Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Paris is like rubber, Kramer is like glue

Amongst the impressive cache of Paris Hilton's personal effects, which were auctioned to the public after she oddly stopped paying the fees on the storage facility where they were housed, was a video of the hotel heiress at a nightclub singing along to the classic party anthem, "We Are Family."

Even though Paris was with her sister when the video was shot, she chose not to ape the song's lyrical embrace of sisterhood, instead changing the words to rather cruelly disparage what she perceives are the habits of black people, or "niggers" as she calls them.

Paris continued her performance by saying less-overt things about homosexuals and Jews which the more sensitive soul might also find offensive.

The tape, shot in the green night-vision light of famous Paris Hilton videos past, made the rounds last week before being pulled from the Interweb via judicial injunction.

There have been a few peeps from civil rights groups -- and maybe there is more to come -- but basically no one seems to care.

Fair enough, that's probably the correct reaction.

Try telling that to Michael Richards. The video of his now-famous racist meltdown -- which was arguably more benign than Paris's -- was posted on all the same venues a couple months ago. But instead of getting a pass he was immediately forced to repent and embark on a tour of apology.

Michael Richards is no more famous than Paris Hilton. I would argue he is considerably less well-known than the current Newsweek cover girl.

There is really no fair explanation as to why some "offensive" comments capture the nation (or the press) and others just slide by.

Case in point is John Rocker. Back in 2000, Rocker was already embroiled in a feud with the New York tabloids when the Atlanta Braves' closer made, to a Sports Illustrated reporter, some not-very nice comments about those who ride the number 7 train in New York City .

Nothing Rocker said would have been out of place in a comedy club -- if a comedian had been told they must do a joke about the 7 train you'd be hard pressed to find one of any race or background who wouldn't have echoed Rocker's opinions, or in an honest discussion between friends.

Yet he got the Michael Richard's treatment, was suspended from baseball, ordered to sensitivity training, became a national whipping boy for a couple pre-Internet weeks and took a particularly harsh beating from the civil rights community in Atlanta. (Ironically, these days Rocker sports a black girlfriend)

Rocker didn't help the situation by coming off as a jerk and blowhard.

Nevertheless, when the dust settled cooler heads pointed out that Rocker was probably being punished for the less-than-"tolerant" thoughts we all have somewhere inside us and feel the burden of suppressing, from time to time, when we aren't in close company.

Which was also probably the crux of Richards' tourettes-like sin. (It also may have something to with the more complicated Mel Gibson traffic stop.)

And, the way I see it, Paris skates because her existence is so bizarre and unique -- even for a celebrity -- that it's basically impossible for us to relate to her.

In the aftermath of the Rocker and Richards incidents there was the requisite talk of "lessons learned" and "greater understanding."

It is doubtful these type of media events ever lead to more (or less) understanding.

But on the outside chance they could in the future, the next time someone is called out for racism and the condemnation begins building exponentially, the first question we should all ask is why this particular person is being singled out so enthusiastically.

And, when we can be honest about the reasons, we may even be able to take a tiny step towards that ever-illusive goal of true racial understanding.

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