David Bernstein has started a conversation over at Volokh Conspiracy about whether Michael Richards' racist rant makes his Kramer character unwatchable.
I happened to try an old episode of the show the other day. The TiVo had dragged in the "real and... spectacular" episode, which begins with a lot of Jerry and Elaine. I wasn't really thinking about the Michael Richards incident. I was just passing the time, fooling with the TiVo. But when Kramer came in, after a few seconds, I turned it off. You know, there's usually a Kramerless beginning, and then, at some point, Kramer makes his entrance. Traditionally, you'd get a real lift at that point. The whole arc of the show is now screwed up!
But I'd love to see one more episode of the show where we discover that Kramer is a racist. We were always learning just one more odd fact about Kramer -- his first name, some hobby, some arcane field of knowledge, some impressive skill. And we were always tantalized by the unknown: What does the inside of his apartment look like? How does he support himself? Why don't we ever encounter the oft-referenced Bob Sacamano? And -- as one of the commenters on Bernstein's thread says -- the idea of the show was always that the four characters were not good people. We may have loved them, but it was not because they were purely lovable. So it would actually seamlessly fit with the show to have an epilogue episode where we learn that Kramer is evil.
Come on, Jerry. You like to push the envelope. Do a reunion show where we discover Kramer is a racist!
(Does anyone remember the old parody -- I think it was in the National Lampoon -- about "The Andy Griffith Show" where a black person comes to town and we learn that the lovely Mayberry folk are all racists?) [IN THE COMMENTS: Someone reminds me that it was in RAW, the comics journal, and drawn by Drew Friedman. I did have the Friedmanesque pictures in my head when I wrote this post. I must have the old copy of Raw around somewhere, as I never threw those things out.]
(And on the question whether a racist sitcom character could be lovable: That's a conversation we had back in the 70s when "All in the Family" came out. Is the answer different today?)