Topic: Sports & Entertainment

The Ethics of Taking Up Space

“American Idol” voters eventually gave the boot to Jason Castro, the quiet, dreadlocked singer whose major virtues were a vague facial resemblance to John Travolta, a pleasant demeanor, and a knock-it-out-of the-park rendition of exactly one song in months: “Halleluiah.” But Castro should also stand as the poster boy for an ethical offense that most of us have been guilty of committing: wasting an opportunity that others would love to have, and would have made better use of if they did.

While he was one of the select contestants on “Idol,” a TV talent competition that gives aspiring singers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to gain national attention and perhaps performing success, enduring fame and riches, Castro appeared to exert himself as little as possible. He chose songs to sing without bothering to research what they were about (famously expressing surprise that the song “Memories” from the Broadway musical Cats was sung by a character who, uh, was a cat), was often shaky on his lyrics and admitted that he probably needed to “practice more.” Unlike most of the contestants, his performances neither improved nor changed over the weeks, as his general attitude seemed to be that he was just along for the ride. When he finally was voted off the show by viewers, Castro shrugged and smiled, good-naturedly. His fans thought he was “cool.”

This conduct isn’t cool. It may be lazy, cowardly, arrogant, irresponsible, or dumb, but there is nothing admirable in attaining a position where one has a special opportunity and just frittering it away. Fortune, luck, coincidence and chaos play a massive part in the outcome of our lives, and much as we like to believe that our successes are entirely the result of our talents, hard work and virtue, it often isn’t true. The greatest acting talent of our generation may be dealing crack on the streets of Hartford; the best pitching arm that ever was may be attached to body of a paraplegic, or belong to someone growing rice in Asia. There are potential scientific geniuses who never get a chance to go to college, and children who could be the second coming of Mozart if they only had access to a piano. Chances to advance, to use one’s talents, to strive for success and personal fulfillment, do not arrive for everyone, and are not equally distributed in any way. No matter what the old saw holds, for some opportunity knocks many times, and others barely hear a knock at all.

Well, some ask, so what? It’s my opportunity, and if I want to punt it, what’s wrong with that? And indeed, one neither can nor ought to take advantage of every opportunity that life presents: sometimes the timing is wrong, and sometimes we don’t want what is being offered. But that was not Jason Castro’s situation. He auditioned for the show, after all. His presence in the final 100, 50, 20, and 12 kept other performers from having their chance at recognition and fortune, and there are many, many singers who could have made the most it. If he did not want to work his hardest to win, then he had an obligation to stand aside for someone who would. He was like the scholarship student to Yale who skips all his classes, the kid who inherits millions and gambles it away, the extraordinary athlete who won’t train or eat properly. Jason Castro was taking up space in a place where space is scarce and coveted for good reason. That same space turned Carrie Underwood from a semi-literate farm girl into a semi-literate millionaire country-western recording star, and Kelly Clarkson into in international headliner. Like all unethical conduct, his actions represented a failure of character and reasoning.

If he was afraid to compete hard for fear that he might fail, he was cowardly. If he couldn’t muster the determination to practice and work on his skills, he was lazy. In tossing away the gift that life, God, fate or happenstance had bestowed on him, he was irresponsible, and by wasting an opportunity that so many could have put to good use, he was cruel and unfair. Fortunately, this is one kind of unethical conduct that usually carries its own punishment. Jason Castro is now very unlikely to be famous for anything, except perhaps as the laid-back singer who was more idle than idol, and who should remind us that when we can’t or won’t take full advantage of an opportunity, we should get out of the way for someone who can.

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