The Radio City Flashers
Unethical people reveal themselves in surprising ways, and if one is alert to the tell-tale signs, a companion’s seemingly trivial action can provide sufficient warning to avoid trusting him in more significant matters. A case in point: the Radio City Flashers.
Over the holidays my family journeyed to New York City, and among many diversions we took in the annual Radio City Music Hall “Christmas Spectacular.” High art it wasn’t, but spectacular it was, with the huge Radio City stage doing its usual hydraulic tricks, the Rockettes doing their iconic kicks, and a horde of dancers, costumes, elaborate sets, ice skaters, animals, lighting effects and St. Nicks. Throughout the 75 minute show, literally hundreds of audience members took flash pictures, despite the fact that this was explicitly prohibited in the program, in pre-show announcements, and as they entered the theater. Cameras were even confiscated at the door, but enough were smuggled into the show to guarantee that everyone’s eyes were constantly being diverted by bright flashes of light that were not part of the lighting design.
This is classic unethical conduct, an example of individuals putting their own selfish desires above requests, rules, safety, artistic integrity and the rights of thousands of strangers. The flashes diminish the enjoyment of the show, because they interfere with the lighting effects and distract the audience’s attention. They also can distract dancers and actors, causing them to make mistakes, lose concentration or even fall; this is especially true in a complex production like the Christmas Spectacular. The flashes can and have startled animals on stage, and this production included three camels, several sheep, a couple of donkeys and a horse. Have none of these picture-taking miscreants seen “King Kong”? Unfair to other audience members, disrespectful to the artists, inconsiderate of all, and yet a large proportion of the attendees not only engaged in their defiant act but did so repeatedly. How could they justify this?
They could justify it with the usual array of comforting rationalizations—popular, facile, and without any ethical validity at all. “I wasn’t the only one!” “It’s only a little flash!” “At these prices, I should be able to take some pictures!” “What’s the big deal?” “Nobody’s hurt by it!” But they all boil down to one unethical world view:
“I want to do it, and nobody’s needs or desires are as important as mine. If it gets me what I want, it’s right as far as I’m concerned.”
In those words we hear the inner voices of Jeffrey Fastow and Duke Cunningham, Tom Delay and Bill Clinton; Pete Rose and Mark McGwire. It is the attitude of file-sharers on the web, the striking students at Gallaudet and fake novelist James Frey, as well as all the others among us, famous, infamous or unknown, who just don’t get it. Ethics for them is an abstraction, a bunch of arbitrary rules to follow when they might get caught. No alarms go off in their brains or conscience to alert them that what they are doing is wrong, because the alarms don’t work from lack of use, or never worked very well, or just were never installed at all.
Taking a flash picture at Radio City Music Hall is a little thing, but it is a symptom of a big problem. The Radio City Flashers do not understand or care about ethical values, and they can be counted on to do a lot worse things than taking forbidden pictures in the dark.