Ethics Quiz: That Peloton Commercial

Hmmmm.

As regular readers here know, I often criticize TV ads for sending unethical messages or endorsing unethical conduct. I have even been accused of being hypersensitive on the subject. With the controversial Peloton commercial above,  I missed it, if there was  an it to miss.

The surprising thing is that a lot of the objections to the ad are coming from the Right. If I had bothered to think about the Peloton commercial, I would have perhaps detected that it was sexist, with a critical husband demanding that his already apparent fit and lovely wife get in better shape, and she dutifully complying. Indeed the Left was annoyed: Yashir Ali, who writes for HuffPo and New York Magazine (and you know what THAT means) captured the spirit of the objections:

Another tweeter wrote, “So sweet. My husband was inspired by the Peloton ad to get me a pair of pants in a child’s medium and a handwritten note that says “Don’t fucking touch me till you can fit into these.”

The Right, however, was equally disdainful. Allahpundit wrote,

The weird part is the … eagerness with which she shows her gratitude. It’s lovely to be grateful for an expensive gift, but she’s *really* grateful and *really, really* wants her husband to know it. It’s not just that she feels compelled to record herself using the bike repeatedly over a span of many months. She looks curiously anxious doing it, even when smiling into the camera. At the end of the clip, when she finally shows him the footage, her eyes are trained on his reaction, seemingly desperate for his approval. Is, um… How do I put this? Is everything okay between these two?

Another conservative wag, Steven Kruiser, wrote, Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/31/2018: “Goodbye 2018, And Good Riddance!” Edition

Happy dying gasps of 2018!

1. Double standards inquiry: Will someone please explain to me why this magazine cover, which made O.J. Simpson blacker than he really is…

 

was universally condemned as racist, and this current cover of New York Times Magazine, making the late Aretha Franklin look like a ravenous rotting zombie from Hell..

…is just an artistic choice? (ARRGHHHHH!!!)

2. And speaking of looks…It is impossible not to notice that TV commercials are increasingly featuring overweight, ordinary-looking actors instead of the impossibly beautiful people who once were the automatic choices to sell products. This is an ethical development for the culture generally, and should help children develop more realistic aspirations regarding their own appearance. Now if only TV dramas would adopt the same inclusive casting policies—a particularly egregious candidate for reform is “law and Order” creator Dick Wolf.  His old series cast one eye-popping beauty after another as the male ADA’s sidekick, and now he is stocking his current NBC line-up of Chicago Med, Chicago Fire, and Chicago PD, with police women, female firefighters and distaff doctors who would be right at home in the pages of Vogue.

3.  More on “Enemies of the People”: Novelist and conservative gadfly Sarah Hoyt has issued a spirited defense—okay, it’s a screed, a rant even— of President Trump’s characterization of the news media, going over ground I have covered (most recently here and here), but with special brio. Read the whole thing— she is mostly right, if a bit hyperbolic and inflammatory—but here are some highlights: Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 11/4/2018 (Part I): Gary Hart’s Prophesy, Media Values, And High School Babylon [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

I’m headed to Boston this afternoon for one of my semi-monthly ethics seminars for new Mass. bar admittees. I have been having bad luck with keeping up on the blog while traveling of late, so I’m going to post a two-part Warm-Up to try to avoid falling too far behind.

1. Maureen Dowd made my head explode with her ridiculous profile of Gary Hart—you know, Donna Rice, “Monkey Business”—so I’m going to rely heavily on Ann Althouse’s analysis which parallels mine. Her head is just more resilient, apparently. [Tangent: I wonder how Ann’s traffic is doing? I have noticed that progressive commenters have virtually disappeared from her blog as well, where a couple of years ago they were equally represented. I don’t consider Althouse a conservative at all: she is relentlessly objective and non-partisan, and mostly serves as the web’s best bullshit detector. She has, however, defended the President against unfair attacks and hypocrisy, and called out the news media for fake news, fake headlines, and bias. That’s asking for a boycott, apparently.) Hart makes this statement:

“If all that stuff had not happened and if I had been elected, there would have been no gulf war. H.W. wouldn’t have been president. W. wouldn’t have been president. Everything would have changed. I don’t say that to aggrandize myself. It’s just, history changed. And that has haunted me for thirty years. I had only one talent and it wasn’t traditional politics — I could see farther ahead than anybody.”

