Let’s just say, for a minute, that Larry David — the “Larry David” of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” infamous grumbler, obsessive, and all-round killjoy — is now a player in the NFL. And let’s just say that all of Larry’s teammates decide to #takeaknee at the outset of the next football game, to protest racially driven police brutality cases.
Do you think Larry David is going to kneel? Nope, he’s not going to kneel. I picture him standing, looking mildly cheeky and self-righteous while the people in the stands — including a vocal Susie Greene — point at him and boo. “Larry, you four-eyed [expletive] and bald [expletive] [expletive],” Susie would be heard yelling above the fray.
There are many reasons I think Larry definitely would not bend the knee, regardless of how he feels about injustice. He’s not a joiner, for one thing, staunchly refusing to go along with groupthink, even if it means being thoroughly offensive. And he has an OCD-like trait — which once led him to use a ladies’ room instead of a dirty men’s room — that would prevent him from getting his uniform unnecessarily dirty.
But the biggest reason I know that Larry would stand is his aversion to political correctness. He just doesn’t care if he’s going against the grain, offending discriminated-against groups, if it serves his own purposes. Think about his adventures in disability, for example. Remember the time he pretended to be intellectually disabled to deter a potential tenant from renting the office next door? Remember when he used a handicap toilet, leaving a disabled man waiting in line? Remember when he yelled at a man in a wheelchair for not controlling his vehicle? Larry is going to stand on the football field simply because he’d rather stand, regardless of what that may say about him and his lack of compassion, emotionally, socially, or symbolically.
The reason I’m thinking about Larry David and political correctness is the fact that HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is returning to a changed world on Sunday at 10 p.m. The character of American culture in 2017, six extremely eventful years after the last season of “Curb” in 2011, is altogether different. Arguably, political correctness is a bone of bitter contention now more than ever. Many of those on the political right accuse the left of making choices out of kneejerk political correctness, deploying the phrase as a kind of cudgel. Our president has been known to make racist comments, and during the presidential campaign, he mocked a disabled New York Times reporter. Members of his administration have been accused of anti-Semitism. The tone of public discourse has lowered so much, I wonder if Larry’s fans will find it as easy to laugh at his shtick.
Alas, HBO has not released any advance episodes to TV critics, so it’s hard to know how it will feel watching Larry’s insults and lack of compassion. I don’t expect the show to have changed course; the “No Hugging No Learning” ethos of “Seinfeld” has also applied to “Curb,” which means Larry is going to be exactly the same as he ever was. He became an icon of cringe comedy in the early 2000s by testing cultural laws — both tacit and written — of respectful and sensitive behavior toward marginalized communities. If Larry were suddenly to abide by those rules now, his fans would stop watching. He is famous, and popular, specifically for constantly debating, ignoring, or shunning the expectations of civil conduct.
For me, Larry has always been a comic way to appreciate some of the plusses of what is considered political correctness. Through Larry and his cruel embarrassments, we’ve been able to look at exactly why we should be sensitive to discrimination and other deep-seated imbalances in this country. Even if many of us think the way he thinks — “Deep inside you know you’re him,” read one HBO promo for “Curb” — we’ve seen just how ugly and cringe-worthy Larry is when he compulsively acts out his impulses. He’s a funny, clever take on how not to act.