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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Friday, November 24, 2006

Take my word

OK, I won't go on about the Michael Richards situation. By now, we all know what Kramer said, and what has happened since.

But he can be an example for what I want to know: At what point do our words or actions represent who we are?

I guess what I mean is how much, or how often do you have to say something before people believe your words represent who you are? Is it once, twice, a dozen times? Same goes for how often you do something.

Maybe it doesn't have to do with volume. Does it have to do with how enthusiastically you speak certain words or carry out certain actions?

Mel Gibson ranted about Jews but insisted he, unlike his words, is not anti-Semitic. Richards ranted about black folks, but insisted he isn't racist against them. A boxer - Mike Tyson, if I remember correctly - once wrote a book in which he made a controversial statement. Later, when a reporter asked about the statement, he told the reporter he was misquoted. Several dozen guys on Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator" insisted their attempts to hook up with a "13"-year-old girl were first time attempts, that they'd never done it before.

Drug users caught by cops say they only took one hit. Hell, we had a president who said he had a drug in his mouth and did not take a hit.

How much, or how "seriously" do we have to say or do something for other people to believe we mean it?

Think about it. When we're saying positive and uplifting things, we need only do it with energy to convince people right away that we mean what we say. So why are people so reluctant to believe we reallllllly mean it when our energetic words or actions are bad?

My mom says it's our natural reluctance to believe the worst in people.

I don't know. Hearing that just makes me even more skeptical.


  • I think your mom is right. It is human nature to want to think that people are naturally good. At the same time... I think when you look at the ease at which Michael Richards and Mel Gibson said what they said, it speaks to a deeper problem.

    But then again, what do I know? I'm just one person with an opinion.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:07 PM  

  • maybe by readily accepting the worst in people is admitting that you yourself would be capable of something just as bad...and who honestly wants to admit what a shit they can be?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:10 PM  

  • Some might say any and all words or actions represent who we are. They do not come from nowhere. Others might say it depends on the audience. For example, some of the commenters on your blog may not talk as they act.

    Using Richards as an example, he may claim he was provoked, but the fact remains that that word was "in him," and it came out that night. For many, that word is not in their vocabulary, so it wouldn't occur to them to say it, even accidentally.

    Until famous people start taking responsibility for their actions, I think we will always see backpedaling when their words come back to haunt them.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 7:18 PM  

  • I hear you, James...

    I certainly haven't taken either Mel Gibson's or Michael Kramer's "apologies" seriously. I mean - what are they apologizing for? For getting caught in public saying things they have always thought? Or for being racist? How can you be sorry for that? I don't need an apology from them - as a commentator on NPR said, my well-being doesn't depend on their opinions of black people.

    I feel like the reluctance has more to do with many people not wanting to believe others actually think the things both those men said, because if people think those things, then they must believe it, and no one can ignore the presence of racism. Perhaps this is along the lines of what your mom means.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:17 PM  

  • It can be very easy to make judgments about people when they do things that set off the alarms that have been set up in all of us. Most of us, educated from the 1970s on, are socialized to see the signs and raise our arms, fingers pointing, letting out the shriek, like the pod people in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". It's part of the profiling that we all do in our daily lives to weed out the undesirable folks that we don't need to have anything to do with. 5 or 10 minutes of a man's life displayed on stage, and we all think we know his heart. The other 20 or 30 years of his public life get flushed. Yer done. Move on.

    The Mel Gibson thing was a train wreck that many of us saw coming. From the press coverage back when "The Passion" came out when people accused it of being anti-Semitic, all the stories about his dad, etc. It wasn't totally out of the blue. Thing about Richards is, it WAS totally out of the blue. What in his past work could possibly lead us to believe him capable of such thoughtlessness? I assumed it was some sort of prank, like the stuff Andy Kaufman used to do, making everyone think he'd gone off to see their reaction, until I saw the footage myself. But it's SO out of the blue, I'm not ready to write him off as a human being just yet, which is what we're really talking about.

