The photo above was taken in a Plains state elementary school in the early 1950s, and depicts a cow-milking exercise. It is, obviously, one of those “Oops!” unfortunate—but funny!—shots that ended up in a local newspaper somewhere because nobody noticed the problem until it was too late.
A Facebook friend posted it on the social media platform for “a chuckle”, and it was clear that the reaction was…restrained.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is tougher than it may seem…
Is posting that photo unethical, as it will be legitimately offensive to some, or is it innocently funny, and only objectionable to the political correctness scolds?
I thought it was funny when I saw it. I also thought my friend would get a fair amount of flack. But the more I think about the factors involved, the more uncertain I am of the answer to the quiz question…
- Is posting the photo in a public forum a Golden Rule breach? Obviously the photo embarrasses the teacher who, as my freind wrote, “probably wishes she had been standing for the photo.” My friend, however, was a professional performer, in a field where being able to laugh at moments that would humiliate normal people is essential.
- Based on the period of the photo, it is certain that the teacher by now must be either dead or too old to care about an old newspaper clipping. Does that take the Golden Rule off the table.
- It is more likely that the children shown might be embarrassed by the photo, or were when it was originally published. Does that matter? Was showing it more unethical then than now, when parents (unethically, even though “everybody does it”) post videos of their children in embarrassing (but funny!) situations constantly?
- Some people thought the photo was very funny, and appreciated seeing it. It brightened their day! Is that enough to make showing the picture ethical? What formula should we use to determine whether utilitarian analysis justifies an action where the benefits are tangible and the “harm” is ephemeral? If the photo brightened one viewer’s day, isn’t that enough?
- One critic of the photo sniffed, “Photoshopped!” If so, and I note that there is always someone who will try to discredit any photo they object to as photoshopped whether it was or not, does it matter to the question at hand. If it’s funny, it’s funny. Or, since it is theoretically funnier if genuine, does being photoshopped change the utilitarian analysis? Should it?
- Can showing the photo be justified as a social statement and attempt at a course correction, echoing the common lament that the culture is becoming humor adverse thanks to woke-poisoning, and it is a serious problem?