21 November 2006


Michael Richards apologizes. It's as uncomfortable as the original video but for different reasons. It seemed like a sincere response to me. Seinfeld (the show) often dealt with all of the discomfort of prejudice and yet handled it in the most G Rated manner. Just look to what Family Guy does to get an idea of a more incautious approach to humor that challenges racial mores. This is not to say that Michael Richards was responsible for the writing of such Seinfeld scenes as Jerry Makes Stereotyped American Indian War Cry References, or George Gets Hyper-sensitive About Acting Like All Black People Look Alike--but he was part of a team that addressed the uncomfortable awareness of stereotypes. They joked that we all know these crude thoughts exist, even if we are uncomfortable about acknowledging that awareness.

The importance is that the humor of these shows is a delicate approach to the taboo. Now, add improv to that and add a few trouble-makers in the audience, and I can see the potential of that tightrope going terribly terribly wrong. How many times might this have happened to unknowns?

John McWhorter on NPR is having none of it. He compares Richards' apology to that of Mel Gibson. Think about that. Mel Gibson is very likely a Holocaust denier; Michael Richards got angry at hecklers and used the N-word. I normally respect linguists, but get over yourself McWhorter. To compare these two infractions and apologies is assinine. Comparing a harsh word to blaming all of the wars in the world on a single group of people is ... well, it's an argument that goes beyond the simple hatred of racism. To make such a judgement is to revel in your own hatred a little too much.

People have a tendency to be apologists for the "nice guys" and demonize the foibles of those not-so-nice. I don't think that tendancy is at issue here if we forgive Michael Richards his moment of insanity.

[ posted by sstrader on 21 November 2006 at 7:48:25 AM in Culture & Society ]