I could write a long essay about this arrogant nonsense with my eyes closed. Ann had the same instant reaction I did: Funny, you weren’t able to foresee that daring reporters to check on your martial virtue would result in your being caught adultery-handed in Clintonesque trysts, you big dummy. (My words, not Ann’s.) And if hindsight is 20-20, hindsight aternate future readings are even better. Gary needs to study Chaos Theory  a bit more closely, and watch that old Star Trek episode. For all he knows, his election would have resulted in the world being taken over by Mole People.

Althouse also flagged the Dowd section where the Queen of Snark writes,

“As we fantasize about a parallel universe, where America is not a joke and our president cares about other human beings, the same questions keep swirling in our heads. What has happened to this country? Can he be stopped? When will it end? How the hell did we get here?”

Wow, Talk about bias making you stupid. To many of us who are at least as smart as Maureen, America is a joke when it embraces open borders and edicts by international organizations, when it warps the Constitution by declaring that men and police can be guilty until proven innocent if a member of a favored group accuses them, and allows a partisan news media to control public opinion. It’s not a very funny joke, though. Some trenchant comments on Ann’s post:

“I don’t know why I’m still surprised by liberals’ inability to do any real soul-searching. You’d think by now, after many hundreds of “how did we get here, why aren’t smart people like me listened to by the stupids?” articles, I’d give up hope that they will ever open their eyes and see what’s right in front of them. But then I remember, I’m a pollyanna. I can’t give up on anybody.”

***

“It would seem obvious to me that Trump does care about human beings, but not the ones Dowd think he should be caring about. And maybe her friends consider America a joke, and maybe that’s why we got were we are..”

***

“Dowd’s perspective is Technocratic. Society needs to be supervised by an educated elite. Democracy is just mob rule that will lead to ruin. But, we have to put on a facade so that the deplorables will accept our edicts. So we do the election thing, but the real rules are set behind the scenes by career bureaucrats. Politicians and the medias’ job is to set the agenda and influence popular opinion towards the “correct” attitudes”

Bingo. Bingo. Bingo. Continue reading

Gay Stereotype Ethics

I admit it: I no longer understand gay stereotypes, or even if they are gay stereotypes anymore. What are the rules, and the ethics, now?

Take Jamie, the newish character in the Progressive insurance commercials, as longtime spokes-character Flo (Stephanie Courtney) approaches late middle age  and viewer fatigue. Everything about Jamie is stereotypically gay, and on top of that, he’s a silly character. (The actor is excellent and funny. Boy, will I be impressed to learn that he is straight. …let’s see…HOLY COW! His name is Jim Cashman, and apparently he IS straight! Wait…then he is deliberately playing a transparently gay man? And making him both funny and goofy? Silly gay characters were standards fair in Hollywood for decades, but the message was that gay men were ridiculous and laughable.

I don’t see how Jamie is any different from the outrageous gay stereotypes that were ridiculing gay men right up until  recently. Like Martin Short, in “Father of the Bride”: Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Harassing McGruff: Oh-Oh…Am I Going Crazy?”

I’m going to post the whole ad at issue again, because it is an essential reference point for context:

My almost entirely serious post about the GEICO ad showing McGruff the Crime Dog being subjected to office harassment based on his appearance and species/race prompted more and more diverse commentary than I expected, and one slam-dunk Comment of the Day, by Zanshin, who has a record of deconstructing oddball Ethics Alarms posts.

Three points:

1. I was not aware that McGruff had starred in anti-bullying videos, and I doubt that any but a tiny fraction of the intended audience for the GEICO commercial is either,

2. Kudos to Zanshin for seeing a connection to The Jehovah Paradox, which I did not. It is not often that I am told that I don’t understand my own inventions, but he makes an excellent argument. I also need to add TJP to the Ethics Alarms list of concepts and special terms, which I had neglected to do.

