By Allen Young
He’s Jerry’s buffoon neighbor. He’s Kramer. He’s prone to oafish explosions, his hair is eternally suspended in an alternate universe, and he has a fantastic slip-n-slide way of entering Jerry’s apartment. Oh yeah, and as of last week, he’s a racist.
After Michael Richards’ bigoted tirade and subsequent head-in-the-sand apology, the public is left with a tarnished view of a character we learned to love in the ’90s.
Michael Richards gets to do the celebrity thing: bashfully apologize all over himself on Letterman, contact Jesse Jackson to make it look absolutely legit, then perhaps disappear for awhile and emerge several months later with a hot new series-the Mel Gibson three-step program to career recovery. Kramer, his clowny alter ego, isn’t so lucky.
The wacky neighbor must be fuming right now, fiercely storming about his apartment trying to figure out how to save himself.
While Richards devolves into a sniveling, ashamed mess and promises to examine the rotten side of his psyche, his audience is faced with the unfortunate task of choosing between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Kramer.
In the end, Richard’s minority-lashing rant will only add late-night trivia to a long history of comedic abnormalities. The list goes far beyond Pee-Wee Herman.
Take Andy Kaufman, another experimental comedian. "Man on the Moon," the endearing 1999 biopic, failed to include Andy’s National College Sex Concert Tour of 1978. The same year that the world was introduced to Latka Gravas, an eccentric precursor to Borat, Kaufman skipped across the country from college to college, tracking down attractive coeds who had sent him fan letters and handing out backstage passes to his dressing room after the show.
Sammy Davis Jr. was inducted into the Church of Satan in 1973.
And almost 40 years after its release, viewers still enjoy the film "Rosemary’s Baby" (where Satan rapes and impregnates a woman), without dwelling on the fact that director Roman Polanski raped a 13-year old girl at Jack Nicholson’s home in the ’70s.
We create these television and film characters in a fictitious image, an escape from the uglier sides of the human condition. So while humans can be exposed as racist, Satan-worshiping pedophiles, their characters have a right to remain in the fantasy world of the Big Screen.
We’d like to think that Michael Richards is every bit as wholesome as his onscreen character, but that’s no longer the case. As Congressmen and religious leaders continue to be exposed as pedophiles and drug addicts, as the President continues to suffocate under his own lies, Richards’ racist explosion adds to a growing public sense that nothing is virtuous anymore.
As for Seinfeld’s quirky neighbor, Kramer needs to remain Kramer-the art deserves to stand untainted by the racist asshole behind it. If Jerry Seinfeld were to commit a double homicide, as Chris Rock once amusingly predicted in 1997, his happy-go-lucky Jewish persona would still remain our beloved Jerry. We need to keep our sitcom characters innocent at all costs; it’s the last channel any of us can turn to.