I think I’m going to feature “Jingle Bells” here every day until New Years. Here’s a version by that infamous slavery fan, Nat King Cole:
December 29 is one of the bad ethics dates: the U.S. Cavalry massacred 146 Sioux men, women and children at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota on this date in 1890. Seven Hundred and twenty years earlier, four knights murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket as he knelt in prayer in Canterbury Cathedral in England. According to legend, King Henry II of England never directly ordered the assassination, but expressed his desire to see someone ‘”rid” him of the “troublesome priest” to no one in particular, in an infamous outburst that was interpreted by the knights as an expression of royal will. In ethics, that episode is often used to demonstrate how leaders do not have to expressly order misconduct by subordinates to be responsible for it.
1. I promise: my last “I told you so” of the year. I’m sorry, but I occasionally have to yield to the urge to myself on the back for Ethics Alarms being ahead of the pack, as it often is. “West Side Story” is officially a bomb, despite progressive film reviewers calling it brilliant and the Oscars lining up to give it awards. What a surprise—Hispanic audiences didn’t want to watch self-conscious woke pandering in self-consciously sensitive new screenplay by Tony Kushner, English-speaking audiences didn’t want to sit through long, un-subtitled Spanish language dialogue Spielberg put in because, he said, he wanted to treat the two languages as “equal”—which they are not, in this country, and nobody needed to see a new version of a musical that wasn’t especially popular even back when normal people liked musicals. The New Yorker has an excellent review that covers most of the problem. Two years ago, I wrote,
There is going to be a new film version of “West Side Story,” apparently to have one that doesn’t involve casting Russian-Americans (Natalie Wood) and Greek-Americans (George Chakiris) as Puerto Ricans. Of course, it’s OK for a white character to undergo a gender and nationality change because shut-up. This is, I believe, a doomed project, much as the remakes of “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments” were doomed. Remaking a film that won ten Oscars is a fool’s errand. So is making any movie musical in an era when the genre is seen as silly and nerdy by a large proportion of the movie-going audience, especially one that requires watching ballet-dancing street gangs without giggling. Steven Spielberg, who accepted this challenge, must have lost his mind. Ah, but apparently wokeness, not art or profit, is the main goal.
Not for the first time, people could have saved a lot of money and embarrassment if they just read Ethics Alarms….
If you read Ethics Alarms often, you know about my objections to euphemisms, which I also call “cover words” since their intent is to deceive readers and listeners about the real nature of what is being discussed. My ethical objections to using “cover words” for words that are considered taboo in various settings follows similar lines, except those cover words don’t fool anyone, and thus are not just efforts to deceive, but silly and insulting efforts. If “f-word means “fuck” and everyone knows it means “fuck,” then it’s ridiculous not to just say “fuck.” The same, of course, goes for “n-word.” When we discuss that word here, we use the word. There are no “banned words” under the First Amendment, and I don’t grant anyone the right to tell me what words I can use to express what I want to express when those are the best words to express them..
Civility is, as a cornerstone of the ethical value of respect, important to societal comity. In dramatic works and literature, however, civility isn’t the issue: ideas, emotion and expression are. The bleeping out of “bad words” or shoving mild substitutes into the actors’ mouths on television constitute artistic vandalism; it’s less common now, but still happens too often. The archaic practice is offensive and insults the audience’s intelligence: the first time I hear a character in a film say “Forget you!,” I turn the channel.
Movies, we all know, stopped worrying about such delicate matters decades ago, and let TV stations worry about their language (and sex scenes, and graphic violence) later. Imagine my surprise, then, to hear Steven Spielberg’s redo of the 1961 “West Side Story” movie begin with the same version of “The Jets Song” that was required by the prevailing stage language requirements of the 1950s. The new, updated, woke-minded, spruced up musical with re-written dialogue still starts with the teen-aged, switchblade-carrying gang of punks singing,
In my opinion, it would’ve been better if Spielberg had just left the original 1961 film version of West Side Story alone and created his own film with a similar theme, an homage to WSS, instead of trying to update and remake it.
