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Jewish World Review / May 12, 1998 / 16 Iyar, 5758

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez Chill-out on the chihuahua and ... Seinfeld

FIRST, IT WAS TACO BELL. Now, it's Seinfeld that has some Hispanic organizations hopping mad. So what's the fuss all about? A dog named Dinky and the Puerto Rican flag. In case you've been trapped on the spaceship Mir for the last few months, let me recap.

Earlier this year, Taco Bell launched a $60 million ad campaign featuring Dinky, a hairless chihuahua with a hankering for Mexican food. "Yo quiero Taco Bell," the plaintive pooch pleads in one ad. In another, the beret-clad canine incites a crowd with "Viva Gorditas." Despite the bilingual appeal -- only Spanish speakers will know, for example, that gordita is not just a fast-food snack but a nickname for someone who's fat -- various Hispanic groups have threatened to boycott Taco Bell. They claim the ads are racist. Dinky-the racist

Then last week, a group of Puerto Rican organizations decided to take offense at what they said was a series of ethnic stereotypes depicted on the penultimate episode of NBC's "Seinfeld," which airs its last show Thursday. The National Puerto Rican Council called the episode an "unconscionable insult."

The plot, if a show "about nothing" can be said to have a plot, evolved around Puerto Rican Day festivities, one of New York's seemingly endless number of ethnic parades in which the farcical foursome -- Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer -- struggle to get home through gridlocked traffic and police barricades. In a scene that evokes a third-rate disaster movie, Elaine becomes trapped underneath the bleachers. "No one knows how long this parade is gonna last. These are very festive people," she laments, in a line that is apparently one of the "unconscionable insults" of the show.

But it is Kramer and his mishaps with the Puerto Rican flag that really drove some Hispanics over the edge. Kramer -- ironically, the Seinfeld character who tries hardest always to be politically correct -- manages to accidentally ignite the Puerto Rican flag when he tosses a sparkler into the backseat of Jerry's parked car. In an effort to put out the fire, he throws the flag on the ground and begins stomping on it. This, of course, infuriates Puerto Rican bystanders, who end up trashing Jerry's car. Kramer then explains, "It's like this every day in Puerto Rico."

Was the scene juvenile, disrespectful, even insulting? Of course it was -- just like everything about Seinfeld is. But if the scene had involved a Fourth of July parade, an American flag, and a group of veterans chasing Kramer and trashing Jerry's car, do you suppose the American Legion would have protested and asked that the episode be pulled from syndication, as the Puerto Rican Coalition has demanded? I doubt it.

Some of the groups who protested the Seinfeld episode were obviously searching for a way to grab headlines, regardless of the merits of their complaints. Manuel Mirabal of the Puerto Rican Coalition wrote NBC warning the network about the episode a month before it aired, when all he knew was that the show would center around the Puerto Rican Day parade. Mirabel demanded that Puerto Rican consultants be hired to preview the show's contents, but NBC declined -- for good reason.

Hiring consultants and paying for Hispanic focus groups to review materials isn't enough to protect a company from ethnic protests later on. Taco Bell spent thousands of dollars previewing their ads with Hispanic audiences before they launched their campaign. The Hispanic audiences loved the ads, but that didn't stop Hispanic organizations like the National Council of La Raza from blasting the company last month.

It isn't Hispanics who are thin-skinned, but their putative spokesmen. Fernando Ferrer, president of the Bronx borough of New York where some 800,.000 Puerto Ricans live, admits that his office received only about two dozen calls about the Seinfeld episode, but he still accused the show of crossing the line "between humor and bigotry."

Get real. NBC and Taco Bell ought to take comments like these with a grain of salt -- or maybe a dollop of salsa.


5/8/98: The revolution is just about over
4/28/98: Let's face it: both parties are full of hypocrites
4/21/98: Legislating equality
4/14/98: One down, many to go
4/7/98: Mexican mayhem?
3/31/98: Of death and details
3/25/98: Americans are unaware of NATO expansion
3/18/98: Intellectual-ghettoes in the name of diversity
3/11/98: Be careful what you wish for ...
3/4/98: The Press' Learning-disability
2/25/98: 50 States Are Enough!
2/18/98: Casey at the Mat
2/11/98: The legal profession's Final Solution
2/4/98: Faith and the movies
1/28/98: Clinton, Lewinsky, and Politics Vs. Principle
1/21/98: Movement on the Abortion Front
1/14/98: Clones, Courts, and Contradictions
1/7/98: Child custody or child endangerment?
12/31/97: Jerry Seinfeld, All-American
12/24/97: Affirmative alternatives: New initiatives for equal opportunity are out there
12/17/97: Opening a window of opportunity (a way out of bilingual education for California's Hispanic kids)

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.