Pop Culture
Jun 10, 2015, 10:05AM

Jerry Seinfeld's Anti-PC Views Are Irrelevant

He just doesn't get it.

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The "Political Correctness Wars," now a generation old, continue, and they're as pointless as ever. Most recently, veteran stand-up comedian and former sitcom star Jerry Seinfeld lashed out against the perceived hypersensitivity of young people in particular. While promoting the latest season of his series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Seinfeld agreed with Colin Cowherd after the ESPN Radio host mentioned that such contemporaries as Chris Rock and Larry the Cable Guy refused to perform at college campuses. "I hear that all the time," he claimed. "I don't play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, 'Don't go near colleges. They're so PC.' I'll give you an example: My daughter's 14. My wife says to her, 'Well, you know, in the next couple years, I think maybe you’re going to want to be hanging around the city more on the weekends, so you can see boys.' You know what my daughter says? She says, ‘That’s sexist.’ They just want to use these words: 'That’s racist;' 'That’s sexist;' 'That’s prejudice.' They don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.”

In a mildly ironic turn of events, the word "fuck" was censored during the broadcast.

There are a number of issues the comedian's comments raise. Seinfeld has long prided himself on not using strong profanity during his act, and generally avoids any controversial material dealing with race, sexuality, gender or class differences. As an entertainer, he's under no obligation to write about anything he’d rather avoid, but then he’s stumbled into controversy nevertheless. When promoting his ultimately unsuccessful animated feature Bee Movie, Seinfeld made what he likely believed was a fairly benign joke involving the topic of rape. It was not benign, and many were shocked that such a "wholesome" comedian would make such a thoughtless attempt at humor, while promoting a children's movie, no less.

That's often the case when it comes to comedians who refuse to "work blue" or include anything about their political beliefs during their acts. Comedy doesn't have to be a socially progressive force, and largely hasn't been in decades, but when a performer is so committed to appealing to as large a demographic as possible, frequently it's because his or her own convictions are limp and half-formed. When they inevitably do slip up and "speak their mind,” those decades of willful ignorance come spilling forth.

The sitcom Seinfeld was far from a groundbreaking institution. The cast and writers were predominantly white and male, and social issues were typically kept at arm's length with that detached irony the 90s became notorious for. It was all good clean fun, because it could afford to be, aired during a decade when its racial and gender make-up was the norm on every other channel and every other time-slot. Jerry Seinfeld is only in his early 60s, but he's old enough to find himself at odds with those who are less than half his age. "College kids" are easy targets, but most of them weren't even born yet when the "PC wars" began.

The big joke is that "political correctness" was attacked for years before the media, academia, and the public sphere had to formally accept that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to talk about human beings, especially those from historically marginalized communities. Maybe white male Baby Boomers should feel threatened: the world they helped to build is gradually being torn down and made into something better and more inclusive. It's not about anyone being too sensitive, or the "thought police" brainwashing everyone into being offended, it's about racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, and otherwise bigoted language that’s no longer welcome, whether in entertainment or day-to-day life. Seinfeld's 14-year-old daughter, reacting to a plainly sexist remark made by her mother, understands this more than her father. He can either bury his head in the sand or listen to what younger generations have to say, since the world's future is in their hands. He doesn't have to like it, but his ways of viewing society are no longer relevant. 

  • What was sexist about what the mother said? Presumably she knows if the daughter likes boys or girls and going to NY to scout for prospects is an age old activity for boys and girls living in the suburbs of NY.

  • Eh. I don't know. Mrs. Seinfeld may have gotten the moody whipcrack of your typical 14-year-old kid, but it's a bit of a Leave It to Beaver thing to say. Sexism isn't usually overt, it's baked into everyday discourse. I can imagine being a 14-year-old and being really put off by that remark, and I agree with Michael, Seinfeld is a fucking idiot, bitter and out of date. But college campuses are too sensitive - I'd like to hear what jokes Chris Rock delivered that turned him off of colleges, because he's smarter and funnier than ever, and very tuned in. I'm in the middle on this - and I wish more people could see where both sides are wrong and right.

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  • Nicky, I agree that Seinfeld is outdated and sounds like a grandpa yelling at kids to get off his lawn. I just don't understand why you and Michael think its understandable for the 14 y.o. to take umbrage at such a remark. Michael calls it a "plainly sexist remark made by her mother" I'm just asking what makes it sexist or offensive.