I have seen pictures of the cast, examples of Justin Peck’s choreography of the dancing, and the scenery settings, and how colorful they all are. I don’t like what I’ve seen, at all.The backdrop scenes look far more like wealthier, tonier parts of the city, as opposed to the impoverished, rough-and-rundown parts of the city that served as a backdrop in the original. The colors are too jarring.
The Jets, the Sharks and their girls in Spielberg’s reboot/remake of the film “West Side Story” look far more like wealthy suburban prep-school kids who are dressed to the nines for partying all over town than two street gangs who are at war with each other. The Jets, the Sharks and their girls in the original 1961 film version of “West Side Story” look way rougher and tougher than the ones in Spielberg’s movie.
Justin Peck’s choreography looks too hyper, and more like hip-hop or rap dancing. I’ve seen pictures of that. Simon Oakland’s Lt. Schrank, William Bramley’s Officer Krupke, and the late Ned Glass’s Candy Store owner, Doc, also look rougher than Spielberg’s Lt. Schrank, Officer Krupke and “Doc,’ who has been given a sex change in the new script. [JAM: This was a gimmick to get Rita Moreno, the original film Anita, into the movie] Continue reading →
There has to be a one word summary for this. “Ha!” “Duh”? “Yecchh!” “Wha?”
There is going to be a new film version of “West Side Story,” apparently to have one that doesn’t involve casting Russian-Americans (Natalie Wood) and Greek-Americans (George Chakiris) as Puerto Ricans. Of course, it’s OK for a white character to undergo a gender and nationality change because shut-up. This is, I believe, a doomed project, much as the remakes of “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments” were doomed. Remaking a film that won ten Oscars is a fool’s errand. So is making any movie musical in an era when the genre is seen as silly and nerdy by a large proportion of the movie-going audience, especially one that requires watching ballet-dancing street gangs without giggling. Steven Spielberg, who accepted this challenge, must have lost his mind.
Ah, but apparently wokeness, not art or profit, is the main goal.
“When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors. I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community,” said Spielberg. “I am in awe of the sheer force of the talent of these young performers, and I believe they’ll bring a new and electrifying energy to a magnificent musical that’s more relevant than ever.”
Maria will be played by 17-year old New Jersey High School student Rachel Zegler, making her film debut opposite Ansel Elgort as Tony. The Sharks will be played by Ariana DeBose as Anita, David Alvarez as Bernardo, and Josh Andrés Rivera has been cast as Chino. The 1962 film’s Anita, Rita Moreno, is now playing what was the white, non-Hispanic, male role of Doc, now renamed and re-sexed.
Bravo to George Mason law prof. David Bernstein, for this deft take-down: Continue reading →
Marni Nixon died last month at 86, and I have been intending to write about her ever since. An accomplished soprano with perfect pitch and a rare gift for mimicry, Nixon secretly dubbed in the songs for Deborah Kerr as Anna in “The King and I,” Natalie Wood as Maria in “West Side Story” and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady,” three of the most successful and honored Hollywood adaptations of Broadway musicals. In doing so she was assisting in the perpetration of a fraud on critics and audiences, but one that had, and indeed has, some legitimate ethical arguments, and rationalizations too, to justify it. Why is using a stunt singer any more dishonest than using a stunt man? Isn’t film about making the audience accept illusions in pursuit of art? If an audience member will be more likely to enjoy a film thinking that a major star can really sing, why is it wrong to make it possible for them to believe that, at least for a while?
The reasoning would have more power if long before Marnie did her secret singing Hollywood hadn’t already made a classic musical, “Singin’ in the Rain,” that pronounced the practice fraudulent. Marni Nixon was a real life Cathy Seldon, the Debbie Reynolds contract player forced to supply the singing and speaking voice for a talentless silent film superstar, Lina Lamont, whose real voice would make dogs run for refuge and men claw off their ears, and whose continued status as a money-making asset for the studio depended on making her successful in talkies.
