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November 22, 2006

The Really Incredibly Clueless Opinion Column of the Day...

It's here, where Los Angeles Times columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan is apparently under the impression it says something about race relations in America that people are more outraged about the recent OJ Simpson If I Did It thing than they are about Michael Richards calling his comedy club hecklers niggers. She writes:

I'm not equating racist invective with charges of double homicide. But the reality is that there is far more tolerance for a white person's unseemly behavior than for similar behavior of somebody who isn't white, especially if the unseemliness involves race. Richards' "racist rant" has been described as a terrible but isolated incident. O.J., meanwhile, is condemned for his character.

Leaving out the fact that for the last few days you can't go to a news site or read a newspaper without finding out the latest on Cosmo-gate -- i.e., Michael Richards is being well and truly pilloried for his racist idiocy, and rightly so -- let's note that Ms. Kaplan is pretty much lying through her teeth here: she is clearly making an equivalence between racist invective and charges of double homicide, or at least bringing the two within shouting distance of each other so she can make a pretzel-logic point about race. But this isn't the right comparison anyway. If any comparison in this case is valid, it should be the one between racist invective and exploiting the murder of one's ex-wife, which one is accused of performing, by writing a recounting of the murder as the murderer. Both are repugnant; the difference the latter is repugnant without the need to bring race into it at all.

I can't speak for anyone else, but for my money, the truly pertinent thing about the recent Simpson event has nothing to do with Simpson's race or the ramifications of such; it has to do with the fact that he is sociopathically clueless, and his sociopathic cluelessness was at least temporarily enabled by one of the largest media conglomerates in the world. Even if one assumes that Simpson is innocent of slaughtering his former wife and the poor guy who happened to be with her when the knives came down, the fact that Simpson apparently thought it would be a neat idea to write a fictional account of murdering the mother of his children -- and that various arms of News Corp. thought such an account would be a perfect thing to get up on the bestseller lists and garner some nice ratings during a sweeps month -- is, in a word, monstrous.

This is depraved behavior, pure and simple, and if you believe that Simpson did kill his wife and her friend and got away with it, it's just that much worse. There's really no circumstance where such a memoir, fictional or not, is even plausibly morally acceptable. It's nice that Fox and HarperCollins have come to their senses and apologized for their part in this fiasco; to date I'm not aware of Simpson doing so, but then why would he. I'm not going to bother to argue whether there is a racial component to the public perception of OJ Simpson, since there is, and it'd be foolish not to recognize it. I am going to argue, however, that everything else about this If I Did it episode is so morally repugnant that the race-based element of the story is, at best and at this point in the Simpson saga, a minor consideration indeed.

I'm also not going bother to rationalize Richard's outburst, since I find it appalling, and the reaction to it both gratifying and unsurprising: When a white guy calls a black man a nigger, he ought to find himself in a deep pile of crap, and when he does so as an insult, that pile of crap should increase by another six feet, piled up directly on top of that white man's head. I do think Richards' response of "stop, drop, and abase" was the correct one. Only Richards knows what's in his own heart, but at least he (or at least his advisers) understood that the smartest thing to do was recognize publicly that he'd done something wrong and apologize for it in a big way; starting by apologizing on the David Letterman show last Monday was a good start to that.

And I think that rather than race has to do with Richards' getting a "better" end of things than Simpson, inasmuch as either of them is in a "better" situation. Richards recognized that what he did was wrong and moved in a timely fashion to apologize; Simpson has yet to apologize for crassly exploiting the murders he was accused of performing, and it seems unlikely that he ever will. Or to put it more bluntly, Richards' showed he had a conscience; Simpson didn't.

That's not an issue of race. It's an issue of character. In that regard, at least, Ms. Kaplan is entirely correct.

Posted by john at November 22, 2006 12:21 PM

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A.R.Yngve | November 22, 2006 01:47 PM

To publish books and make TV shows are group efforts. What were all the people involved in the production process, apart from O.J.Simpson, thinking?

Blind obedience: "I'm just a cog in the media machine, I'm only doing my job. The boss made the decision."

Cynicism: "I don't give a damn. Our society is going down the tube anyway, so let's grease the slide a little."

Greed: "What's in it for me?"

Evil: "He he... maybe we're helping a double murderer mock his victims and their relatives on TV. We're teaching kids that murder makes you famous! He he he..."

