Back when Seinfeld went to air for the fist time as the Seinfeld Chronicles in the summer of 1989, there was no such thing as the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team. At the time, the franchise that now calls MCU Park on Coney Island home was stationed in St. Catharines, Ont. The team was named the St. Catharines Blue Jays, and served as the feeder to the major league team up the road (they then changed their name to the Stompers—as in grapes). After a quick stint in Queens as the Kings, the team moved to Brooklyn. They are the first serious baseball squad in the borough since the Dodgers decamped to Los Angeles in 1958, the winners of eight division titles and two league titles, and, as of last weekend, the only sports club in North America to take it upon itself to commemorate the 25th anniversary of that first episode of Seinfeld 25 years ago.
The reason? In case you’ve missed it, Seinfeld is a thing again. In the last few years, the show has gone from being one more endlessly syndicated popular mid-’90s sitcom to a phenomenon reborn. It’s everywhere. In your local sports newscast. As a taunt between professional athletes. In the House of Commons. And especially on Twitter.
Saturday night in that corner of Brooklyn was like living a mashup of all of it. MCU Park was renamed Vandelay Industries Park for the night. Fans who lined up early received a free Keith Hernandez “magic loogie” bobblehead. (Extra early, as it turns out. One woman told me she’d been in line to enter at 3 p.m., a full three hours before game time.) Prior to the game, there was a bad dance competition, featuring people dressed as Elaine. During one break in play, someone attempted to reel a marble rye from the lower seats up to the box level with a fishing pole. There was a contest to see who had the thickest George Costanza-esque wallet.
The team also trotted out an endless cast of folks to take ceremonial opening pitches. Appearing were: A real-life importer-exporter; three postal employees; three architects; one latex salesman; a guy named Jerry; a woman named Elaine; a man whose actual name is George Costanza (and who resembled a mid-’90s Carrot Top); Rosalind Allen, the woman who played George’s girlfriend in the infamous marine biologist episode; Kenny Kramer, Seinfeld co-creator Larry David’s old neighbour and the inspiration for Cosmo Kramer; and Larry Thomas, a.k.a. the Soup Nazi. All were greeted with warm applause.
Where has this renewed fascination come from? To paraphrase George, it’s not the show, it’s us.
Back in October, when self-styled trend forecasting/cultural critique group K-Hole released its latest report, it used the term “normcore.” Suddenly, the word was everywhere, along with the idea that normcore described a fashion focused on looking like a mid-’90s nobody—or, as everyone quickly decided, Jerry Seinfeld. But dressing in frumpy, oversized, nothingness wasn’t really the point. It was a bit more philosophical. “This is the new world order of blankness,” K-Hole declared. “Individuality was once the path to personal freedom—a way to lead life on your own terms. But the terms keep getting more and more specific, making us more and more isolated,” K-Hole said. “Normcore seeks the freedom that comes with non-exclusivity.”
Given the knowing voice of advertising gobbledegook K-Hole uses to express its ideas, the concept might be easy to dismiss, but it’s perhaps worth considering.
There’s the idea floating around that this desire to blend in is a function of an anxious society. “The rapid rise of the term ‘normcore’ is an indication of how the cultural idea of disappearing has become cool at the very historical moment when it has become almost impossible because of big data and widespread surveillance,” Kate Crawford wrote in May. If this is indeed the case, that it’s now the tendency of an anxious society to unconsciously drift toward a chameleon existence to avoid detection, has this changed the way we watch Seinfeld?
For all its perceived focus on individual neuroses and narcissism, maybe the cultural context within which we watch Seinfeld now has driven us to understand its greater message. We used to look to Seinfeld for reassurance that the insignificance of our lives was somehow significant. Now we look to it for the reassurance, instead, that not a single one of us is special. Perhaps we now understand the show as not being about individualism and the self, but rather about how all those micro-issues amount to exactly nothing. “Another 50 years and it’ll all be over,” Jerry says at one point to console George. This is the ethos of Seinfeld—it always was. But where it once spoke to late-century boredom, it now reflects the comfort in the inevitability of sameness. It’s a kind of ultimate, existential, normcore.