Sunday, December 30, 2012
Who's responsible for cleaning this stain?
Every December for the past 10 years, a reader has ventured on a holiday outing with her daughter and two grandsons to take in some festive show. Over the years, the destination has ranged from performances of The Nutcracker ballet to stage performances of It's aWonderful Life and all sorts of shows in between. After the show, the crew typically takes in the city's Christmas lights and any store windows that might have been decorated.
This year, the reader decided upon a performance by the wildly popular Blue Man Group, a show that near as I can tell is built around three men in blue makeup doing inventive things on stage with PVC tubing, Jell-O, toilet paper and assorted other food items. Since the grandsons are now 11 and 14, it seemed an age-appropriate and festive rollick.
For those of you who have been to a Blue Man Group performance (I haven't), you'll know that audience members in the first several rows are given rain ponchos to wear since at some point in the show various stuff (liquids, foods, Jell-O) are flung into the crowd. Since they would be slightly dressed up for the theater, my reader steered clear of those seats.
As she suspected, the boys loved the show. But as she was leaving she noticed that pieces of masticated banana that had been thrust upon the audience manage to get on her winter coat and leave spots. Not wanting to ruin the moment by complaining to an usher or box office attendant, she broke away from the boys for a second and, explaining that she deliberately hadn't sat in the rain poncho seats, asked a theater manager if she knew how to get banana stains off of a wool coat.
"Some water should take that right out," the manager responded. It didn't.
Now, she was faced with having to have the coat dry cleaned to get the stains out. Since it had a fur collar, the cleaning bill wouldn't come cheap.
"Should the theater be responsible for the cleaning bill?" she asks.
Looking online at the ticket policy, the Blue Man Group does feature a statement on its website similar to those you see on the back of sporting event tickets that indicate your acknowledgment that, say, if you get hit by a puck, it's not the events' responsibility or liability.
Still why give out rain ponchos to only some audience members when others might be in a banana's way, as well?
The right thing would be for the theater to warn all patrons when they purchase tickets that they might not want to wear their finest garb. Better still, it wouldn't limit its distribution of rain ponchos to just the first few rows since banana clearly has a way of spilling further into the audience. But given its disclaimer, I'm not convinced the theater is responsible for footing the cost of a cleaning bill.
Still, a spokesman for Blue Man Productions says that while they have no formal policy covering people outside the poncho seats who might get splattered, they "have for years paid for dry cleaning when appropriate."
So there's no harm in my reader asking, but if the theater declines, then it's on her to eat the cost.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2012 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.