Idiocy: Or maybe they weren't thinking at all.

There is a very credible hypothesis that lead poisoning contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. Might chemical and metal pollution be doing something similar to American society?

Steve Thorn | November 22, 2006 01:48 PM

O.J. is a sleazeball. Easy enough. (And yeah, I'm one of the one's that think a guilty man walked) As for Richards, well he and Gibson are quite a duo. Having an IM conversation about it earlier, my brother quickly Photoshopped the perfect movie poster for this team: Dumb & Dumber


By hunting down Michael Richards on YouTube you can see a near 3 minute clip of the rant. To me, it was more shocking than the small incident reports I had seen in the online news portrayed it.

Then again, it could just be me.

Steve Buchheit | November 22, 2006 01:48 PM

When I heard a spokesperson from NewsCorp say, "this may have been an ill conceived project," I actually shouted at the radio, "Ya think?"

I just hope that the ghostwriter was paid in full. There was a news story the other morning where there was still a part of the advance ($3 million sticks in my mind) to be paid to a third party to be given to the kids.

And just how many clubs will now book Richards? And those that already had might find there is a scheduling conflict. Yeah, he's going to pay a big price. Somebody will put him on, but it won't be the big clubs/money.

Bearpaw | November 22, 2006 02:25 PM

Steve Buchheit: I just hope that the ghostwriter was paid in full.

Really? Me, I hope that whatever person in their family is dying of some awful disease gets the absolute best care available.

Because if that ghostwriter doesn't have someone in their family dying of some awful and incredibly expensive disease, they were out of their frackin' gourd to participate in this project.

Ron | November 22, 2006 02:29 PM

Sometimes I wish we didn't have the internet because then at least I wouldn't hear about this stuff. At the least I want a filter that would prevent me from seeing stuff that DOESN'T MATTER.

theophylact | November 22, 2006 02:31 PM

I have no idea whether Richards has a conscience. He obviously has a press agent, though.

Steve Buchheit | November 22, 2006 02:37 PM

Bearpaw, yeah, because that would be the only reason why someone ghosting would need money and the commission. Considering that the ghost more than likely wasn't the one that came up with the project and might have signed as a part of a multi-book deal, plus the editor involved (I forget her name) has been a part of some major highly successful and noticed projects and might have dangled more in front of the ghost when they complained, yeah, don't want any part of *that* even if I was signed before I know what the whole project was. But you know it's the principle of the thing. Those pressmen and designers should also have walked.

kero aka kevin | November 22, 2006 02:39 PM

Is this a case of the presure in the industry being so high that this was allowed to be green lighted, or another indication that "Hollywood" is out of touch with that large fly over region of the country that is their biggest consumer?

Ron Hogan | November 22, 2006 02:51 PM

"Simpson apparently thought it would be a neat idea to write a fictional account of murdering the mother of his children."

Well, considering that the deal was structured so that they would receive the money, he may have thought of it as a present.

John Scalzi | November 22, 2006 02:53 PM

Well, lord knows they'll need the money for therapy.

Joe | November 22, 2006 02:57 PM

It’s always dispiriting to see examples of this kind of Burroughs-esque “cut-up” journalism wherein the two shiniest chunklets of pop culture, tangentially related at best, are shoehorned together for the clarification of absolutely nothing. Now can we discuss how Bush’s rescuing a turkey from his terrier is somehow morally related to Google shares going for over $500?

Bearpaw | November 22, 2006 03:28 PM

Steve Buchheit: Point taken. Is there a word for "being self-righteous over someone taking an action in a context that one doesn't understand"? Because that was me.

Would it be reasonable instead to say that I feel sorry for whoever had to ghostwrite this? Because I can't imagine that was a pleasant job.

Lars | November 22, 2006 03:33 PM




I'd also like to say that the only thing that bugs me more than the racist white man is the racist black man who fails to hold himself accountable. Chances are that if you're the loudest detractor of a racist in the room, you're probably just another racist on the opposing side.

Right after Michael Richards called that guy a nigger, that guy called him a cracker. Tit for tat, eye for an eye, around and around we go. At least Richards got around to apologizing.

Racism is everybody's problem, and almost every human being is susceptable to it. This should come as no surprise, because we are not perfect creatures. Look at almost any high school and you'll see that kids of like color gravitate toward one another. Most adults manage to find better grounds on which to base solidarity, some don't.

