Millennials Are Rewatching ‘Seinfeld’ and Saying It’s Super Offensive

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Remember when, at the beginning of 2018, millennials started talking about how full of offensive jokes and story lines Friends seems to be? It’s Seinfeld’s turn now.

“Millennials” is what we call the generation of people currently aged between 22 and 37. This age group is famously portrayed as lazy, self-involved, and addicted to mobile phones and social media.

They also receive criticism for, supposedly, being easily offended and simply unable to take a joke. Everything that’s said and done they perceive as insensitive and stigmatizing towards some societal group.

But millennials are also seen as the most active and informed generation so far. So after all the recent political movements, and after all the changes in the societal structure, it’s not at all surprising that the old popular culture, which rarely addressed social issues, now seems offensive to these liberated millennials.

Seinfeld is one such show that’s taking the heat at the moment.

The Soup Nazi joke.

It’s probably the most famous of all Seinfeld jokes. In this episode, which aired in 1995, a really great but strict chef was nicknamed “The Soup Nazi” because of his demand for army-level discipline, order in the queue, and refusal to sell food if the client made any complaints. Everybody was afraid of him. As Bustle explains, the nickname and the scene are offensive because they parody the conditions that Jews were held in concentration camps during WWII.

The Puerto Rican flag joke.

In the “Puerto Rican Day” episode, Cosmo Kramer accidentally sets the Puerto Rican flag on fire, then tries to put out the flame by stomping on it, offending everyone gathered there to celebrate the day.

The Pig Man joke.

This one is shockingly insensitive. Inside a hospital while visiting a friend, Kramer stumbles upon an overweight patient suffering from mental illness who he thinks has the face of a pig. After his initial fright, he runs around yelling “Pig Man!”

The cleavage joke.

In this episode, George stares at a teenager’s deep cleavage which gets him into trouble with her dad. Later, he gets his female friend to dress provocatively to make the dad stare at her cleavage too. Why? To prove that it’s normal for a man to stare at a woman’s cleavage. What’s worse is that the father seems to finally understand what he was saying. Bustle also mentions another episode in which a woman is objectified. There, Jerry and George make fun of a woman’s big nose which leads her to eventually have plastic surgery.

These are four of the best examples how Seinfeld crosses the line with its jokes.

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How does Jerry Seinfeld himself react to the accusations? According to Bustle, the comedian “has frequently spoken publicly about believing that society has become overly politically correct,” meaning that pushing ethical boundaries is what makes comedy funny.

But Bustle believes that modern shows prove that comedy can be funny without ethically insensitive remarks.

“Hopefully most people can agree that comedy, even “edgy” comedy, doesn’t need to alienate marginalized groups in order to make people laugh, though. Thanks to more modern understandings of what political correctness entails — and why being PC is important — it’s less common these days to find jokes like the offensive ones that often played out on Seinfeld.”

And Bustle is not the only one to think Seinfeld jokes might be no longer appropriate.

Daily Wire points out, “In 2017, The Guardian wrote about ‘problematic’ TV shows and included Seinfeld in its list. In 2015, Salon wrote about 10 episodes of Seinfeld now deemed racist and sexist.”

However, the Bustle article has received A LOT of criticism and, frankly, it’s quite harsh.

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Daily Wire points out, “So much of our culture today seems to be about finding reasons to hate pop culture from even a decade or two ago.” Okay, but in my humblest of opinions, the way I see it, it’s not about hating or rebelling against pop culture. I think it’s all about starting to really think about the media that we’re consuming on a daily basis and becoming more self-aware.

Brobible was the harshest of them all.

“For me, the [Bustle] article was poorly written and backed by vague assertions and a lack of any legitimate accusations that the hit sitcom could be “offensive,” said Brobible.

The author then provided the “Soup Nazi” argument as evidence.

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“The article states that the militant-like chef known as the ‘Soup Nazi’ who can decide to serve you bread or crab bisque is problematic because ‘groups of Neo-Nazis have become noticeably emboldened’ and “using the term ‘Nazi’ to label someone as a joke doesn’t sit so well anymore.”

He then continued his argument by discussing Bustle’s own use of the word ‘Nazi’.

“Oddly enough, Bustle uses the term ‘grammar Nazi’ on at least four occasions.”

However, he did make a good point in defense of Seinfeld’s homosexual jokes in one of the show’s episodes.

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“The author of the article claims that Episode 17 in Season 4 was offensive because ‘a journalist thinks Jerry and George are in a same-sex relationship and it’s the basis of a whole episode’s worth of bad jokes.’ However, the episode […] actually won the GLAAD Media Award (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) for having a positive outlook on gay and lesbian relationships.”

Unfortunately, his next argument, regarding the cleavage episode, was not as convincing.

“The writer said the 56th episode titled ‘The Shoes’ is toxic because cleavage is bad or something. If it wasn’t for that classic Seinfeld episode we would have never gotten this pearl of wisdom: ‘Looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun. You don’t stare at it. It’s too risky. Ya get a sense of it and then you look away.'” Yeah, I’m not so sure the quote is that profound. Some might argue that looking at somebody’s breasts without their consent, even if just for a brief moment, is inappropriate.

Finally, he discussed the handicap parking spot joke.

“For some reason, the stealing of a handicapped parking spot in the 22nd Episode of Season 4 is offensive because it is “icky.” That’s the steel-trap reasoning as to why this episode is problematic.” The author concludes, “the article fails to actually present any real evidence that Seinfeld is problematic.”

