info 01.3.11

While You Were Out:
Hubris! Greed! The Ethically Challenged! Stop Complaining! Happy New Year!

It was Mayor Bloomberg at his worst. Despite unequivocal forecasts for a blizzard: didn't call a snow emergency, didn't get the job done, left city streets impassable, particularly in the outer boroughs (with predictably dire, even fatal consequences), then lectured the public that "yelling and complaining about it doesn't help." In full let-them-eat-cake mode, he noted that Broadway shows had been full the previous evening, implying that would be a better use of New Yorkers' time than whining about basic services.

But for those New Yorkers with clear streets and full wallets, what would they have found with tickets to Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark? Hubris! Greed! The Ethically Challenged!

The massive pileup at the Foxwoods Theater has earned audience opprobrium for its storytelling, stagecraft, and score. Far more troubling, though, is the series of accidents that have plagued the production. Ultimately, lead producer Michael Cohl's job is to keep his cast out of harm's way and he has failed to do that. In negligence law, it's known as res ipsa loquitur—the thing speaks for itself. If his production becomes the Broadway equivalent of a snuff film, Cohl can't claim it wasn't foreseeable.

As if Broadway didn't have enough woes, we note with great sorrow that theater critic John Simon is still with us. For many years writing for New York magazine, recently with Bloomberg News, Simon made a name for himself by harshly criticizing actresses for their appearance. But his theater lobby outburst in 1985 (overheard by many, and confirmed by Simon) tells you all you need to know about the man: "Homosexuals in the theater! My God, I can't wait until AIDS gets all of them!" In late December, he started the blog Uncensored John Simon (the link, if you must) in which he bemoans his diminished circumstances. Well, as the Mayor might have said, yelling and complaining about it doesn't help. A little contrition, though, even this late in the day, might.

If you've haven't seen Inside Job, the superb documentary on the 2008 financial meltdown, by all means do. Within, profligate hubris, greed, and unethical behavior, contrition sold short. Much of the scenario is by now familiar, but director Charles Ferguson does a masterful job in capturing the small moments of ethical slippage segueing to larger moral failings as interviewees talk just enough to hang themselves. One part of the movie was news to us: the tight, and often undisclosed connection between academia and business.

This fiasco, further north on Broadway at Columbia University, involves Business School dean Glenn Hubbard and Finance and Economic Professor Fred Mishkin, who are asked questions about their work as paid consultants and advocates for companies (and in the case of Mishkin, countries). Columbia requires no disclosure of those ties. Hubbard and Mishkin are outraged (Hubbard) and flummoxed (Mishkin) that anyone would call their ethics into question, but, again, the thing speaks for itself.

Last week, Sharon Waxman, a former Hollywood correspondent for the NY Times and now Editor in Chief of The Wrap, published an open letter to Lee Bollinger, Columbia's President. She begins:

Pleased as I am to be invited to speak at Columbia Business School in February, there's something on my mind that we need to talk about before I show up, and that is Columbia Business School's absence of an ethical disclosure policy.

Right on, Sharon! You can read the rest of the letter here.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the teens became known as the Accountability Decade? Now that would be a way to turn off the dark.

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