If Richards is a racist, at least he's benign -- before this, who would have known? It's unfortunate that he snapped, but that's exactly what this was: a snap. People in such a state as he was in can best be described as "temporarily insane." Nobody in their right mind would say what he said.

He seems like a nice enough guy and I think he's going to be given a hard enough time by the fanatics out there. Reasoanable people should be able to forgive him.

Steve Buchheit | November 22, 2006 03:50 PM

Bearpaw, no worries mate. I'm sure it was very hard on the person who had to interview OJ and then write it. The people who green-lighted this project should be forced to UPR (update personal resume), but I have a feeling they're too far up in the NewsCorp ladder to believe that will happen. Although, with NewsCorp being out several million dollars, and having to spend a couple more (fire up the pulper, there go all those books) maybe they will be going. Most writers that I've met who ghosted do it only for the money (usually a flat fee in a work for hire situation), because they need it to pay rent, just like press people. It's the people who thought this would be a good project, and a money maker, who should go.

Steve Buchheit | November 22, 2006 03:53 PM

I should add, and if one of those people (who sold the idea of the project) was the ghostwriter ("I've got this idea I want to pitch to you..."), then I would agree with your earlier post, Bearpaw.

Eddie | November 22, 2006 03:54 PM

The decision to withdraw the OJ book and associated TV dog and pony show is a testament to the fact that moral outrage on the part of the American public is still possible and can still have some impact on a media that puts money and ratings above everything else.

Good for us.

A.R.Yngve | November 22, 2006 04:09 PM

Racism is much less of a problem in America than greed: the kind of insane greed that can make responsible grown-ups think -- even temporarily -- that it's OK to publish and promote "If I Did It."

What's next? "Live from the Corcoran State Prison: The Tonight Show, with your host Charles Manson!"

Annalee Flower Horne | November 22, 2006 04:30 PM

Interesting irony about the Richards thing: the Post reported today that the black man he was yelling at wasn't even the one who interrupted him-- it was the guy sitting next to him, who witnesses say wasn't black.

Seriously, though, even if she does have a point, which I don't think she does, isn't it a bit early to say that the media's not on Richards's case about this? It's been everywhere I've looked, and the story only broke a few days ago. Maybe this is another case of the blogsphere beating traditional media to the punch, and she just hasn't caught on yet.

CJ-in-Weld | November 22, 2006 04:56 PM

A small aside here: I think it's okay to stop mincing around whether OJ committed those murders or not. Sure, he was acquitted under a "reasonable doubt" standard. But in the civil suit, the jury agreed that more likely than not he was responsible for the same deaths. (As I recall, that civil jury wanted to say there was not a reasonable doubt - not that that opinion would have any legal meaning.) So for slander and libel purposes, it's probably safe to flat-out call him a killer, if that's what you think.

And the racism issue has always been oddly distorted in the OJ case. It seems as if everybody gets a number of "get out of jail free" cards at birth. Poor minorities get maybe one, middle class white people get a handful, rich white people get maybe fifty - but rich famous minorities get about three thousand. I don't know why.

JD | November 22, 2006 05:04 PM

While not defending Richards actions I am perturbed by the double standard surrounding "The N word"

If this word is SO repugnant (as I feel it is) then why is it OK for black people to shout every other word in movies and on TV and in music. If society as a whole rose up and said, this is an awful word indicitive of a very bad time and no one is going to use it, it would be all but forgotten in a generation.

John Scalzi | November 22, 2006 05:06 PM


"So for slander and libel purposes, it's probably safe to flat-out call him a killer, if that's what you think."

Well, I don't think I've made a secret of the fact I think he did it. However, my point is that even if he is innocent, putting out a book from the point of view of being the murderer is reprehensible.

CJ-in-Weld | November 22, 2006 05:19 PM


I certainly am not under the belief that you ever mince words.

Burns! | November 22, 2006 05:42 PM

Did you see Richards apology on Letterman's show? (If not, I'm sure it can be found on YouTube.) I don't think he meant what everyone seems to think he meant.

Richards apologized to everyone who had to witness his rant. He apologized that they had to see that rage come out. What I took from it was that he was apologizing because he is filled with hate and rage, and on this one occasion he was less effective at keeping that hidden inside. He didn't apologize for the hate and rage; he apologized for not keeping it buried in his heart.

