Thursday, June 11, 2015

You Can't Do That Anymore: Seinfeld, Political Correctness and the Death of Comedy

(Cross-posted at The Megaphone)

In light of Jerry Seinfeld's remarks about political correctness on ESPN (Seinfeld told host Colin Cowherd - great name, no? - that he won't appear at universities due to the P.C. and its deleterious impact on the freedom to laugh), it occurred to me that poor Jerry Seinfeld (even though he's as rich as Croesus) is pretty much an anachronism. 

He's a man who, in the more free-wheeling, less-fraught atmosphere of the 1990s, was able to thrive but who, due to what one might call a climate change, is no longer in sync with the times. In a way, he's like an old Borscht Belt comedian - Shecky Greene, say - trying to keep his career alive in the harsh environment of the comedy clubs.

Oh, sure, Seinfeld has his "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" shtick on the Internet. And sometimes it's even funny. But Seinfeld's brand of observational humour, a hilarity which depends on looseness and free association and which therefore has the potential to "offend" and hurt "feelings," has fallen victim to the petty Robespierres who are not - who are never - amused by such jests.

And if you think about it, Seinfeld, the TV show that proudly touted its M.O. - it was a show "about nothing" and no "special" episodes delivering tears or "messages" were ever permitted - could never be made today. In fact, I'm surprised that some of the episodes, which are still shown in rerun today, haven't elicited more of an outcry from aggrieved victim groups. Some of the episodes in question include the following:

1) The Chinese Woman: In this episode, Jerry is infatuated with a woman named Donna Chang. He thinks she's Chinese, but when he meets her he discovers that she is Jewish and has changed her named from "Changstein." The joke here is that, apparently because of her name change, she adopts stereotypical "Chinese" behavior "such as displaying interest in acupuncture or on one occasion pronouncing a word with a Chinese accent." Pretty funny, eh? Well, not in our time, when, for example, director Cameron Crowe recently apologized for having Emma Stone, a whitebread chick, play a quarter-Chinese, quarter-Hawaiian woman in his movie Aloha.

2) The Cigar Store Indian: Jerry has the hots for a Native American chick named Winona, but the relationship comes to a sticky end when, to make amends to Elaine, with whom he's been fighting, he buys her a wooden cigar store Indian. Much hilarity - and offending Natives - ensues. Could this episode have been made in our Truth and Reconciliation Commission times? I think not.

3) The Doorman: This is the one in which Kramer invents his foundation garment for men, "the Bro" or "Manssiere." Groups that might take affront from this one include feminists, who shun bras as being symbolic of male chauvinistic oppression, and "trans" women, are in the process of rejecting the male body into which they were born and who embrace the bra as a symbol of what it means to be a "real" woman.

4) The Maid: George hires a maid and ends up paying her for sexual instead of cleaning services. Cue the outcry from women in the "sex trade!"

5) The Soup Nazi: He's a Nazi in the sense that he's a surly and authoritarian purveyor of unbelievably delectable soups, not in the sense of being a member of the Third Reich who pledges allegiance to the dictator who unleashed WW2 and the Holocaust. How "insensitive" to those who suffered because of real Nazis!

I could go on - and on - but you get the picture. The only thing I would add is that in our crazy, Obama-and-ISIS-and-nuclear-mullahs world, the world of Caitlyn Jenner on the tube and "triggers" and "micro-agressions" on the campus, a "show about nothing" is, on the one hand, completely anachronistic. Then again, one cannot help but feel nostalgic for those simpler, pre-9/11, pre-Internet times, when the jihad and social media were not on our radar.

No comments: