Seinfeld has been voted the greatest television show of all time by TV Guide, but perhaps more astonishing about the popular 1990s sitcom is how it continues to command an enthusiastic following 18 years after taking its final bow.
Despite the fact that most of the situational difficulties could have been solved in two minutes with a cellphone in today’s world, it feels fresh and new even as the technologies shown on camera feel more and more dated.
For the longest time, it’s been a mystery to me how a series so “of its time” can remain relevant, biting, and hilarious, even in a post-comedy world such as the present.
By “post-comedy world,” that’s not to say there are zero funny comedians out there. A handful still put together edgy, thought-provoking, and, above all, hilarious material — Louis CK immediately comes to mind — but for the most part, comedy is locked in the doldrums of political correctness and recreational outrage.
A diverse group of comedians, from CK to Chris Rock to Larry the Cable Guy to Mr. Seinfeld himself, won’t even play college campuses any more because the student environment is so humorless and intolerant.
That causes one to ponder: what is the secret ingredient or special sauce of the show, and how can it be recreated today?
After watching the entire series several times in every way conceivable — first season to last, last to first, middle to last then back to first, etc. — and then observing a 10,000-strong closed Facebook group of Seinfeld fanatics, the answer became apparent.
Seinfeld is a show that is completely apolitical.
The only beat that it drums with any regularity is the one that says we are all ridiculous. As a result, you can interpret the “meaning” to Seinfeld in any way that you want depending on political affiliation — whether you are a “staunch” conservative, “bleeding-heart” liberal, or one of the “sensible” people in between.
The realization came to me this week when I noticed someone dropping into the Facebook group to make a weak Seinfeld reference just so he could plug his candidate of choice (“Sanders 2016”).
The posting angered me not because it was support for Bernie Sanders, but because this particular group is comprised of true fanatics, who “get” the show and realize that political endorsements have no place in it.
(Coincidentally, the post was promptly removed by administrators for endorsing a political candidate.)
These are people who realize that whenever Seinfeld dared take on a hot-button political issue — like abortion in “The Couch,” one of the Poppy episodes — it didn’t do so to preach that “pro-choice is sensible and anti-abortion is crazy, and if you don’t agree, you are a terrible person.”
Quite the contrary.
Both sides were envisioned as emotionally hot-headed imbeciles from Poppy telling Kramer that you “cannot give the people the right to choose any topping that they want” as a microcosm for anti-abortion extremism to Elaine refusing to eat at Poppy’s for his anti-abortion rhetoric and refusing to continue dating her boyfriend after finding out he was pro-life.
A liberal could look at that episode and belly-laugh over how closed-minded Poppy is, while a conservative could smile, nod, and say, “I’m with you, Poppy.”
A conservative could easily construe Elaine’s convictions as closed-mindedness no different than that of Poppy’s and see how nothing works out for her in that episode as a stamp of approval for their own beliefs, while a liberal could see Elaine and find encouragement in her conviction to practice what she preaches, even if doing so makes her utterly miserable.
In the world of Seinfeld, we are all terrible people, and by shining a light on our horrible natures from every direction, it becomes easier to laugh at others and ourselves, and that’s why it still endures.
[Image via Seinfeld screengrab]