Ruddigore

I have been waiting to find the ideal 100th Rationalization, officially #70 (there are 30 sub-rationalizations on the EA Rationalizations list. It’s “The Reverse Ruddigore,” the equally valid opposite of Rationalization #21. Ethics Accounting, or “I’ve earned this”/ “I made up for that”:

 You cannot earn the right to act unethically by depositing a lot of ethical deeds in the imaginary ethics bank, nor can unethical conduct be erased by doing good for someone else. The illusion that one can balance the ethics books this way is referred to on the Ethics Alarms blog as “the Ruddigore Fallacy.”  Nobody earns the right to be unethical, not even once, no matter how exemplary their conduct. An unethical act is just as unethical, whether it is performed by a saint, a hero, or a villain.

“Ruddigore,” for those of you sadly unaware of the joys of Gilbert and Sullivan, is the unjustly under-rated work by the Victorian geniuses that involved an ancient curse on a family that required a Baronet of Ruddigore to perform a crime a day or die in agony, courtesy of his re-animated ancestors, who otherwise hang around, literally, as portraits in a haunted gallery. One member of the family who has inherited the curse, Sir Despard, believes that he has found a loophole:

“I get my crime over the first thing in the morning, and then, ha! ha! for the rest of the day I do good – I do good – I do good! Two days since, I stole a child and built an orphan asylum. Yesterday I robbed a bank and endowed a bishopric. To-day I carry off Rose Maybud and atone with a cathedral! This is what it is to be the sport and toy of a Picture Gallery!”

Looking back on past posts, I laid the groundwork for #70 when I condemned the decision of Walt Disney World to remove Bill Cosby’s bust from the its Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame of Fame:

[L]ast I heard Bill Cosby was still recognized as a major trailblazer in stand-up, TV comedy, and television integration (remember “I Spy”?), an important positive cultural force for race relations and black community self esteem, and a spectacularly talented comedian with a unique voice and presence. None of that has changed. Those were the achievements that prompted Cosby’s bust’s inclusion in Disney’s Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame Plaza, along with celebrities such as Lucille Ball and Oprah Winfrey who, like the Cos, have been inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. O.J. Simpson is still honored in the College Football Hall of Fame, because he was one of the greatest college stars ever. His post-career hobby as a murderer, like Bill’s extra-curricular activities as a serial rapist, have nothing to do with the honor, just as Cosby earned and still deserves, his honor for what he achieved on stage and screen.

Subsequent bad acts no more cancel out past good ones than Sir Despard’s cathedral would make up for kidnapping sweet Rose Maybud. The current “Cancel Culture,” however, holds otherwise. In the latest episode, Tufts University announced today that it will strip the Sackler name from the buildings and programs on its medical campus, after a report censured the school for its relationship with the family whose drug company made OxyContin, the opioid blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths nationwide. Continue reading

Pre-Thanksgiving Day Ethics Wrap-Up, 11/27/2019

Be thankful tomorrow, everybody.

There’s always something…

1. On unethical misleading language, Part A: Today’s “Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias” note: I was suddenly struck after reading one, two, three, four impeachment-related stories in a row in four separate news sources that they all used the phrase “dirt on Joe Biden.” Isn’t that strange? “Dirt” isn’t a description, it’s a characterization, and a deliberately  pejorative one that assumes that Biden is a victim of a dastardly action. It’s widespread use is one more smoking gun that demonstrates mainstream media bias aimed at smearing President Trump. The term “dirt” presupposes that if the President sought to persuade the Ukraine to aid the U.S. in an investigation, something it is obligated by treaty to do, it was only to assist his re-election chances. When the term “dirt” has been used in conjunction with a politition seeking damning information on Bill Clinton, either George Bush, or Trump himslef, it was always in the context of an election campaign. Few wrote that the Mueller investigation was a “dirt” seeking operation (though in truth it was). But it’s always “dirt on Joe Biden” that the Ukraine was allegedly asked/forced/extorted into looking for. When Jeffrey Epstein was being investigated, nobody said the FBI was seeking to smear him with “dirt,” because news sources accepted that an investigation was appropriate.

Yet there are many reasons and strong evidence suggesting that an investigation of Joe Biden’s alleged machinations to benefit his son by abusing his office and misusing his influence was (and is) also appropriate. The United States should not just shrug off corruption in its highest offices because a complicit individual is running for President, but that is the thrust of the current impeachment push by House Democrats. For the media to intentionally choose terminology—and slang, which is usually not in a newspaper style-book— to lead readers away from the argument that an investigation of Joe Biden was necessary and valid whether he was running for President or not shows a disturbing disinterest in fair reporting, and a preference for anti-Trump propaganda. Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Catch-Up, 6/22/2019: “The Rifleman” Whiffs. A Paralegal Spills, The Commies Like Democrats, But Students Hate Pioneers

I am so, so far behind, both here on Ethics Alarms, and elsewhere, like prepping for some upcoming seminars, writing new programs, and trying to get the business and home budgets to work. Last week involved the car dying, getting a new one, enduring a six hour, 17 inning loss by the Red Sox, some lingering new computer glitches, and a major video shoot for which I had to write and refine the script, acquire the props and costumes, and rehearse the actors, then assist the team of seven who handled the shoot itself, all while being sick, and progressively exhausted. (This project would not have all happened without the brilliant and tireless work of my business partner and love of my life, Grace.)

Ethics Alarms was lower on the priority list this week than I would have liked it to have been. I’m sorry.

1. “The Rifleman” Ethics: As I have mentioned here before, “The Rifleman,” the 30 minute TV Western drama, starring Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain that ran from 1959-1962, was all about ethics, with almost every episode teaching an ethics lesson to the Rifleman’s son Mark, played by the charming juvenile actor Johnny Crawford.  I just watched an episode from the show’s final season that I hadn’t seen before. Guest-starring Mark Goddard (best known as the hot-headed young co-pilot in the original “Lost in Space” on ABC), the story involved a charismatic young huckster whom Mark admires but his father distrusts. This causes rare friction between father and son. Eventually, Lucas is proven right: the young man is a liar and a crook who was taking advantage of Mark’s guilelessness.

Mark shamefully but manfully tells his father, “I apologize for being wrong.”

NO! One shouldn’t apologize for being wrong. One  has an obligation to apologize for doing wrong, which includes making a bad decision because of laziness, carelessness, poor reasoning, inadequate analysis, or through some other failing. There is no shame or blame in being wrong in the kind of situation laid out in the episode, however.

Until the final moments, the audience couldn’t tell whether this would be one of the episodes where Chuck screws up, with the lesson to Mark being, “Jumping to conclusions and judging strangers harshly before you know anything about them is unfair, Mark. You were right. I’m proud of you.”

In fact, after Mark apologized, I expected his father to come back with exactly what I just wrote. This was moral luck: Mark had nothing to apologize for.

Boy, I’m never going to catch up if  I let issues jump in line like that… Continue reading