Ethics Quiz: Dr. Phil, Shelley Duvall, And Exploitation

shelley-duvall

A 30-second promotional clip for today’s episode of “Dr. Phil” is disturbing, beyond question. It shows Shelley Duvall, from “The Shining,” “Popeye,” “Nashville” and other well-known films talking to the fake doctor about her mental illness.The syndicated advice show’s promo shows Duvall, almost unrecognizable, talking about how her “Popeye” co-star, the late Robin Williams, is alive and “shape-shifting.” She says she is being threatened by Robin Hood’s Sheriff of Nottingham, and that a “whirring disc” is inside her.

The ad ends with Duvall, 67, telling Phil McGraw, “I’m very sick. I need help.”

She certainly sounded like it, and looked like it too.

Now Dr. Phil is being criticized for exploiting a vulnerable mentally ill woman for her audience drawing powers. The daughter of Stanley Kubrick, who directed Duvall in her most famous role as Jack Nicholson’s terrorized wife in “The Shining,” is leading the charge. Vivian Kubrick called for a boycott of the popular daytime program, tweeting, “You are putting Shelley Duvall ‘on show’ while she is suffering from a pitiable state of ill health. Unquestionably, this is purely a form of lurid and exploitative entertainment — it’s appallingly cruel.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is it unethical for “Dr. Phil” to feature Shelley Duvall this way?

Continue reading

A Young Ex-Actress Is In Crisis: Is The Media Capable Of Kindness? Are We?

Yesterday I flagged an independent film, a black satire, that tells the tale of a decent man who is sent into a homicidal rampage when the cruelty of the culture and especially the media overcomes him. I’m not to that point—yet—but the callousness of the national media in response to what it feels is consumer demand is oppressive.

I am going to omit names, graphics or links here, because I do not want to feed the phenomenon I am decrying. Continue reading

Are “Freak Shows” Unethical? Because They Are Back.

Abigail and Brittany Hensel: Who’s exploiting who?

Circus and carnival sideshows were banned by law and ordinance over half a century ago. Silly me: I remember hearing about that as a child and assuming that it represented human progress, that civilized Americans had decided that it was degrading to both the “human oddities” displaying themselves to gawking onlookers and the gawking onlookers themselves, and that we were better than that. The ethical attitude toward people with deformities, strange maladies and unusual physical characteristics was compassion, acceptance, kindness, and treatment as equals, not voyeuristic ogling. It made sense at the time.

Of course, as a child I had yet to experience the full oppression of political correctness. The sideshows were banned because the people who had no interest in them felt that they could dictate conduct to the people who did, and that it was also somehow virtuous to forbid the human exhibits from making a living—for their own good, of course. It is certainly time to repeal those bans, which were of dubious constitutionality anyway, since the freak shows that were deemed unhealthy and degrading on the carnival circuit are now openly thriving on television, making more money and being seen by more Americans than P.T. Barnum could have imagined in his wildest dreams. The original question remains, however: Are they ethical? Continue reading

The MacDonald’s Beating Video, Another Dead Canary in The Ethics Mine

Vernon Hacket: videographer, violence afficianado, shameless bystander

Last week, In the early hours of  April 18,two teenaged patrons at a Rosedale, Maryland MacDonald’s brutally beat Chrissy Lee Polis, 22, into a seizure. The attack was captured on a video recorded by Vernon Hackett, one of the MacDonald’s workers, on a cellphone camera. Other employees can be heard laughing on the video, and Hackett apparently is heard warning the attackers that the police are coming. He has been fired by the restaurant’s proprietor.  (More on this here.)

His firing was well-deserved, but it doesn’t begin to address the disturbing implications of the incident. Continue reading

Consenting To Be Beaten

Bought and paid for.

Ethics Alarms has frequently used the analogy of a drunk paid by cruel bar patrons to dance for their entertainment as an example of how using money to persuade a desperate, impaired or foolish individual to allow himself to endure humiliation or harm is still unethical and cruel, despite the supposed “consent” of the victim. PETA’s attempt to pay Nadya Suleman, a.k.a. “Octomom” was recently cited in this context in the post about painting homes as billboards. Now, from St. Petersburg, Florida comes an even more horrible example. Shefights.net, a locally operated website that sells videos (for up to $900) of scantily clad or semi-nude women beating up men, has been paying homeless men, drug addicts and street alcoholics $50 for submitting to  12-minute videotaped beatings by attractive females. Continue reading

Self-Destruction Ethics Alarms: A Woman’s Unethical Quest For Fat

Yesterday, the world heard about Donna Simpson, a New Jersey woman who weighs in at about 500 pounds. She sasy she wants to be the fattest woman alive, and is managing her diet and exercise to achieve that lofty goal. Of course, all those Twinkies and pork rinds cost a lot of money—her weekly grocery bill averages more than $800—so she earns extra cash by putting herself on Gluttoncam, or whatever she calls it, where freakophiles can watch her gorge herself online for a reasonable fee. Her partner, the news reports say, is completely supportive. “I think he’d like it if I was bigger,” giggles Donna. “He’s a real belly man and completely supports me.”

Okaaaaay….

Obviously this situation is unusual…at least, I hope it is. Still, it raises many difficult ethics questions, some with broad implications:

  • We are told that it is cruel, greedy and heartless for insurance companies to withhold coverage for “pre-existing conditions,” and should be compelled to insure everyone without regard to special risks. Does this apply to Donna Simpson? Continue reading