When Debbie Reynolds Took A Stand

Some readers were offended that I noted in a comment here that Debbie Reynolds characteristically upstaged her daughter by dying a day after Carrie Fisher, again stealing the spotlight from her daughter. Sorry about that—but it’s true. For most of her life, Reynolds was less than comfortable when she didn’t feel an audience watching her, as Fisher herself complained in her semi-autobiographical novel, “Postcards from the Edge.” Debbie Reynolds shared the life-defining neurosis of many performers: she was happiest when she was being herself for the world to see. Debbie, in fact, was an extreme version of this model. Most such performers are miserable, and recognizably so, when they aren’t performing. Reynolds appeared not to acknowledge that there was a world off-screen.

In “The Unsinkable Debbie Reynolds,” an excellent appreciation of her career today in the New York Times (another good one is this, in “Variety,”and the Times obituary is here.), Anita Gates confirms my assessment. It was hardly a difficult one, for Reynolds radiated her love of performing in everything she did. Here are some excerpts (do read the whole essay), as Gates begins by doubting that we will ever see a show business figure like Debbie Reynolds again in our increasingly cynical culture:

“Who’ll be as plucky? Who’ll work as hard to stay as morally pure? Who the hell is gonna be named Debbie? …We’ve all been happy to be at the movies. She always seemed happy to be in the movies. She never ceased to be thrilled to be herself. Ms. Reynolds, who died Wednesday, didn’t so much act as sell — she sold happiness, she sold pragmatic romance, she sold professional stardom…Ms. Reynolds was, as they say, a trouper. So she did what came naturally to her: She trouped… Ms. Reynolds embraced virtue. She was the least ostensibly neurotic of her peers — a class that included Shirley MacLaine and Doris Day. The movie titles got a lot of that anti-anxious decency across. She played “The Singing Nun,” for heaven’s sake. But she also starred in the 1964 musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” a title whose adjective best explains the full Debbie Reynolds experience: maximum buoyancy…”

When a time came to take a public stand on principle, however, Debbie Reynolds proved that she had her priorities straight. Continue reading

A Proposed Guide To Spoiler Ethics

"It SINKS??? You spoiled the ending!!!"

“It SINKS??? You spoiled the ending!!!”

I was just admonished on Facebook by a friend (a real friend, not just the Facebook variety), for referencing the end of the last episode of Season One of “Orange is the New Black.”  He hadn’t finished viewing the season yet, and this was a breach of spoiler ethics. Or was it?

Ever since I encountered for real someone who was angry with me for “spoiling” the end of “Thirteen Days,” ( “Yes, World War III started and everybody died”), I have been dubious about spoiler etiquette. The advent of DVDs and Netflix has made this all the more annoying. If I’m in a group of five, and one individual hasn’t kept up with “House of Cards,” are the rest of us obligated to censor our discussion? As a devotee and fanatic devourer of popular culture, I admit that my first instinct is to say, “Keep up, get literate, or pay the price.” If I actually live by that rule, however, I will be a walking, talking, writing, spoiler machine.

Chuck Klosterman, “The Ethicist” in the world of the New York Times, recently pronounced himself an anti-spoiler absolutist:

“I’m an anti-spoiler fascist. I don’t believe that any conversation, review or sardonic tweet about a given TV show is more valuable than protecting an individual’s opportunity to experience the episode itself (and to watch it within the context for which it was designed). I’ve never heard a pro-spoiler argument that wasn’t fundamentally absurd.”

Even Klosterman, however, excepted sporting events (the question posed involved mentioning World Cup scores to a friend who was annoyed that the game had been “spoiled” for him) from his fascism, writing, reasonably:

“I must concede that live, unrehearsed events are not subject to “spoiler” embargoes A live event is a form of breaking news. It’s not just entertainment; it’s the first imprint of living history. …Because this guy is your buddy, you might want to avoid discussing the games’ outcomes out of common courtesy — but not out of any moral obligation. It’s his own responsibility to keep himself in the dark about current events.”

For once I agree with Chuck. But what are reasonable ethics rules for dealing with the other kind of spoiler, involving literature and entertainment?

Luckily, this is not new territory, though it is evolving territory. The underlying ethical principles include fairness, trust, consideration, compassion, and empathy, which means that the Golden Rule is also involved.

