May 17, 2023

The Prescience of Seinfeld

Maya Salam writes for The New York Times (gift article) about how close Seinfeld was to capturing many of the sociocultural aspects of our present age. She particularly hones in on the adults in the show living their lives in a sort of perpetual state of childhood, eschewing typical adult responsibilities like steady jobs, covenantal relationships and children.

Today — as cracks in the facade of hustle culture continue to spread; as a growing library of books and articles promote the value of rest and fun; as more people delay or forgo marriage or children — real life seems to be catching up with Seinfeld.” Even from a less rosy perspective, with the realization that long-held images of adulthood may not be as attainable as before, the show has taken on a fresh relatability, offering new reasons for a little self-deprecating humor.

While Salam seems to almost celebrate the portrayal of adults without the usual goals of maturity, I have to wonder if these characters exemplified how we want adults in a functioning society to behave. I’m not sure the increasing infantilization in our culture is a trend we would ultimately want to promote.

Another question in my mind is: Is it that Seinfeld was so ahead of its time in predicting current attitudes, or did it help shape those current attitudes? It seems incredible for a sitcom to alter the course of societal values, but the final episode was watched by 76 million people. The show was well regarded and influential.

Seinfeld is still going strong in syndication. Dialogue from the sitcom is still deeply embedded in popular culture and discourse. I find myself uttering the phrase, it’s like that one episode of Seinfeld” fairly frequently. It seems at least possible that this show has had a culture shifting impact greater than what once seemed realistic for episodic television.

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