In a widely shared and hotly debated article titled “These 13 Jokes From ‘Seinfeld’ Are Super Offensive Now — Yes, That Includes The ‘Soup Nazi,'” Bustle writer Angelica Florio argues that everyone’s favorite “show about nothing” doesn’t hold up some 30 years since its debut, to the praise and chagrin of many.
Included among some of the show’s more offensive episodes, Florio cites the ones about the “Indian Giver,” about George and Jerry being in a same-sex relationship, about George getting caught staring at a teenager’s breasts, and of course, about the “Soup Nazi.”
Her argument, in summation, is that these jokes cross a line — one that we today might recognize as going too far, as marginalizing already marginalized groups, as making people who have historically been oppressed the butt of tasteless humor.
In response, brobible writer Paul Sacca hit back with an article titled “Millennials Are Complaining That ‘Seinfeld’ Is ‘Super Offensive,'” declaring Florio’s perspective to be overly PC (politically correct) and dubbing it “fake outrage,” stating that the show actually features a diverse group of actors and even won a GLAAD award for its episode featuring George and Jerry’s mistaken relationship.
And all I have to say is UUUGGGGGHHHHHH.
First of all, are some of our favorite sitcoms and comedies of the past inappropriate? HELL YES THEY ARE. As we’ve grown as a society, so has our understanding of our cultures and lifestyles and how our mainstream attitudes can sometimes be harmful. To argue otherwise is to willfully put on blinders and, frankly, to choose ignorance over enlightenment.
Conversely, to call for banishment of anything deemed offensive in comedy (which I don’t think Bustle writer Florio is doing AT ALL, by the way) is to ignore comedy’s purpose. Often through humor, we shed light on that which is wrong with society and ourselves. In fact, smart comedy pushes boundaries. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be very good. Smart comedy has the power to shape society for the better when and if it’s used responsibly.
But here’s the thing. Comedy requires middle ground. It can push boundaries, but it shouldn’t cross them. It can enlighten without being systemically harmful. And what was “acceptable” 30 years ago may not be acceptable today. Comedians need to — are charged with — understanding that and adjusting accordingly, in my opinion.
When you know better, you do better.
This isn’t the first time popular culture of the past has been called out for its transgressions. Just last year, ’90s cult sitcom Friends came under fire for its sexist, homophobic, and fat-shamey plot lines, again to the praise and chagrin of many. And much like with this Seinfeld debate, people flooded the conversation with die-hard attacks and defenses. They threw EVERYTHING they had into arguing either for or against the premises of the show.
I have to wonder what the motivation for this is. Because for my part, I don’t find anything wrong with liking something from the past while also finding an opportunity for personal growth by evaluating and holding it accountable for its misgivings.
What I can surmise is that when a show or movie or comedy bit people once enjoyed comes under scrutiny, people must feel as though they themselves are coming under attack — as if their entire character is being questioned and challenged — prompting them to act as though every fiber of their being is at stake.
Having enjoyed a show or a movie that, over time, doesn’t hold up does not make one a garbage human. It does not mean that if one once laughed at a show that now makes people cringe, one’s entire worth is equally as cringeworthy. But you know what does? Refusing to listen and examine and grow. Falling on a sword for something that, sure, is definitely nostalgic, but is also in many ways problematic.
Did I enjoy Seinfeld in its heyday? You bet I did. And I still do. Do I recognize its controversial elements? Absolutely. Does my regard for the show make me a bad person? I don’t think so. Because as my understanding of the world and the people I share it with has evolved, so has my appreciation for the importance of being politically correct and of adjusting my attitude and understanding accordingly.
So while I might enjoy Seinfeld again from time to time, I am also eager to evaluate what it can teach me about being mindful of my own actions and its impact on others today. I am interested in investigating how far our society has come and how much further we have to go. I am curious to analyze how much I’ve personally grown and how much more I have to learn.
I like Seinfeld. But I also understand a lot of it is troublesome. And I’m not so stagnant that I’m going to die on a hill for it.