the most morally bankrupt show NOT on the air

I was watching TV last night, which would be Wednesday. I had spent the entire day watching my collection of season one of Star Trek: the Next Generation, (“Datalore” is still my favorite episode from season 1), when I took a break to watch the newly cancelled show Pushing Daisies. I hesitated watching for a few minutes, because ABC cancelled it, and since they weren’t going to get a series finale, I figured what’s the point? Generally when it comes to doomed TV shows the wisdom goes, don’t feed it anything, it’ll follow you home. The object is to not get too attached since you can’t keep it anyway. Kind of like being a surrogate mother. But, unfortunately it was either watch it or Boston Legal repeats on ion, so to ABC it was. Strange thing: Since I’ve been in the disposition to write about philosophy lately, I began watching, and thinking about my former favorite show of the season with, as they say, “new eyes”. I had spent an whole afternoon sailing across the galaxy with the morally correct, if not morally enlightened inhabitants of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek universe. I was suddenly and unexpectedly made uneasy with the moral ambiguity of Ned, the piemaker, his detective partner Emmerson Cod, and his beloved, formerly dead girlfriend Chuck. While I was watching, my thought was, “what a morally corrupt person this Ned guy is!”. I saw that this guy had no moral sense at all. If I were a follower of Rand, I would think Ned an exemplary specimen of man, but I was outraged and angered by the serious and quite obvious violations of damn-near every moral theory I could think of. Ned is a walking Kantian violation. So far, I’ve been able to narrow down my outrage to five main objections: First, Ned has this power that can raise people from the dead, which not only does he keep this a secret, but he is in league with a man who uses said power to raise the dead (specifically murder victims) to gain information from them so they can collect reward money for solving their murders. Now, if one has a talent that is extraordinary and can be used for good, is it moral to hide that talent? We obviously can’t accuse Ned of letting his talents rust, so we must think of all the good he is withholding by keeping his talent a secret. Not to mention that by keeping it a secret, he is in serious violation of some utilitarian principles as well. Namely, that he isn’t serving the greater good. Also, there is the subject of motivation. Profit. Would Kant say that money is an acceptable reason to do revive the dead? The pursuit of money often requires us to compromise our principles, and compromise is not a word in the Kantian dictionary. Second, this whole Chuck thing. Now I get it, Chuck was Ned’s first kiss, and for that, he’s fixated on his childhood love for her, blah, blah, blah. But really, if we remember, Ned didn’t revive Chuck for her own sake, but for his own. He wanted her to not be dead. He’s totally using Chuck as a mere means to his own end, namely for Chuck to not be dead for him. Also, with any two people attracted to each other, as Ned and Chuck are, there is a end, so to speak, to which any healthy relationship heads to — which, would be, for any young couple coupling — but Ned can’t touch Chuck because doing so would send her right back to Hades. So there’s a problem with unsatisfied ends. By not being able to do with Chuck what opposite-gender attracted people do, Ned’s depriving Chuck of what she wants from Ned, which is to have a boyfriend that she can touch and get “intimate” with (and she does want “it” from Ned). And, let’s also not forget that there was a reward for solving Chuck’s murder. Chuck doesn’t fit in anywhere into the reason why is is currently undead! She’s reduced to the world of mere means. Third — poor Olive. This woman is treated like crap. Olive likes Ned, but Ned likes Chuck All Olive gets is to look after Ned’s undead dog Digby, who Ned can’t touch but he has absolutely no problem whatsoever handing over his dog for Olive to tend to. To make matters worse for poor Olive, Ned and Chuck don’t even think about the word discression when they flaunt their lovey-doveyness around Olive, who they alternately treat like one of the gang and like a third wheel. Now, I’ve actually been in this situation in my real life, and I can tell you that it sucks. I suppose that there is some sort of Bentham-esque explanation for treating Olive in this manner. I guess it would be something along the lines of the collective happiness experienced by Chuck, Ned, and Emmerson treating Olive like doo-doo is greater than the total unhappiness experienced by Olive when she has to look at Chuck and Ned do all but go for it right in front of her. I suppose that, if we try to some up with some sort of utilitarian answer for why Olive stays around, we can say that she derives a masochistic pleasure from hanging around. Hanging out with these friends is better than not hanging out at all. Or, we can say that her minimal happiness from just being around Ned is enough for her, despite the fact that she knows that she will never have Ned’s love. So, on at least this issue, we can explain, if not partially justify the treatment of Olive. But still, I don’t think that makes it right. Fourthly, the dead folks. Now, there is some debate in ethics circles as to whether it is possible to wrong a dead person. I’d say that in the case of the “Pushing Daisies” scenerio, Emmerson and Ned do in fact harm the dead. In this situation, when information is extracted from the dead person, they are very much alive, and more importantly, Ned does not inform the dead person that they only have one extra minute of life, and that, while they are giving their info, they can’t touch Ned ( or right back to deadsville). They often withhold this information from people, so these dead folks begin talking and carrying on as if they’ve been given a reprive from deadosity. I claim that the withholding of information, namely that Ned and Emmerson stand to gain a reward for solving the murder of said dead person, and the fact that they disclude that whole minute rule is a violation of their moral obligation to the dead (?) person. They should at least gain some consent as to whether the dead person actually wants to cooperate with their agenda. And let’s (once again) not forget that they are extracting information from a temporarily alive person, so you can’t say that their exploiting someone who “does not exist”. Lastly, it’s was revealed some episodes ago that one of Chuck’s aunts is, in fact, her mother. There really is no need to explain the kind and amount of damage that keeping the true parentage of a person away from them causes. We see this one every day. Or, at least we hear about this one from time to time on daytime television. ( Wait, wasn’t this what happened to Bobby Darin?) I suppose that there is some legitimate utilitarian explanation for convincing someone that you’re their aunt and not their mother, but as the untimely murder of Chuck shows us is that a person may die believing one truth when it turns out that that truth was a lie, and the time that we can correct it passes us by. We are left with our own guilt of not telling the truth. Also, the fact that Chuck’s aunt is her mother causes the aunt/mother to withhold information from her sister, who is, for now, blissfully unaware of the truth — which involves deception on the part of Chuck’s aunt and father. Deception, we know for Kant, is never justifiable, no matter what good end we may have in sight. When we deceive others, we deny them the ability to act as fully capable human beings. So, by not telling Chuck who her real mother is, Chuck’s aunt denied Chuck the ability to be a full person. Despite the fact that this show has been on the air for only a season and a half, the level of moral bankruptcy that these characters exhibit is on a scale matched only by Heather Locklear on Melrose Place, or that guy that Kevin Spacey played on that show Wiseguy — the guy that was doing his sister. So, what have I taken away from my brief time with Pushing Daisies? I realize that nothing is harmless. Nothing is immune from the watchful eye of Kantianism. There is no such thing as harmless entertainment. I think that this show is Kantianly all wrong, and was rightfully withdrawn from the air. No, really, what I have learned is that it sucks that low-rated shows tend to be the ones that are the most entertaining, and that the real dilemma is whether we should watch them and get attached, or skip them all together, and miss out on some pretty good entertainment. All I know is that my utilitarian calculus is running a few bars low today, and that I will have to find something else to watch Wednesday nights. Damn.
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