3. I just saw the ad again, and it still feels to me like GEICO is making light of workplace racism, bullying and harassment, and

Here is Zanshin’s Comment of the Day on the post, Harassing McGruff: Oh-Oh…Am I Going Crazy?:

Jack asked, […] am I just seeing an ethics breach that isn’t there?

My answer, You saw only the unethical part in this commercial because you didn’t have the context to ‘see’ the ethical part in it.

tl/dr

1. McGruff is subjected to cruel bullying and office harassment.

2. Is that an ethics breach? No, not if one understands “The Jehovah Paradox”.

3. In the commercial McGruff doesn’t break character.

4. (At the minimal) the commercial doesn’t go against the teachings of McGruff.

5. The commercial makers should have done a better job in making the teachings of McGruff more explicit.
(But maybe couldn’t given intellectual property/licensing issues?)

Let me explain. Continue reading

Harassing McGruff: Oh-Oh…Am I Going Crazy?

Being an ethicist, especially a blogging ethicist, has its disadvantages. One bad one is that your ethics alarms are tuned to be so sensitive that you see, or think you see, ethics issues in just about everything. Now I think I just may have crossed the line into ethics-hypersensitivity madness, or EHM.

That GEICO commercial above really, really bothers me, and apparently I am the only one.

What is looks like to me, and did from the very first time I saw it, is cruel bullying and office harassment. Despite the stated gag in the ad, this isn’t human beings talking “baby-talk” to a dog. The ad depicts co-workers being deliberately cruel to a colleague because of his appearance, and arguably his race. (McGruff isn’t a dog; he’s a “Goofy,” one of the strange dog-headed animated human mutants most prominently represented by Disney’s slapstick star. Pluto, as made quite clear by the kids in “Stand By Me,” is the dog..)

I find it incredible that GEICO would put out a TV ad that makes a joke about bigotry and workplace harassment now, of all times. How is that funny? Poor McGruff is trying to do his job, and his entire office refuses to take him seriously because he has a dog-face. They humiliate him. They show they don’t respect him. They gang up on him. And GEICO’s announcer just calls it “surprising,” meaning “hilarious.”

I don’t find someone being made to feel like they are being relegated to the role of an office joke as hilarious. We are watching a classic hostile work environment scenario, and GEICO is telling us that it’s funny. Doesn’t that inform children that this kind of peer bullying and denigration is OK, indeed fun? Why doesn’t it? Because McGruff is a ‘toon?” Why isn’t that tantamount to racism? Because of how he looks? If there was a comedy scene in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” where Jessica Rabbit was mercilessly ridiculed and hazed because of her body, would that have been all right? Why isn’t the depicted treatment of McGruff the Crime Dog the equivalent of making relentless comments about a co-worker’s unusually large breasts, or weight?

Or am I just seeing an ethics breach that isn’t there? Go ahead, you can tell me. I can take it.

From The Scary Tales Of The Cognitive Dissonance Scale Files: The Ram Trucks Super Bowl Commercial

Perhaps more than any other field of endeavor, advertising depends on the Secret of the Cognitive Dissonance Scale. But the scale abused is a jealous and angry mistress, as Chrysler/ Fiat discovered when its Super Bowl for Ram Trucks turned into a public relations disaster.

It must have seemed so simple! Brainstorming about how to promote Ram Trucks while appealing to a divided the country during the iconic NFL game, after a year in which pro football in particular was torn by strife over players, mostly black, kneeling during the National Anthem to protest something or other, depending on which helmeted social justice warrior you asked, some rising, present-day Mad Man, cynical to the core, drew Dr. Festinger’s scale on a white board as he shouted, “Eureka!”

“It’s perfect!” the fuzzy cheeked, rising young advertising genius cried, marking the diagram with the red marker. “I know how we drag our truck up the scale!”

“Ram is a powerful truck and a symbol of toxic manhood, when everyone’s talking about how men, and especially white men, are the source of all that’s rotten in Denmark! Well, not Denmark, but here. You know what I mean. Anyway, for some of our clients we’ve been using little, scrawny, androgynous guys as spokesmen, like the geek Lou dreamed up for Petsmart.

