gall and gumption

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Entertainment News

This is a comment I started in response to a posting by Charles Pierce at The American Prospect, on the Michael Richards n-word uproar.

I don't get it. Why does this post make people so angry? I remember faithfully watching every episode of Seinfeld as they appeared and enjoying them. But in reruns a lot of the humor now seems dated, and dated in a specific and unpleasant way: it's based on a nasty meme that began to emerge in the 1980s I think -- "Yeah we're jerks -- but if you think you're not a jerk you're a hypocrite and a dupe." It was about permission to be an amoral jerk, so it was a direct descendant of Animal House and that whole school of unspecified, objectless irony. (Well, I suppose the irony had an object: you, the viewer.)

Richards's tirade isn't really about race; race is just one of the the characteristics of the greater chumps, the styleless, the ones who don't package themselves with the appropriate slickness, the losers. (Remember how popular that particular epithet was a while back? I remember walking down Braodway in 1997, right outside the "Seinfeld" restaurant, as it happened, and hearing a Columbia student shout at a homeless man, "Why are you such a LOOOOSER?" Somehow, somewhere, he had been taught to think that that was funny.) Richards was putting the unwashed in their place, and I think the impulse to do that is not deep in his subconscious at all. It was always pretty near the surface in Seinfeld.

I don't say that that's all the show was about but the conflict situations with minor and incidental characters were about that, often. And really, we'd all be better off without that stuff. It's just mean.

But I loved the Jackie Chiles character. He was the most likable person on that show. He had dignity, style, self-possession, assurance, and he spoke in rhyming couplets and he did not condescend to notice all the eye-rolling and winks that were supposed to convey to you, the viewer that you were supposed to think he was a clown. It didn't work because he was too irrepressibly himself.

Update Well the post went up over there about seven times. No one can stand to see that much of themself.

Further Update Lively discussion of this over at alicublog. I'll fix that long comment over there, Chuckling.

12 Comments:

At 12:33 AM, Blogger Chuckling said...

I do remember that pool guy story in Harper's, and it was very telling. I think the writer of that piece figured out that they weren't kidding. That the "irony" in which this was packaged was totally unreflecting, it was just some...

I was hoping you'd finish the thought.

 
At 5:34 AM, Anonymous Warren Terra said...

Just wanted to say I appreciated your comment at TAPPED. The first time, anyway.

It's funny how many of the comments were basically reflexive, and not really about Pierce's point.

(The comment questioning whether it was blogworthy, though, that makes me giggle. It's Pierce's piece of the blog, in which he talks about what he feels like saying ... the self-righteousness of that commentator is fantastic.

 
At 5:45 AM, Anonymous leslie said...

Why is it cool to be mean?

 
At 6:46 AM, Blogger Kia said...

Warren Terra,

The "blogworthy" question was definitely pure harrumphism.

Leslie,

The meanness is a manifestation, a by-product, of contempt. And contempt is supposed to express the conviction that the contemptuous person is so much more intelligent, refined, culturally aware, and discriminating than the contemptible one. So at the back of the contempt is vanity.

Do you remember Uriah? From CCS. I remember he was working with some high school kids, I think it was some pre-college program. And he observed to me once that "It's a lot easier to communicate with them once you understand that everything they do and think is about style."

All that ironic posing? Not actually about anything. Well, maybe that's teenagers. I was a bit like that during my adolescence. But it's a style pitched to an adolescent demographic, which extends from about 10 years old to about 40 now.

 
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