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Ethos in Hollywood

posted: 2.15.13 by Donna Winchell

You don’t have to watch much television or be particularly attune to the Hollywood scene to notice that this is awards season. Nominees make the rounds of talk shows and parade the red carpet in high-priced fashion shows. An interesting back story to last week’s Grammy Awards was the publicity surrounding the fact that CBS, the network airing the awards ceremony, sent Grammys contacts a memo from its Standards and Practices division requesting that both those to appear on stage  and those in the audience who would appear on camera avoid clothing that revealed buttocks, bare female breasts, female nipples, or the genital region. It turns out that anyone appearing on CBS receives the same memo, including those appearing in Grammy Awards ceremonies for at least the last decade. So, this year’s participants were not being held to higher ethical standards after all, although all of the publicity gave the impression that the Grammys were being asked to clean up their public image, for one evening at least.

The headline about the Grammys “dress code” appeared on alongside a headline drawing attention to  “Celebs who don’t believe in God.” The subtitle of the piece was “These celebrities are leading the atheist movement.” Although there are no specifics about just how Bill Maher, Mark Zuckerberg, Julianne Moore, and Kathy Griffin are doing that, their pictures are featured in the piece, and Maher does call himself “one of America’s most famous atheists.”

Fortunately these pieces that question first celebrities’ modesty and then their religious beliefs—and, yes, all of those about divorces, affairs, alcoholism, drug addiction, and legal problems—are balanced in part by others that point out all the good that those in show business do by virtue of their celebrity, from Sean Penn’s helping out in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to Oprah’s opening a school in Africa. Like all individuals, celebrities present an ethos.

One of the biggest blockbusters this year, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, has raised ethical issues that may have prevented her being nominated for Best Director. They involve not her personal life but rather the way that she handled on screen our government’s search for Osama bin Laden. The movie suggests that the first clue that started agents on a long trail that ended years later in a compound in Pakistan was a clue that they got through torture. The controversy was enough to land Bigelow on the cover of Time and to incite senators to call the film inaccurate and misleading and journalists to hint that Bigelow was endorsing torture. Bigelow argues that she presented the facts and left it for viewers to draw their own moral conclusions. She acknowledges that directing is, of course, about decisions, and decisions shape the way that facts are presented on the screen. The controversy over her film is a reminder that decisions made in Hollywood can be a lot more significant than how much skin to show on the red carpet.


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