    I mean, It doesn't matter at all in my life if the dumb bastard never works again. He can go on tour with O.J. and sign DVD sets for kibbles. Who cares. Thing is, are we all willing to swear that there is no situation that could EVER materialize in our life that could lead us to cut loose with a whole slew of racial or sexist epithets, or whatever? We are all human RIGHT? We are all full of this shit. It's in our DNA, from 400 years in this country, or from thousands of years on this planet. We are all capable of doing or saying everything that you could possibly imagine, given the right situation and prompting. We don't want to think that. We want to think that we have gotten over it and put it behind us. We relegate those sorts of things to "the other", who we imagine in our mind driving an old pickup truck down a country road in Texas with an old black man chained to the bumper. When Richards cuts loose, we think to ourselves "Oh my God, how could he do that? It must have been a mistake. I could never do that. Ether he's had some sort of psychotic fit, or he's just evil, and we're finally getting to see it. What a shock."

    After all the years he's been on TV in front of us, from the early 80s when he was on "Fridays", through the 90s on "Seinfeld", all the way up to now, AND WE'RE JUST NOW GETTING TO SEE THE REAL MICHAEL RICHARDS? I don't know. Remember when Roman Polanski screwed a 13 year old back in the day? Does that stop us from going to see his movies, or do we make allowances? Some people will NEVER forgive Jane Fonda. What are the things that can be forgiven, and what can never be forgiven? Or put it this way, who can you insult in our society, and who can't you insult?

    Someone said something about not casting the first stone. Like I said, It's no sweat off my ass if he never works again. It's bizarre. Go figure.

    By Blogger Fathairybastard, at 12:41 AM  

  • as civilized people i think most of us want to avoid confrontation. even though we thrive on the controntrations of others. we ignore those words that may be offensive to ourselves or others.

    Something else to think about... when do we become too PC? when do we lose the ability of expression because of the abuse of it?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:17 AM  

  • I read somewhere that"For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man."
    I don't think man is basically good. He wants to be, but basically he's not. Given the right circumstances, at the right time, under the right conditions, I think we're all capable of doing some pretty disgusting and terrible things.

    Like your blog. Thought provoking.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:27 AM  

  • I'm prejudice. I'm the first one to admit it. Not against black or jewish folks. I can't stand ignorant people. I admit it. I'm a bigotted against idiots.

    ::flailing hands:: Guilty!

    By Anonymous tony, at 6:23 AM  

  • Where I grew up, I was surrounded by "old southern democrats". Lot of 'em were cops. Most of them kept the white hood and sheet folded neatly in the back window of their squad cars.

    The standard deal was "keep the n-words in check so we can control them". By paying lip service to racial equality while simultaneously preventing blacks from holding certain jobs, allowing them to live in only selected areas, etc they proved their hipocrisy, and made me decide I would never be a Democrat, never have a part in such ugliness.

    By Anonymous og, at 8:57 AM  

  • Interesting points, all.

    Queen, I don't know if I can agree with my mom. I don't think I believe anymore in the inherent goodness of mankind. If anything, I agree with Ms. Green sort of. I think we're all inherently bad. And when I meet/see us acting right I'm pleasantly surprised. Cynical, I know. But increasingly, I can't help it.

    Claudia, your point makes sense too. To acknowledge that someone else is bad might force us all to look inward.

    Sarc, "responsibility" is definitely a lost word on celeb types. I really do believe to some degree if you say it or do it you are it.

    BC, I really wonder about the value of apologies these days, 'cause I'm so skeptical about certain of 'em. I'd be the first to admit that about 50% of the apologies I've made in my life were made 'cause I was caught, not 'cause I saw the light on my own.

    Fat Hairy, we do seem to be selective about who/how we forgive. Very good point with the Roman P. films. People still went to see 'em in droves. When Michael Jordan was alleged to have gambled, fans - even those who called for athletes to be role models - stuck by him. Hugh Grant, cheated on his beautiful girlfriend w/a prostitute, and a few self-deprecating appearances on late night shows negated most of the criticisms about him.

    We are human. I think people are more prone to forgive the person who "acts" most sorry.

    Yasamin, I agree on the confrontation thing. I loathe it, even when I know that I'm right. It was a struggle for me the other day to ask my next door neighbor to turn his outdoor stereo down a little. It was waaaaaay too loud and was rattling my windows. But I didn't want to seem like an ogre, so I was prepared to let it go. As for being too PC, that is a worry. I hope we never get so PC that we can't express ourselves. But you know what they say: squeaky wheel gets the grease. So while most of us may excercise good sense, it's gonna be the one idiot who steps on his tongue who get the attention.

