Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Those Words, Those Words, Those Words

I am sure many of you have already seen this clip of Michael Richards (Seinfeld's "Kramer") at least in part. I think there are several things going on here. One of aspect that I need to reflect on more is the role of humour and how powerful and non-neutral it is. Second, and this is something I would not want to push too far, what initially struck me was no matter how much I enjoyed Seinfeld I always had a slight uneasiness with how the group of clever upper-middle class white folk participated in the lives of all sorts of minorities be it ethic (Babu), physical (Mickey), or sexual (the virgin). Is good humour always close to the edge? Finally, there is the need for power behind language. Richards himself assumes the position of the “the (white) man” in his own tirade and then at the conclusion tells the audience that we still have “those words”. What is interesting here is that the black people in the audience did not have “those words”, cracker is hardly a comparison and they knew it. Language here revealed again (as crisis did in Hurricane Katrina) the deep-seated racism that is far from healed in America.

In any event have a look and weigh in if you want to.


Unknown said...

It is worth hearing richards's apology on the letterman show.


in both clips it is interesting sensing the audiences trying to perceive what is funny and what is not.

oh, and of course the crucial episode that i forgot to mention above is jerry's interaction with native american woman.

Dave said...

Thanks for these, Dave. I have been hearing the buzz and it's good to see for myself.
His tirade is really unbelievable. At times during his apology he seems somewhat disingenuous but I think we need to regard it as sincere (it's hard to see past Kramer)--some people are saying the media edited the apology to shed the worst light on Richards (there are a couple clips on Youtube which have some different footage of the apology). There is a lot of blogtalk on this issue. It's hard to fathom someone going on a rant like this who is not in fact a racists. I don't think, though, that Richards really wants to go back to lynching and segregation.

johnny m said...

so, wait, you actually regard his tirade as "deep seated racism"?

i think it's more his reaction to being heckled during one of his first performances as a stand-up comedian. he feels "hurt" and wants to say the first thing he can think of that will be hurtful. it's unacceptable, but i seriously doubt it "reveals" his inner klansman.

maybe i'm misunderstanding your statement here.

Unknown said...

I suppose its that "first thing he can think of" that I am referring to. That there is still the type of power availible in those words indicts what is still woven into that cultural fabric. The black man hardly has a comparable comeback.

johnny m said...

the only reason his comeback is "hardly comparable" is because the words he used were ones that black people have come up with to call their slave drivers. had it been the other way around, and black men enslaved white people and called them that, those words would have a different weight.

you have to know the actual word is irrelevant, but it's use in history is what makes it horrible.

Unknown said...

are you agreeing or disagreeing with me, becuase i thought that was my point. good to know we can still misunderstand each other from so far away!