Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Kramer, OJ, Mel - Something Wrong with That

AP File/Michael Caulfield

"You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger." Buddha

I've been pondering the Michael Richards fiasco. I wonder why the media hasn't made a bigger connection between the timing of Richards' racist tirade and the public's outraged response to the new OJ book/interview story.

Eleven years ago the OJ Simpson murder trial polarized this country along racial lines in a way not seen since the Civil Rights movement of the 60's.
The media and too many people with misguided agendas turned the OJ trial into a Black versus White referendum. OJ became a lightening rod for racial division -- adding bitterness and anger to an already obscene tragedy.

Michael Richards by all accounts never made a public or private racist remark. (Someone would have come up with a clip by now.) Yet he gave voice to that same anger again. A celebrity voice. A goofy-nice-guy voice. An Angry White Voice.

It troubles me that Richards' rant, coming on the same day as OJ's return to the spotlight, was a telling example of our country's still huge racial divide. His tirade all too likely represents the inner thoughts of far too many bigoted white people.

I'm not convinced Michael Richards is one of them. Clearly he had a major meltdown. Anyone who's seen the video knows that was more than anger -- it was palpable panic. His act was bombing, he was heckled by two Black guys. Interrupted. Disrespected. It's painful to watch his frantic attempts to regain control, only to disintegrate into blind rage. He felt attacked, impotent, helpless. In response, he literally lost it.

I'm not excusing Richards' behavior. I find it sad and ironic that a rich, privileged white guy found himself in a one-time situation that has been--and often still is--a daily reality for many of the same people he chose to vilify.

To those who'd draw a comparison between Michael Richards and Mel Gibson, I say forget it. Although our laws allow them equally to express virtually any opinion in a public creative endeavor, Richards isn't in the same league, bigotry-wise.

Mel Gibson's made a career out of anti-Semitism, not to mention pots of money. He's used his celebrity, power and fortune to further the cause of hatred against not only Jews, but anyone who isn't exactly the Pure White Christian Mel claims to be.

Then one night Mel drove drunk and spewed in real life to real police officers what he's so insidiously put into his films. His actions--and possibly his words--broke the law.

Michael Richards made a career out of being a likeable doofus. One night he was doing a comedy routine. Ask scholars who've studied the work of Lenny Bruce. Like it or not, Richards was within his First Amendment rights to make despicable racist remarks.

But bigotry isn't what's wrong with Richards. The video shows a man enraged beyond reason, anger-locked, lacking all impulse control, self-destructive. During his bizarre turn on Letterman he appeared drugged, as if on tranquilizers or anti-depressants.

Michael Richards should apologize to the Black community, but in the end it won't much matter. He's a sad, one-note comedic actor with very little career to rehabilitate. The best outcome for him is to get help and rehabilitate himself.

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