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Protests hit NBC/'Seinfeld' racism

By Carlos Rovira

The National Broadcasting Corp. is reeling from the impact of protests by Latinos and their supporters over the airing of the indisputably racist May 7 episode of the sitcom "Seinfeld."

NBC has been hit with threats of lawsuits, boycotts and picket lines. In New York, protests will coincide with the final, media-hyped May 14 episode of the sitcom.

The May 7 episode was titled "The Puerto Rican Day Parade." The stage is set for racist portrayals when the four main characters-Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer, all white-get stuck in a traffic jam resulting from the Puerto Rican Day parade.

At the racist climax of the episode Kramer "accidentally" sets fire to a Puerto Rican flag. Then he throws the flag onto the street and stomps on it, supposedly in an effort to put out the flames.

He then flees from angered parade-goers, two of whom are offensive caricatures of Puerto Rican gay men.

Kramer and Jerry watch from a distance as the crowd is shown rocking Jerry's empty car. Kramer remarks, "It's like this every day in Puerto Rico."

The program also included an ongoing confrontation in which Jerry argues with and mocks an African American motorist.

Viewer outrage-particularly from the Puerto Rican community-registered so swiftly that NBC was forced to issue a statement from its president, Robert Wright, the day after the Seinfeld episode was broadcast.

But the statement fell far short of an apology. "We do not feel that the show lends itself to damaging ethnic stereotypes, because the audience for 'Seinfeld' knows the humor is derived from watching the core group of characters get themselves into difficult situations," the network said in its statement.

Wright's "apology" can only be described as hypocritical. A month before the airing of this episode, Puerto Rican representatives had contacted NBC about the upcoming program. Based on the announced title of the Sein feld segment, these members of Puerto Rican organizations proposed to NBC that Latino consultants be allowed to review the contents of that show for possible insensitivities.

NBC executives refused.

They knew how offensive the contents of the show were. Network executives are routinely and well informed of the material contained in sitcom scripts because billions of dollars from corporate sponsors are at stake.

ABC executives proved that by refusing to air some episodes of "Ellen"-and then canceling it altogether-because the show was "too gay" for big business to allow.

The claim that no malice was intended in the portrayals of Puerto Ricans, or that it was just a case of "bad taste," is nothing more than a bald-faced lie. But even in cases where the bigoted insults are "unintentional," that only proves how deeply embedded racism is in the general culture of capitalist society.

'Que bonita bandera!'

It is disgraceful to equate racist hatred with humor. NBC, Castle Rock Entertainment and writer/producer Jerry Seinfeld are all guilty of perpetuating racism against the Puerto Rican people.

The disrespect shown to the Puerto Rican flag-the highest symbol of the nation-is a reminder of how the U.S. government imposed a legal ban on any displays of the flag of Puerto Rico for over 50 years after U.S. troops invaded Puerto Rico in 1898.

The National Broadcasting Corp. is not a disinterested party when it comes to Puerto Rican independence from U.S. military occupation and imperialist exploitation.

NBC, the wealthiest broadcast network, is owned by General Electric. GE is one of the largest monopolies in the world.

This same corporate giant has a vital interest in the U.S. occupation of Puerto Rico. GE is a major Pentagon supplier of nuclear weapons, spy satellites and fighter planes.

The Pentagon has used Puerto Rico, and the neighboring island of Vieques, as a military base in the Carib bean. Installations at those bases include GE weapons and spy equipment.

This racist Sein feld episode-such a blatant offense to the Puer to Rican people-is even more insidious coming as it does during the 100th anniversary of U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico.

And this year the U.S. Congress approved the Young bill, which calls for a plebiscite on the outright annexation of the island as the 51st state.

Only when the working class and oppressed take political and economic control-as well as the mass media-away from the capitalists will the Puerto Rican flag and the symbols of all peoples be respected in a world free of colonialism and racist oppressors.

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