Just letting you know I have no doubt you’ll want to disagree with this. It’s fine, no big deal. I understand.
Now with a start like that, what will I say? This is about Michael Richards’ crack up on stage.
Now let me say the bit you’ll no doubt disagree with: I don’t think he was being racist. I think he was just blowing up. He was no doubt unhappy and maybe a little bit on edge at the time, and he did what many performers have done: let it rip. Bill Hicks did it. (And again.) Most comics have done it at one time or another. Hell, even our politicians have had their famous blow ups at hecklers and those that questioned the merit of a person standing on a stage with a microphone over their own persons.
I am not saying they were wrong to react how they did. It’s a word that evokes emotions like few others, and yet it is a word that is void of meaning. That’s right, it has no meaning by itself. The meaning is attached by the context. It’s the middle finger. It’s just a generic way of expressing that spectrum of emotions.
The problem with words like that, which are solely contextual (as opposed to the majority of words which have some standing on their own and are only partly composed of context), is that they are usually inappropriate. They don’t work. They are broken. The people they were originally branded upon now use them with reckless abandon, but no one else can get away with it without quite a bit of aplomb.
Lester Bangs used to wear a shirt, for example. David Cross did a bit where he did exactly what Michael Richards did, but he turns it quickly. He turns it back on itself and says, “what if I took this weird turn,” making the audience think about it without coming across as a callous ass. The only safe bet is a direct quotation by someone, though sometimes an indirect quotation can pass.
Andy Kaufman made quite a career out of being highly confrontational with his audience. So has Borat/Sacha Baron Cohen. The main difference is that their outrages were highly polished and planned at least in some vague sense. Michael Richards was throwing the ball from the far side of the court as the buzzer sounded. More times than not that sort of try will miss horribly, often bludgeoning an old lady holding her cat in her lap. The opening was there, he failed to deliver.
I don’t think Richards meant this to be what it’s being made out to be. It was a piss poor attempt to do a very hard thing; he was trying to blow up and still be funny. It wasn’t hate speech, his words weren’t driven with contempt for anyone’s race. The audience had a harsh reaction, and he’s paying the price.
That’s fair. That’s how entertainment works: your audience serves as the judge, jury, executioner, and undertaker. Then again, if every entertainer always hit the mark then there’d be a lot less demand for the good ones. It is an endeavor of bleakness with the occasional breakthrough. He saw his opening, he took his shot. The recoil on that one is pure hellfire.
I guess the thing that really bugs me about the whole thing is, although there has been media outrage over the UCLA Library attack, it didn’t seem as cutting and sudden as this has. The two things were handled completely differently, and are completely different. Still, in a choice to channel my personal vitriol toward what is deemed unacceptable behavior of others, I’ll throw my lot against violent imbeciles over warped comics any day.