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  • I don't think it's plainly sexist. But it's easy for me to imagine getting ticked off by it at that age - like, "Is that all I'm supposed to do when I get to go out on my own? Look for boys?" And Michael is right - the Boomers refuse to believe that their Sexual Revolution was incomplete. I've had to explain to otherwise smart Boomers that being transgendered is not a "hip new phase" that will pass. I'm square in the middle on this - college campuses are absolutely histrionic and hypocritical when it comes to this sort of discourse, but people like Seinfeld don't know what the fuck they're talking about despite being sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that they're right because they figured it out in the 60's.

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  • Yet Chris Rock and George Carlin have exactly the same viewpoint as Seinfeld on this issue but they're cool anyway?

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  • I'm with Texan on this one. Jesus, are kids THAT sensitive these days or just looking for dumb ways to provoke often well-meaning parents. Yes, I agree with everyone that Seinfeld was never funny, at all, but his wife made a completely innocent remark.

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  • This is a good read. I have just a couple issues, which I'll share even though it feels oddly like I'm grading someone's essay. The example of overly PC kids Seinfeld gives, his 14 old daughter snapping at his wife because she says the daughter may want to hang out in the city to see more boys, is a little ridiculous. I'd expect a better example from Seinfeld. What his wife said is not sexist at all. I have a house full of kids some days, from 14 to 18 years old, and I can't see them ever saying this. My wife and I are careful to be clear to everyone that any sexual orientation is fine, in our children or others. Kids need to hear that, but beyond that they're pretty relaxed about this stuff. This is in Northern Virginia, in a very diverse neighborhood where kids from every race and sexual orientation hanging out together is the norm. I wonder if this is a manufactured storyline for Seinfeld, something he can build humor from. Or maybe this was just a teenager mouthing off as teens do. The author just mentions briefly that, "comedy doesn't have to be a socially progressive force, and largely hasn't been in decades". Does he mean that Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce are no longer around? I'm not sure what comedy the author is watching, but he should get out more. Consider Ellen, Chris Rock, Ricky Gervais, Amy Schumer, Louie CK, Ahmed Ahmed, Maz Jobrani, ... There are a lot of comedians out there exposing us to progressive ideas.

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  • Actually I'm still curious as too why Mr Misiak thinks Mrs Seinfeld's remark was "plainly sexist." If he wants to comment, I'd be interested.

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  • not to let men off the hook, but a great deal of sexism is passed from mother to daughter or from sister to sister. a comment suggesting that a teenage girl might like to venture into the city to "see boys" doesn't exist in a vacuum. it's an insidious part of social conditioning that prioritizes a young woman's relationships to men above any other goal. suggesting that instead of, say, going to a museum or checking out a play is sexism in action. Seinfeld's daughter identified that comment as such, and he dismissed it without attempting to understand why she would perceive the comment that way, which is also sexism in action. as for stand-up comedy as a socially progressive force, there certainly are many examples of comedians with challenging and thoughtful material. it just doesn't have the same devastating impact as in the 60's and 70's, when the form progressed from "telling jokes" to a distinct avenue for social criticism. Lenny Bruce was arrested for what would today be considered fairly tame material, but Seinfeld's former co-star Michael Richards hurled racial slurs at a black heckler and threatened to lynch him, and all he accomplished was humiliating himself. he even performed at the same venue the next night and it was only when the previous show's footage was put on youtube that he was publicly condemned. audiences are only really outraged when a comedian says something ignorant and/or bigoted, the days of igniting debates and controversy with "seven dirty words" or mocking elected officials have long passed. our whole concept of the conversational stand-up who engages social and political issues largely emerged from the counter-culture, and many rules were made and broken along the way. it's still an incredibly difficult skill to be able to "work" a live audience, but the elements of shock and surprise have long been diminished.

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  • As a former, teenage, NY suburbanite, I used to go to NY to check out women among other things. I was also called out by my elders for doing just that. I also have female friends and sisters who went to the city to check out men. Sometimes, a cigar is just that. Just because a comment can be twisted into something "insidious" does not mean that it is and I hope my children will understand that and give their Pop the benefit of doubt rather than jumping to antagonistic, and offensive conclusions.

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  • The general population will have a very hard time believing that the wife's comments were sexist. If it is in fact "clear" on college campuses that they are sexist it would be hard to blame Seinfeld for avoiding colleges. Chris Rock avoids them for the exact same reason so why was there no uproar when he went public with this? Can anyone venture a guess?

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