Back in 2010, an erudite blogger calling himself The Reading Ape proposed a draft “Guide to Responsible Spoiling.” That blog is defunct; the promised successor is not around, and so far, I haven’t been able to discover who the Ape is. Whoever he is (Oh Aaaaape! Come back, Ape!) , he did a very good job, though some tweeks might  improve his work, especially in light of the emergence of Netflix.  (I have edited it slightly, not substantively…I hope he doesn’t mind, or if he does, that he’s not a big ape.) His approach is to frame the problem as an ethical conflict, in which two competing ethics principles must be balanced. I think that’s right.

Here is his “draft”—what do you think?

“A Brief Guide to Responsible Spoiling”

by The Reading Ape (2010)

The objective is to balance two ethical principles:

I. The Right to Surprise: The inherent right of any viewer or reader to experience the pleasure of not knowing what’s
going to happen next.

II. The Right to Debate: The inherent right of any viewer or reader to engage in public discourse about the content of
a given work of narrative art.

Part 1: When Spoiling is Fair Game

In the following circumstances, one can discuss crucial plot details and reveal endings with a clear conscience. Continue reading

Unethical Essay Of The Month: “Richard Sherman And The Plight Of The Conquering Negro” By Greg Sherman

In case you missed it, being one of the Americans who has decided not to subsidize young men permanently crippling their brains to slake our blood-lust, the NFC Championship game yielded an instant classic moment.  Star Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman first mocked San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree, whom he had just bested, then set a new high for post-game jerkdom when he screamed into the camera during a post-game interview,

“I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get. Don’t you ever talk about me. […] Don’t you open your mouth about the best or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick.”

I understand that the player was excited and jacked-up over his play and his team’s victory, and I assumed that once he calmed down, he would regret bombarding poor Erin Andrews with a macho rant when she asked a straightforward question. Nonetheless, when you act like that on national television, you are going to get criticized no matter who you are or what the justification. (Sherman apologized later.) Ah, but if you are in the white guilt and race-baiting business, even such an open-and-shut case as this becomes fodder for dark pronouncements about America’s racist culture. And so it was that over at the sports site Deadspin, Greg Howard announced that Sherman’s foolishness wasn’t being mocked far and wide because it was rude, arrogant, uncalled for and certifiably strange, but because he is black.

Wrote Howard, in part: Continue reading

Mariska Hargitay and Hugh O’Brian Show How To Use Celebrity Ethically

O'Brien and Hargitay---Good guys on the screen, but more importantly, off it.

O”Brian and Hargitay
Heroes on the screen, but more importantly, off it.

I have left the impression in more than one post that performers and celebrities too often use their fame and finances to garner wide dissemination for opinions that they are unqualified by experience, intellect, maturity and education to have taken more seriously than the rants of a typical 7th grade blogger. That is an accurate observation. Unfortunately, such public figures are taken seriously, so we must listen to Sean Penn sing hosannas to a South American dictator, see Kanye West pronounce a President guilty of wanting see blacks drown in New Orleans, and watch Ann Hathaway protest the existence of rich people with Occupy Wall Street (while collecting her million dollar fees.) Not all celebrities waste their influence and our time on dubious pursuits, however. There are others, and since they are interested in substantive issues and more concerned with accomplishing something than getting publicity, we often don’t know about their work.

George Clooney and Matt Damon are in this group, as is classic TV Western star Hugh O’Brian, better known as “Wyatt Earp.” Since 1958, O’Brian has been funding and building the Hugh O’Brian Youth Foundation, which was founded to “inspire and develop our global community of youth and volunteers to a life dedicated to leadership, service and innovation”  after a meeting between O’Brian and famous humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer. This large and thriving non-profit commonly goes by the name of “HOBY”; one has to search the fine print to find any mention of its once famous founder, now in his eighties.

And then there is Mariska Hargitay. Continue reading

The Fourth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2012 (Part 2)

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The 2012 Ethics Alarms Awards for the Worst in Ethics continues (you can catch up with Part I here , and the Best is here), and yes, it gets worse…

Worst Friend and Relative

Lori Stilley, who faked cancer to get sympathy, favors, parties and money from those who cared about her.