    Ms. Green, like I told the Queen. I agree with you. It's sort of like that line from King Leer: there but for the grace of God go I. I can think of lots of times I've stepped on my tongue. But fortunately people around me considered my intent and my character and were forgiving.

    Tony, Amen! When it comes to stupid people, I am beyond intolerant. I need sensitivity classes on it, I think, 'cause I believe ignorant people shouldn't be allowed to eat fresh food or look both ways before they walk across the street.

    And, Og, I'm sort of with you. I agree in principle. I gave up on both major political parties a long time ago. Now, I cast my lot with individual candidates, not the team they play for.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 3:07 PM  

  • Oh, trust me, James, I found just as many republicans distasteful to me. That early nastiness just soured me immediately on the democrats as a whole, and they have not yet redeemed themselves on this specific issue. Scratch a diehard racist, sez i, and find a democrat. And I know not all democrats are racist. Just my .02

    By Anonymous og, at 4:47 PM  

  • I am not someone who is afraid of confrontation, because the alternative is something along the lines of what Michael Richards did - things getting waaaaaay out of hand. I am much more afraid of not addressing something and having it build up until someone completely loses it. I suppose denial is another way to go, but it just doesn't work for me. I don't think confrontation has to be nasty, it just has to be honest. That's the only way you can actually move on, I think.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:12 AM  

  • I'm sure Seinfeld and friends were annoyed that the outburst coincided with the release of their latest DVD.

    I just don't understand this new marketing strategy.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:58 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 11:41 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 11:41 AM  

  • Unfortunately his tirade reinforces a widely held belief by many Blacks that most Whites are racists at heart and they've been faking their attempts at equalization of Black and white social, economic, and political culture. The belief goes further to adopt thinking that this charade of non-equal equality has lulled Blacks into thinking equality is a value truly held and enforced by this country's citizens. That's why schools in majority Black neighborhoods still suck, why voting districts have been gerrymandered to eliminate the possibility of Black political empowerment, and Blacks disproportionately rent (66%) instead of own (33%) compared to whites (57% own) and have less than 1/10 of American wealth.
    So the real question isn't "Is Michael Richards a secret racist" but "Is Michael Richards just like every other White American?"
    We still have a long way to go if he is. It's up to White people to prove to Blacks he isn't. When it comes to giving something to Blacks, history has proven that White people are incredibly stingy.
    One visit to schools named Washington or Roosevelt unfortunately bear evidence to that right M-Fin now.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 11:41 AM  

  • First of all, I think that xenophobia is present in all human beings to one degree or another. There's a natural distrust of the "other". But in a civilized society we try sublimate those xenophobic tendencies, which is as it should be. We have for the most part socialized ourselves to be more tolerant of the "other" and many of us take pride in our tolerance/acceptance thus the famous phrase "some of my best friends are black." But that's at an intellectual level and under normal circumstances.

    Michael Richards was not responding on an intellectual level nor were his circumstances normal. He was a comedian that was flopping, the worst thing that could happen to a comedian. His reaction was not a thought-out reaction, it was a gut reaction in response to what he perceived as an attack (hecklers, people not paying attention, people telling him he wasn't funny) he reached down for the first and biggest weapon he could grab: The N-Bomb.

    What this makes Michael Richards is a lousy comedian. We've all seen great comedians and how they quickly dispatch with hecklers. But I don't think this makes richards a racist. Anyone who says they haven't, in moments of rage (whether on the road, in a social situation, etc.) had at least thoughts of uttering a racial epithet (or a homophobic one, or a sexist one, etc.) is lying. Most people have the common sense to not vocalize those feelings.

    I am a fan of Mel Gibson's work but in reality his transgression was worse. He wasn't in a situation like Richards where he felt he was being attacked and he volunteered his anti-semitic remarks. That combined with the serious scrutiny he had been under before tells me that his was more than a momentary lapse of judgment in a heated moment. And as they say "in vino veritas" in wine there is truth.

    By Blogger Henry "Conductor" Gomez, at 11:17 AM  

  • Henry, well thought out comments. Still, I'm on the fence with this Richards thing.

    I believe he is a racist, if for no other reason than simply how he lashed out.

    If his biggest problem with these guys was their behavior and their heckling, why not call them out for being jerks? Why lash out at them over something they have absolutely no control over: their race?

    Either way, good comment.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 1:25 PM  

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