 

He’s not scary, and you know he must be a Hillary voter. But come on: this dork probably drives a Smartcar. We can’t use someone like him to promote a truck. No, Fred, we can’t use a sexy female model, either, like we used to. Sexy models are now below zero on the scale. They’d pull our trucks DOWN. Oh, a lot of men would still secretly love this stuff like we used to do,

but now  their girl friends or wives or daughters would glare at them, and getting flack from women in the family is LOW on the scale. So sex is out. Sorry.

Now, the Petsmart geek does have a dog with him. Dogs are high on the scale, as we all know: Ralph, you were the one came up the ad with the Golden Retriever driving the Subaru, right?

 

Gold! But come on: kids and dogs have been done to death in Super Bowl ads. There will probably be all sorts of cute dog ads during the Super Bowl; there always are. [ Actually, there weren’t…]  So think: we want a man’s voice, a manly man, but one that doesn’t scream white male patriarchy or Harvey Weinstein.  We want someone the fans of those National Anthem protests and Black Lives Matter will have high on their Cognitive Dissonance Scale, so associating Ram Trucks with him will yank the trucks right up. We also want someone  the fans who were getting sick of political grandstanding when they wanted to watch a football game also admire, someone who knew how and why to protest. And, at the same time, we want Ram to look socially conscious—you know, “woke.”

One figure, and only one, will do all that, from a position so high on the scale that we can’t lose! Martin Luther King! Heck, all of those blue collar workers just got a day off because of the guy; it’s fresh on their minds. They love him! A day-off pulls MLK right up the scale himself!

And look: I did some googling, and found this from some speech he gave: “If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. … By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great. … You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know the theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

Great stuff, right? There’s “greatness: for the MAGA crowd, and “love,” which is Scale magic, and we can fill the ad with heartwarming scenes—with kids!

—all leading up to our Dodge Trucks theme, ‘Ram trucks are built to serve‘!

The cheering in the meeting room was deafening.

Morons.

Today, that once rising ad exec starts his new job at Taco Bell.

Martin Luther King didn’t pull Dodge Trucks up the scale. Cynical exploitation of a civil rights icon and turning a black martyr into Morgan Freeman’s competition as a rival pitch man (Morgan was doing Mountain Dew) is so low on the Cognitive Dissonance Scale that it pulled the product’s rating right through the floor.

This is rank incompetence. If you are going to try to exploit the image and words of a dead hero, at least learn something about him. At the time of his death, King was getting ready to make a push for socialist reforms, which meant attacking capitalism. You also should read the whole speech you are cherry picking from; you can bet someone else will. Here’s a section from that same speech:

“…we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. … I got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car. … I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America.”

This means that using King’s voice and words to appear to endorse a truck ad seen by millions is a lie.

The King family’s greed and poor stewardship of King’s image also shares some of the blame for the fiasco. The King Center quickly went on  Twitter to say that neither the organization nor the Rev. Bernice King, one of Dr. King’s daughters, was responsible for approving the offensive Super Bowl commercial. That’s not exactly true. Eric D. Tidwell, the managing director of Intellectual Properties Management, the licenser for the estate, said that Ram, as it must, came to them for permission to use King’s name, voice and words. “Once the final creative was presented for approval, it was reviewed to ensure it met our standard integrity clearances,” he said in a statement. “We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others.”

Obviously the King family did not take proper steps to ensure that those who handle the family profit center depending on commercial uses of Dr. King’s legacy understand the difference between embodying Dr. King’s philosophy and cynically distorting it to sell stuff. Intellectual Properties Management is paid to take the PR hit, but I’d be willing to bet that such a high profile use of King was approved by the family itself. After all, King isn’t pulled down the scale by a foolish commercial. The controversy might even help King’s image, by sending people to read the speech. Maybe the King family knew the commercial would burn Ram, but was willing to take their fee and watch the fun, as the Cognitive Dissonance Scale wreaked its terrible vengeance on those who would abuse its power.