Ironically, even “Singin’ in the Rain” engaged in the same fraud it was ridiculing. Debbie Reynolds was a competent singer, but a richer, more mature voice was needed to match the image of Jean Hagen, the terrific comic actress playing Lina. So when Debbie was shown secretly replacing Lina’s nightmarish singing voice with her own, another singer was secretly used, uncredited, to dub Debbie. Her voice fit Lina perfectly, because the voice put in Debbie’s mouth while she was supposedly putting her voice into Lina’s was the real voice of… Jean Hagen. Continue reading →
At what point did the Obama Administration become immune to recognizing the ridiculous?
In its ongoing effort to make criminals and felons a Democratic voting bloc, the Obama Administration has rechristened them “justice-involved individuals.” Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason was the designated messenger for this official effort to make criminals respectable by creative terminology. In The Washington Post, she explained that “many of the formerly incarcerated men, women, and young people I talk with say that no punishment is harsher than being permanently branded a ‘felon’ or ‘offender.’”
Don’t break the law, then. It’s always unpleasant being called what you have allowed yourself to become, and having to avoid that fate is an important element of deterrence.
I heard about this and—I swear—I thought it was a joke. How addled by rainbows and unicorns does a mind have to be to hear a proposed euphemism like this and not react by pointing, laughing, and firing?
To begin with, it’s an inept and ambiguous euphemism that doesn’t effectively distinguish what it is supposed to describe. I’m lawyer; I’m a justice-involved individual. Judges, juries and police officers are justice-involved individuals. Criminals, in contrast, are justice-adverse individuals. Criminals and felons are clear words and concepts. “Justice-involved individuals,” in contrast, hides the truth. That’s what cover-phrases like that are supposed to do. They make deception and counter-factual policy-making easier.
Why does the administration, Democrats, Obama, social justice warriors, wackos—who IS responsible for this?—want to make criminals seem like innocent bystanders in their own criminal activities? Here’s is section from a DOE publication that is part of the roll-out of this latest Obama foray into Orwellian Newspeak: Continue reading →
Northern Virginia’s most acclaimed and honored musical theater, Signature Theater (not to be confused with also well-honored NYC regional theater of the same name) is currently presenting “West Side Story.” A feature article about the sold-out production noted the fact that the show’s marketing prominently features dancer Gustavo Ribeiro, a former member of the Washington Ballet’s Studio Company, whose career has been soaring of late, just like the photo of him mid-air that has appeared in Signature’s season announcement, show posters, program covers and in “West Side Story” reviews and features.
In addition to inducing potential audience members to believe this superb dancer is featured in the show, the fact that he is apparently Latino creates the assumption, suggests the article’s author, that members of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks, are played by Hispanic actors.
They are not. Neither is Ribeiro in the show his image advertises. Nor, I strongly suspect, are any dancers of his caliber.
For your first Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of 2016, I ask you:
Stephen Sondheim’s “Finishing the Hat” is a fascinating reflection on a remarkable career and the craft of making musicals by the greatest living master of the form. In the course of recounting his formative years, triumphs, failures, and duels with producers, authors and composers, Sondheim also critiques the lyrics of his predecessors, contemporaries and role models—as long as they are dead. In a nod to gentility or cowardice, the only living lyricist he subjects to his expert critiques is himself.
Sondheim is a tough judge, as one might expect from a composer/lyricist who meticulously measures each vowel sound and stressed syllable for maximum effect. He is also, by virtue of both his reputation and technical expertise, an influential one. The lyricists he grades highly in the book, such as Frank Loesser, Cole Porter and Dorothy Fields, are likely to have their reputations burnished by his praise, and those he slams, like Lorenz Hart and Noel Coward, will suffer by comparison. Because of this, Sondheim had an obligation, as a respected expert in his field, to make each case carefully and fairly. To his credit, Sondheim seems to recognize this, and all of his critical discussions of an individual lyricist’s style and quirks include specific examples and careful analysis. We may disagree with Sondheim as a matter of personal taste, but it is difficult to argue with his specific points, because they are backed up by examples, technical theory, and the weight of his authority.
It is therefore surprising and disappointing to see Stephen Sondheim slide into expert malpractice when he undertakes, clearly half-heartedly, a critique of the lyrics of W.S. Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. Continue reading →