Tuned In

What Michael Richards Hath Wrought

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[EPITHET ALERT: The following post uses a racial slur, in quotes, because I believe (1) a quote is a quote, (2) "bleeping" slurs or using cutesy locutions like "the n word" fetishize the term and make it more powerful and (3) conversely, they make the quote easier to take, which it should not be. That said, if you’re offended by such quotations, stop reading here.]

Add to the list of casualties from Michael Richards’ onstage meltdown (calling African American hecklers at a comedy club "niggers" who would have been lynched in the old days) some of the edgier scenes from those old Seinfeld reruns. Jerry’s soliloquy on the ebony-and-ivory message of the New York deli staple the black-and-white cookie–"Look to the cookie!"–is piquantly ironic now. But what’s downright creepy now is this classic season 7 scene in which Richards as Kramer inadvertently dresses up as a pimp.

Still hilarious, by the way, as a pure set piece of mistaken identity. But also disturbing as hell: the black guy cheering him on from the sidewalk, the hip-hop beat pumping him along, the stereotypical big white Cadillac.

Seinfeld, we’ve got to remember, was not universally loved by both halves of the cookie: the most popular show among whites, it was far lower rated in minority homes–in one of the last episodes the characters inadvertently burned a Puerto Rican flag–and was knocked for its lily-white cast and tendency of portraying minorities and immigrants as buffoons. Of course the white people were buffoons too, but that’s an easier sell when they’re also drawing the big-star paychecks. For all that, the show deserved credit: it had unsparing fun with the whiteness of its characters, and when it did address race, at least it challenged TV’s easy PC pieties instead of simply giving its characters a token black best friend.

Richards–and the Seinfeld show–could use a couple black best friends now, though. But that particular pimpmobile has probably pulled out of the parking lot.