I have to admit, after reading arguments on both sides of the debate, it seems to me that Seinfeld does tend to walk the thin line between what’s offensive and what’s not.

Being one of the youngest millennials out there, I didn’t grow up watching Seinfeld. But I did grow up being repeatedly taught that making fun of plus-sized, homosexual and people of color is absolutely wrong. So to me, these Seinfeld jokes seem more cringe-worthy than funny. I also disagree with Brobible’s condemnation of political correctness. PC does not make good comedy impossible. On the contrary, it pushes comedians to be more creative with their jokes, rather than make cheap jokes at the expense of minorities.

However, I do understand that PC puts comedians under pressure, and so they feel the need to resist.

Comedian Tim Young told Fox News that “the [Bustle] article is “ridiculous,” and that it blows his mind how desperate people are to be offended, with the attack on Seinfeld the latest example.”

Daily Wire also said, in response to the Bustle article, “It’s not the fault of “Seinfeld” that the media 20 years later […] made the term “Nazi” meaningless.”

Nobody here is blaming the show. Bustle simply stated that the show is no longer as funny as it used to be because of the various events that took place in fight for equality between the show’s creation and now.

Young also defended Seinfeld in the interview with Fox News.

“The entire point of Seinfeld was to show four terrible people interacting in a world full of kind, thoughtful people. The humor was in how terrible they were. After all, they ended up in jail at the end of the series for violating a good-Samaritan law when they chose to laugh at an obese man getting carjacked rather than help him.”

He further stated that one episode was actually “a groundbreaking episode for the gay community.”

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“It won a GLAAD award for its positive outlook on gay and lesbian relationships in the media as the script and interactions of the cast never mocked being gay. Rather, they took extra precaution in creating the line ‘not that there’s anything wrong with that’ to show that it’s OK and normal to have a same-sex relationship, just that ‘it wasn’t them.'”

Young finished by adding a critique of the Bustle article.

“The first thing I thought when I saw this article was that it was a rip off of a Fine Brothers Entertainment video on YouTube entitled ‘Do Teens & College Kids Think Seinfeld Is Funny? | Does It Hold Up?’ Which has a million views and was given 130k dislikes and only 14k likes. They knew this was click-bait to egg on Americans who disagree with them.”

A lot of people also disliked the way anti-Bustle comments criticized millennials for suggesting that Seinfeld is offensive.

Dorian Lynskey of The Guardian jumped in to defend millennials saying, “The younger generation have been caricatured as easily offended puritans. But they just want to expand freedom for all.”

He also effectively summarized the current prejudice against millennials.

“Millennials and young people are puritanical snowflakes who insist on trigger warnings and safe spaces, don’t drink or take drugs, think clapping is too aggressive, can’t tell the difference between flirting and sexual harassment, and delight in explaining why you should feel bad about your favourite classic sitcom.”

The Guardian then gave comeback to people who blame millennials for trying to take freedom away completely.

“Social change always involves some combination of two contrasting energies: liberation (you can do this now) and constraint (you can’t do that any more),” wrote Lynskey.

But he understood where those people were coming from.

“The current cultural tendency, whether you call it wokeness, political correctness redux or any of the other imperfect terms available, seems to lean more towards constraint, building new walls between the acceptable and the verboten. Inevitably, that looks less like fun.”

It all boils down to history and psychology.

“It’s no wonder that boomers often seem bewildered by the culture battles of the 2010s. If you’re someone like […] Jerry Seinfeld, allergic to censorship and rules, accustomed to bucking the system and saying the unsayable, it’s unnerving to find yourself on the ‘wrong’ side. Your natural enemies are the stuffed shirts and Bible-bashing moralists, not people 40 years younger telling you that, actually, what you just said isn’t OK any more. It’s an uncomfortable role reversal,” he added.

“The backlash against #MeToo is the most glaring example of a reluctance to consider that the freedoms they enjoyed when they were young were unevenly distributed and frequently abused.”

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In other words, those who still think that making fun at the expense of minorities is funny fail to look at it from the perspective of a minority individual.

Lynskey continued, “To concentrate on what young people want to restrict is to ignore what they want to expand: empathy, opportunity, freedom of expression in its fullest sense. They’re still pushing more boundaries than they’re imposing.”

“In 2018, the most famous man who busts taboos and says the unsayable isn’t some maverick standup but Donald Trump. Although he could hardly be less like a countercultural rebel, Trump is a prime example of boomer entitlement: I want, I get. He’s the gargoyle of liberation, revelling in the freedom to do whatever he wants and fuck your feelings. If you want someone who will never apologise for an offensive joke, he’s your man.”

And as controversial as the Seinfeld problem may seem, a lot of fans agree that some of its jokes are no longer appropriate.

“There are some pointed conversations, jokes, and jabs featuring then-present attitudes towards certain demographics, like minorities and homosexuals. Keep in mind, it is a group of straight, white people discussing stuff often outside of their own breadth of experience. Though I remember it being somewhat innocent and often progressive, so I guess if nothing from the show has been singled out yet, there probably is nothing that nasty in the whole 9-season run,” said a fan named Dark Knight on ResetEra.

ArgyleReptile said, “I watched it for the first time last month. I consider it a potential desert island show now.”

Brinstar said, “Most of the time when the show had something bad in it, it was usually about why that thing was bad in the first place, so I think like 99% of the show still holds up, but I can think of a few transphobic jokes here and there for example.”

All in all, this debate doesn’t mean that you should stop watching your favorite show. It only hopes to give you a different perspective to consider while watching.

As painful as it is to accept it, Seinfeld jokes are simply outdated. And that’s okay.