It's a competitive bout of conservative-bashing out of the Michael Richards N-word rant at the Laugh Factory. Newsweek had two columns from black staffers, both mentioning George Allen and "Macaca." Time just had one, by the white TV critic James Poniewozik, but in referring to Richards, Mel Gibson, and the canceled O.J. Simpson special, he works in Allen, the RNC Harold-Ford-mocking ad, and Rush Limbaugh's alleged hate for Michael J. Fox:
All this followed an election whose lowlights were the macaca incident, an ad playing off miscegenation fears and a radio host mocking a disabled man. It's as if the U.S. were experiencing collective Tourette's, regurgitating decades of dutifully sublimated hate--Borat, with real people. As disturbing as the bigotry was the role of the people expressing it. Politicians and entertainers, after all, succeed by knowing our hearts and minds. We are, in a real way, implicated in their achievement and their disgrace. So you'd think this explosion of public ugliness might spur some kind of national soul searching. Did we somehow encourage their bigotry, by ignoring softer forms of it in our pop culture? Did they think on some level, conscious or not, that they spoke for us? Were they right?
Poniewozik actually tries to blame the Richards meltdown on American society in general. The headline is "The Kramer In All of Us: As Hollywood goes nuts, maybe the audience needs to examine itself too".
There is the risk, of course, that we let the racist off the hook by asking what his words say about ourselves. Richards seemed to be going for that onstage: "It shocks you, to see what's buried beneath you!" Yet he was not entirely wrong--there is ugliness buried in people--and it's our responsibility as culture consumers to ask where he might be right. Some people swore off Seinfeld reruns after Richards' explosion. I say watch them again, and think about how the comically ugly characters reflect him, and you. You might find that looking at Seinfeld this way--learning, if not hugging--makes the humor deeper and maybe even funnier. Look to the cookie, indeed. But look to yourself too.
The other "risk, of course," is that Poniewozik wants to examine all of America, but he doesn't specifically explore the hecklers who started the fight, and are now trying to squeeze money out of their rudeness. It's also fascinating that Poniewozik would suddenly find that we have "responsibility as culture consumers" when earlier this year, he was decrying our Parents Television Council as "useless." So I guess he doesn't have a column inside his head ready to declare that when we see sexual or violent "ugliness" on TV, perhaps we should ask if it's all buried within us, and we should confess it and reject it. Brent Bozell touched on that here.