'When' people talked about Seinfeld like they talk about Girls - Macleans.ca

‘When’ people talked about Seinfeld like they talk about Girls

There’s less of a double standard than one might think


This piece, “If people talked about Seinfeld like they talk about Girls“, has gotten a lot of positive attention, but I think there’s a flaw in the point it’s making. It’s trying to apply these criticisms to Seinfeld to show how ridiculous they are, and how the people who make them about Girls are applying a double standard. But most of these criticisms are perfectly legitimate criticisms to make about either show. And in fact, people did make most of these criticisms about Seinfeld at the time. Jerry is too much of an annoying, ordinary-looking twerp to get so many beautiful women; the characters are selfish jerks; nothing happens – these sound like my father’s reasons for not liking Seinfeld. They don’t apply if you find the show funny, as many millions of people did, but they’re not self-evidently silly.

So I think the author is almost proving the opposite of the point he’s trying to make. Because most of these anti-Girls arguments are ones that people would naturally make about a comedy they don’t like, and because they make just as much sense from the point of view of someone who doesn’t like Seinfeld, the piece suggests that there isn’t as much of a double standard as the writer thinks.

I’m not denying that there are people who would be less rough on Girls if it were Boys. But unlikable characters, lack of plot, and self-indulgence are open to criticism in any comedy with selfish characters, small-scale stories, and a creator/star. It’s just a question of whether we thought it worked or not, and then the question is why we thought that way. Maybe we thought the characters were selfish without being funny, or they crossed certain boundaries that separate selfish from hateful (as the Seinfeld characters arguably did in the finale). But this is where the disagreements take place, not on whether the objection itself is illegitimate. If the show is not amusing to you, then, yes, the characters will come off as “selfish, petty narcissists.”

There is one argument that I think the article scores a direct and solid hit against, and that is the argument about nepotism. That argument has always been absurd, since it has nothing to do with the quality of the work we see, and so it is exposed as absurd when he notes that Julia Louis-Dreyfus also has a rich relative most of us have never heard of. That’s a good comeback. But for the rest, I think it rests on the fallacy that a) People didn’t make these criticisms about Seinfeld (when they did) and b) There is never a good reason to make these criticisms (when there is).

Update: Kelli Marshall has gathered some examples of actual ’90s Seinfeld-bashing. Quotes like “Seinfeld is the worst, last gasp of Reaganite, grasping, materialistic, narcissistic, banal self-absorption” and “Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine never spoke for my New York.”

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