Wednesday, November 15, 2017

To Do Right

Millions of Americans have, in recent weeks, discovered that their favorite movies and shows were made by men now accused of sexual assault or harassment. This presents a dilemma for those who would prefer to watch art by people who haven’t built their careers on the sexual exploitation of those around them. But how can moviegoers avoid supporting such institutions and individuals?
Is There Any Way to Be an Ethical Moviegoer in the Post-Weinstein Era?
That's easy. Make your own movies and television shows.

Because in the long run, if your ethics demand that your never support anyone who's done something that you find reprehensible, you're going to start having to do a lot of things yourself. Consider it a corollary to "If you want something done right..." If you want something done by someone who has never done anything you have ethical qualms with, well, sometimes, maybe even doing yourself won't cut it, but it's likely to be as close as you'll ever get. Because, for the most part, other people's lives are invisible to us. The surveillance apparatus that would be needed to ensure that the people who make the goods and services we use would be pretty much unacceptable to anyone who would have to live under it, and to a lot of people who wouldn't.

And pretty soon, the compromises would have to begin. Kevin Spacey has effectively had his career ended by a single drunken incident of propositioning an underage young man way back in the day. Not a trivial offense to be sure, but also, unlikely to be the worst thing that the people who run the businesses that supply us have done. There are likely much worse crimes hiding in the broad expanse of the corporate world. Given the rate at which new accusations of sexual misconduct come out, it's likely a very safe bet that some of the money that each of us is spending on a day-to-day basis is going into the pockets of someone who, were their life a completely open book, would have faced felony charges for something at some point along the way. There comes a point where "innocent until accused" may be a practical stance to take, but hardly an accurate one.

I think that part of the problem that society faces in looking for ranks of people with clean hands to run the world is that bad behavior isn't the exception. It's the rule. And it's the rule in part because there isn't a single objective standard of bad behavior. A decade or so ago, here in the Seattle area, a young entrepreneur managed to stir up a teapot tempest with a wonky scheme that came to be known as "bumvertising(" At it's core, it was simply a means of getting a message out by paying panhandlers a small amount to display a corporate message alongside their own. But for advocates for the poor and homeless, it was travesty. Bad enough that one wouldn't want to support any business that engaged in it? For some people yes, for others, not so much. And it's that subjectivity that means that businesses are going to have to be selective about who they appease and who they decide to ignore.

But bad behavior, I've come to think, is also the rule because behaving well often means doing without. Up and down the scale. One thing that I've noticed coming to the fore over the years is a greater focus on the idea that more of us than are willing to admit to it are living in poverty. And that mindset of deprivation is catching on. And I'd be willing to bet that some combination of "I want this," "I need this" and "I deserve this" is at the core of the vast majority of ethical compromises, small and large, that people make, whether or not the rest of us really understand what drives a given person to want, need or feel they deserve whatever it turns out to be. And this isn't to say that all transgressions are the same - it's to point out that our broader society, despite the fact that it often preaches doing without rather than doing wrong, does a really poor job of actually instilling that value in people.

And so, in the end, it's highly unlikely that the people who have risen to the top of the food chain are going to be the ethical paragons that people might want them to be. Few people anywhere else in the food chain would manage it, either.

No comments: