Michael Richards, the actor who played Kramer on "Seinfeld," went on "The Late Show" on Monday to spew an apology for his weekend explosion at a comedy club in California.
The skinny: Richards was heckled by a couple dudes who happen to be black. Richards freaked and dropped more than a few N-bombs (and the "N" doesn't stand for Newman, either). Someone in the audience shot vid on a cell phone. The rest is sordid pop history.
Painful as it was to watch, Richards' apology -- the act of it, at least -- was mandatory. Had he not apologized he would have been killed, gutted, roasted at 325 degrees and served up in lieu of turkey on Thursday. Andy Kaufman would have risen from the dead and smacked Richards for losing his cool. But now that he has issued his very public mea maxima culpa, Richards is free to continue his post-"Seinfeld" life. Free of the threat of a boycott, the 7th season of "Seinfeld" is cleared for huge sales. The country is safe from white men other than Quentin Tarantino dropping N-bombs, safe from bombing comedians, safer than it has been since Feb. 1, 2004, when the U.S. was attacked by Janet Jackson's right nipple.
But it is a short-lived safety; in the long run we are screwed, destined to choke on our own conniptions. We are being outraged to death. Offended to extinction.
If something offends us today we righteously insist on immediate reparations or the offensive thing must be banished, no thoughts given, no questions asked.
Fox boss Rupert Murdoch on Monday dropped the O.J. Simpson project and apologized profusely to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Murdoch said the O.J. book and TV special were "ill considered." He took pains to make sure everyone knows he was offended. He did not mention feeling this way until it became clear that his network would probably lose money on the project. No matter; having shown his outrage, Murdoch is now a Good Guy. Our nation is safe from O.J. and ready to repel any future ugliness.
Don't like the idea of a book? Scream until the publisher gives up. Don't like a planned TV special? Yell until the network surrenders. Don't like what a performer says? Complain until the person is forced to capitulate.
If we had followed this catechism in 1975, pop culture would have been saved from "News for the Hard of Hearing" on "Saturday Night Live." Another SNL skit from that year -- "Racist Word Association Interview" -- would have died in the writer's room. That year's great movie, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," would have been condemned for its insensitive portrayal of Native Americans (not to mention the mentally ill). Judith Guest's novel, Ordinary People, may have been boycotted, instead of praised, for its brutal honesty about teen suicide and emotionally distant mothers.
Change the channel? Ignore the offensive? Don't buy the book?
Your suggestion is outrageous. Don't be offensive.