Most Unethical Advice

Emily Yoffe, Slate’s “Dear Prudence,” wins for a year of bad advice in kinky situations, the bottom of the barrel being when she advised a daughter who observed her mother illegally filling out her invalid grandparents’ 2012 absentee ballots to reflect the mother’s electoral preferences to do nothing about this combination of elder abuse and voter fraud.

Shameless Bad Character Division Continue reading

Is Watching A President’s Speech A Civic Duty?

It certainly was regarded as one once. Back in the ancient days when there were just three TV networks and no cable, Americans didn’t even complain that all three would be broadcasting Presidential addresses at once, causing them to miss “Sugarfoot,” “McHale’s Navy,” or “The Gale Storm Show.” Ratings for Presidential speeches have been steadily declining, however, since the advent of cable and satellite TV, and the perpetual campaign mode of recent Presidencies has played a role as well.

I am a American Presidency enthusiast, as if you couldn’t tell, and I feel guilty about skipping President Obama’s address on the economy last night, as I feel guilty every time I re-arrange my sock drawer when POTUS speaks to the nation. That’s been my habit for a long, long time. Yes, I never miss inaugural addresses, and I always watch the State of the Union speech, though that commitment is on life support. The rest? If there is a genuine and immediate crisis, an announcement of war or something similarly earth-shattering, I’ll be in the TV audience. Addresses like last night’s, however—-vaguely political speeches calculated to bolster support, spin bad news or bash the opposition—-those I just can’t tolerate, and haven’t for decades. Continue reading

One More Reason To Defund NPR, or “Boy, Did I Ever Go Into The Wrong Profession!”

The primary reason to end funding for NPR and PBS is that the government shouldn’t be funding competitors of private broadcasting organizations.

The second reason is that anything public broadcasting does that is sufficiently popular and valuable  (“Sesame Street,” “The Prairie Home Companion,” “Car Talk,’ et al.) will be picked up by commercial stations, and those programs that are not should not be underwritten by taxpayer dollars.

The third: NPR’s audience is narrow and affluent, and doesn’t require a public subsidy, particularly when cutting down the budget deficit is a national priority.

Finally, NPR can’t be trusted with public funds. It claims to be objective, but isn’t; it is mismanaged, and isn’t appropriately frugal with taxpayer funds.

This comes under the final category. The salaries of the top NPR talent do not reflect restraint in expending precious resources.  Continue reading

The Doritos Super Bowl Commercial

So obsessed was I with the Tebow Super Bowl ad that I temporarily forgot that there usually are one or more product ads that inflame the culture wars.  Sure enough, this time there were two: Audi’s “Green Police” commercial, which has political implications but no ethical ones that I can see, and the Doritos ad, chosen by post-game polls as one of the best and most popular. That one did raise some ethical issues, recently collected by conservative columnist and radio host Dennis Prager.

The spot begins with an attractive woman greeting a date at the door, and asking him inside as she gets ready to leave. She has a young son, four or five years of age, who is snacking on a bowl of Doritos. We ( and the child) see the male date’s face express some combination of excitement, lust and pleasure at the sight of the woman’s comely derriere as she walks into her bedroom. He then sits on the sofa, smiles at the boy, attempts to make pleasantries, and starts to munch on a Dorito. The child sternly slaps the man across the face, and says to him, menacingly, “Put it back,” referring to afore-mentioned Dorito chip. “Keep your hands off my mama…keep your hands off my Doritos,” he continues to the shocked date, getting nose to nose with him in the process. All the actors in the spot are African Americans.

Television commercials can be culturally damaging and irresponsible if they appear to approve, encourage, or endorse wrongful behavior and attitudes. Was this such an ad? Prager thinks so. Let’s examine his objections individually: Continue reading

“Hard to Watch” Video: Responsible or Not?

Over at the Huntington Post, Jason Linkins praises the edict of NBC News chief Steve Capus to curb network Olympic coverage use of the video showing Nodar Kumaritashvili’s fatal luge run. “I’m glad this decision has been reached,” Linkins writes. “The video of Kumaritashvili’s fatal luge run is difficult to watch and I do not recommend that you do so. …Here’s hoping Steve Capus will remember having made this choice come September and break with MSNBC’s grim and pointless tradition of replaying the events of September 11, 2001 in real time.”

Linkins presumably regards Capus’s decision as “responsible broadcasting.” My question is, “What’s responsible about it?” Continue reading