Seinfeld is the best American television program ever.
I know that there is no objective way to determine the quality or inherent “goodness” of one show over another, but I have maintained for the last 20 years or so that this statement is true. In fact, I think that I will likely believe this for the next 20 years.
I’m sure that it takes a special sense of humor to get as much joy from Seinfeld as I do, but these episodes never get old for me. It is not lost on me that much of the vocabulary of Seinfeld has entered into our national conversation. We now talk about “puffy shirts,” “soup nazis,” and being “Master of your domain.” I now know what a close talker, a low talker and a sidler are. To avoid an uncomfortable discussion I might offer a yada yada. Even when I don’t participate in a full-blown celebration, I recognize December 23 as a “Festivus for the rest of us.”
The discourse of our family has changed as well. Replacing the tissue in the bathroom requires a long recitation about the importance of being able to “spare a square.” I always want to get credit for purchasing the “big salad.” And if it were possible, I would only shop at the jerk store. I hate it when I anticipate an “impending intestinal requirement.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
For me Seinfeld is the perfect blend of four unusual characters that had an uncommon chemistry on screen. But it is not the actors, the characters or the chemistry that are most important. The more time I spend with my favorite show, the more I realize that it is all about the writing. That is why there are “seinfeldisms” in my everyday language. That is why there are some episodes (and by some episodes I mean, The Chinese Restaurant) that I can quote along with Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer. The writing is articulate, creative, original and very funny.
But Seinfeld, the show that was famously about nothing, had one essential theme: “No hugging, no learning.” The guiding philosophy for creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David was that the characters should never learn anything or change. Where traditional sitcoms include a dilemma for the characters that they must overcome and a lesson that they must learn, Seinfeld, resisted that formula. There were certainly dilemmas, but no one learned lessons. No one overcame anything. There was never a concluding tear or hug of solidarity. And although the Seinfeld crew never learned anything, there is a lot that we can learn from them.
- The characters in Jerry’s world move through life without ever expressing emotions. In one episode George longs to tell a girlfriend that he loves her, but when he does, she doesn’t reciprocate. His experience is unfulfilling and denigrated by his friends. In another situation, George becomes engaged to his girlfriend, Susan. But as soon as he makes this commitment he becomes wracked with regret. This makes for good comedy, but not for a healthy life. God made humans with emotions. You are an emotional being. You should embrace your emotions.
- In Seinfeld, a world where there is no learning, there is also no growth. Unfortunately, this is often an accurate representation of the real world. We resist change and growth throughout our lives. We embrace the status quo because of the comfort it provides. But that comfort can often lead us to laziness. Kramer is a good example of this. He is constantly coming up with new ideas. There is the bake your own pizza pizzeria, the refillable necktie dispenser and the rubber bladder for oil tankers. But each of these ideas would cause Kramer to change, to do something. And alas, they never happen. Actually, it is human nature to grow. That is how we are made. The priorities I have today are not the same ones I held a few years ago. God continues to work in my life to change me into his image. (Philippians 1.6)
- During the nine years that Seinfeld was on the air, Jerry had a series of girlfriends. None of them was ever taken seriously. Eventually, we know that Jerry will break up with this girl for some unexpected and likely insignificant reason- “she has man hands,” for example. But people are meant to be in relationships. We are supposed to love, respect and care for one another. All of our relationships, including the one with God, is to be deep and long-lasting.
- Finally, selfishness is exalted in Seinfeld. Each character thinks only of him/herself. There is little concern for anyone else, their well-being, their feelings or even their safety. The characters in Seinfeld exemplify a “look out for number one” attitude. Elaine does this regularly. She invited George and Jerry to have dinner with her and her father but stands up all three of them when something more fun comes up. Elaine even drops her whole friend group when she meets a bizarro Jerry, George, and Kramer. This is not the attitude of a decent human person. And it is definitely not the way Christians should live. We’re called to put the needs of others before our own.
All of this does not mean that I will stop watching Seinfeld, or even that I will change my appraisal of its quality. But please know that Seinfeld is definitely not an example of how to live your life. It is probably a better indicator of how not to live your life. Enjoy shows like this, but don’t live by them.