Scorpio | November 22, 2006 06:13 PM

I don't think it's the racial component of Simpson that matters as much as the sociopathic aspect. Any man who wrote a book on the murder of his wife, fantasizing all the way about her mutilation, would be equally hideous; and when done by a public figure, it is an indication that this person is too sick to be walking around free.

Harper Collins and Fox need to take out *their* long knives and get rid of those who made the decision to indulge Simpson in the first place.

shannon | November 22, 2006 07:25 PM

Personally, I don't believe Richard's apology, and am sad his assholic actions have ruined Seinfield.Also putting out a book about murdering your wife is crazy. Just my two cents. Since this thread touches on race, knowledge must be dropped. Here is my contribution.

KairoK | November 22, 2006 08:04 PM

Race relations in this country is a complex, nebulous issue with a very painful history and it won't just go way if you ignore it. While people may feel that there is a double standard regarding the use of the N word, long story short, just know that not every African American embraces the use of that word and they will not accept its use from Anyone. So out of basic respect just don't use it.

I feel that it was idiotic to compare OJ Simpson to Richards. OJ has already shown himself to be lacking in character and morally corrupt. For his publishers and a major television station to join him on his road to hell for a few dollars and ratings points is disgusting.

With regards to Richards, do I feel he made a mistake. No, he said exactly what he wanted to say and meant every word of it. His only regret was the fact that it was recorded. Is he a racist? Yes, the simple fact that those words came so easily and readily out of his mouth demonstrates that. When angered, most individuals don't reach for and use racist comments and reference lynchings.

Lisa | November 22, 2006 10:18 PM

I don't understand these apologies like Richard's and Mel Gibson's where they start with, "I am not a racist," then go on to say that some horrible moment of temporary insanity ensued where they all of the sudden became a different person than who they really are and an uncontrollable leak of racist epitaphs came out. It's like being caught in the sack with another woman, naked, with your parts and her parts interacting and saying, "its not what it looks like." or smoking marajuana and saying you didn't inhale. The first rule of apologizing is being truthful in what happened. If Richard's would have said, "I was raised this way. I have some screwed up ideas that I know are wrong. I am a racist but I'd like to work on not being one. I'm sorry that people had to find out in such an offensive way.Now I'm going to take steps A,B,and C to try and become less bigoted in my thinking." The apology would seem more sincere to me.

But yeah, comparing this to OJ describing the murder of the mother of his children...there is no comparison.

Madeline F | November 22, 2006 10:41 PM

Lars: Man what?!

Right after Michael Richards called that guy a nigger, that guy called him a cracker. Tit for tat, eye for an eye, around and around we go. At least Richards got around to apologizing.

Seriously, man, what? The words aren't even remotely on the same level. The reason they're not on the same level is that there are centuries of history of people called "niggers" being terrorized, murdered, and oppressed, while people called "crackers" have only gotten occaisional mockery and assault.

If Richards is a racist, at least he's benign

To get a couple of people to shut up, he told them that people of his grandparent's generation would have lynched them. "That's what happens when you interrupt the white man"? He's drawing a direct line then to now. Threats are not benign. That evening may not have involved anyone getting beaten up, but it wasn't harmless in itself.

Nobody in their right mind would say what he said.

The big trouble here, alas, is that you're wrong. Many, many white people threaten black people (and oppress, terrorize, and murder them) based on race. Richard's evening of stupidity was part of a much greater whole.

A.R.Yngve: Racism is much less of a problem in America than greed: the kind of insane greed that can make responsible grown-ups think -- even temporarily -- that it's OK to publish and promote "If I Did It."

Man what. Racism leaves millions of people suffering financially and physically, every day. Greed's best crack at producing that kind of misery was Enron, and it's just not in the same league.

Christian | November 22, 2006 11:01 PM

"If I Sent People to The Ovens"

- By Adolph Hitler

It's possible that someone else was responsible, right? Like maybe Goering. No it was Goebbels. Well hell, it was somebody - but not me!

Nathan | November 22, 2006 11:33 PM

This whole discussion just depresses me. I think Scalzi's original point was that 1. they're both pretty sickening situations, and 2. comparing them is like comparing "three" to "blue". They have NOTHING to do with each other.

You can all take solace in the fact that Michael Richards has had pretty much no career since he slipped off of Jerry Seinfeld's coat-tails, and while he's just established himself as a cultural footnote, he'll probably fade back into oblivion fairly soon.

And O.J.? It's clear that he'll keep rearing his ugly head every few years just to be stuffed back into his own purgatory as long as he lives.
(I'd rather he was in jail, cause, ya'know, he did it, but barring that, being publicly slapped every once in a while will have to suffice.)

MWT | November 23, 2006 01:22 AM

CJ-in-Weld said:
It seems as if everybody gets a number of "get out of jail free" cards at birth. Poor minorities get maybe one, middle class white people get a handful, rich white people get maybe fifty - but rich famous minorities get about three thousand.

I think you could take out the words "white people" and "minorities" and find yourself with a much more accurate assessment of the situation.

I'm also not sure you could call it getting out of jail "free" ... it's more that the richer you are, the more means you have available to get yourself out (e.g. extra-good lawyers).

Lars | November 23, 2006 02:10 AM

Madeline F,

You want to know why Richards said what he said? He was being treated heckled like a hack comedian, and it hurt, and he's human. He said the most obvious thing he could to wound and insult the most deeply. There was no grace in it because he was out of his wits, and since he couldn't think of something more clever, he abased himself.

You're not going to convince me that shouting another name like cracker back is taking the high road. It's just as mean, petty and stupid in the setting and cultural context of a comedy club.

All you saw was Richards flipping out. You didn't see the jack ass that was heckling him, or how he was heckling him. A comdedian should be able to stand up to that, yeah, but as it happens Richard's couldn't. That doesn't make me mad at him, it makes me sad for him. All his fans are sad about this.

You could see he was sorry the minute he said it, he folded like a wet dish-cloth and went off the stage. C'mon, give the poor guy a break.

Djscman | November 23, 2006 04:53 AM

Say, wouldn't it be funny if the guy who ghostwrote for O.J. also ghostwrote Mark Fuhrman's books?

Chris S. | November 23, 2006 11:22 AM

Interestingly, the OJ book was sold to bookstores as a 'blind buy'. Stores weren't told the author, title, or contents of the book. Just the price, and that it would be the biggest book of the season, doncha know.

This was in Canada, and though things might have been a little different in the US, the embargo on the book was firmly in place there too. And most independant booksellers said "No thanks" even before we found out what the book was actually about.

Then we said "Hell no!"

A.R.Yngve | November 24, 2006 04:47 AM

Thanks for clarifying that, Chris.

Madeline F | November 24, 2006 04:51 PM

Lars: He said the most obvious thing he could to wound and insult the most deeply.

And it's a problem that the "most obvious thing" he thought of was to threaten people based on their race. It's a problem of his, and it's a problem of society's.

You're not going to convince me that shouting another name like cracker back is taking the high road.

Helloooo, Mr. Straw Man!

It's just as mean, petty and stupid in the setting and cultural context of a comedy club.

Look, you seriously need to step back and think about why you're blowing off centuries of misery and terrorism here. Richards may have been a funny guy who brought you joy, but it does you no good to dishonor yourself by defending something even he realized was horrible.

Luke | November 24, 2006 09:02 PM

Kevin said: "another indication that "Hollywood" is out of touch with that large fly over region of the country that is their biggest consumer?"

You mean that part that begins a little east of Maine, ends a little west of Hawaii, and only excludes Hollywood?

Lars | November 25, 2006 04:22 PM

Madeline F,

The way I see it, in popular culture, racism against white people is fair game, and this is hypocritical. It may be in response to a long history of whites subjugating people of other colors, but it's still counter-productive.

Our standards for political correctness are vastly higher for white males in this society, and it should come as no surprise that not every white male can live up to those standards. When we allow ourselves to get hyped up over the venting of one drunk, tired, frustrated comedian, we're taking bunny hops backward in race relations. The real tension is not in what Richard's said, but how people are responding to it.

Peter Korh | November 26, 2006 03:05 PM

The URL isn't mine. It belongs to the dog Faith that was BUMPED off Letterman Monday last week so that fat-head bigot Michael Richards could make a 1/2 apology. I was in line and met the dog. She was incredible! Even after being bumped from the show the owner (author) Jude Stringfellow made sure to let everyone in line meet the dog and have a good kiss before they walked away. I would have rather seen the dog!!! She's the real deal!

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