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An Explanation à la Seinfeld and Millennial PC

Updated on June 18, 2015

I'm sorry about misrepresenting you Jerry.

A few days ago I wrote a piece about Seinfeld and his recent interviews on PC.

However, upon sharing what I thought was a well reasoned and sensible point of view with some fellow comedians I was bombarded with criticism. Even though only one person commented on the article itself, he sent me a colossal 1597 word series of comments breaking down everything I'd said sentence by sentence. As a frame of reference, my article was only 1769 words. And so I wanted to write another article addressing all the feedback I'd received.

I feel like many people read my article as a pro PC argument when it wasn't. My article was only ever intended as a haphazard collection of my thoughts concerning Seinfeld and the slew of other articles out there, in particular an article by entitled “Jerry Seinfeld’s new bizarro world: The sadness of watching a genius age into Bill O’Reilly”. While I, of course, read more than just this article, it was this article in particular which inspired me to write an article of my own. And comparatively, I thought that my arguments (although full of holes as Mr 1597 pointed out) were rather moderate. Sure, I made the ad hominen argument that he was old, white and rich, but in my defence, he kind of is. I thought what I wrote was much more reasonable than, and I thought people would appreciate that.

I have always advocated that the problem with arguing about stuff on the internet was that noone puts any rational thought into it. Whenever someone argues their internet point of view, it's always just a gut reaction. I'm thinking back to the Daniel Tosh rape debate here. There were two sides to it and they both argued for two separate propositions; The first being, “It is never acceptable under any circumstance to make fun of rape, rape is horrible” versus the second, “Comedy is an exception to the rule; you should be able to joke about anything even rape”. And I honestly felt like both of these points of view, which people so passionately argued for online, were equally wrong. You might find it surprising, but I was on Daniel Tosh's side in this debate. There's a kind of unwritten rule that you can say horribly offensive things to people who heckle you. But, did that mean I thought that it was okay to make wanton jokes about rape? No. But everyone who was on my side of the debate argued that point, and I couldn't defect from the people who agreed with me. The problem is that people always argue for black or white when they should be arguing for shades of grey, and it's easy to get swept up in it.

The point I'm trying to convey is summed up in this example; after sharing my article with some fellow comedians, a certain member amongst them told me the premise; funny is funny, offended people can go eat a dick. That's a quote. That's such a ridiculous proposition. Something being funny is not a justification for it being offensive. I find the thought of walking into the Ann Frank museum and saying, “what's the difference between a Jew and a pizza” funny, but if you actually do that, you're an arsehole. The situation is similar to that of the Westboro Baptist Church; while everyone has the right to protest, those who picket the funerals of homosexual soldiers are dicks. I was also told that the PC movement forbades the mere utterance of some words, making it an “Orwellian” attempt at oppression of the freedom of speech. That's bullshit. Noone dragged Seinfeld off to room 101 after he made a joke about gay French kings. The problem with the internet is that its easy to take small differences in opinion and blow them out of proportion.

So, I quickly want to address two things which I think are wrong with peoples mentality when arguing about this topic; the first is holding comedy as special and exempt from criticism, and the second is a fundamental misunderstanding about PC. It's an unhappy occurrence that my writing of this article coincided with a time when I was getting increasingly disillusioned with comedy. I started writing comedy when I was fifteen, and all that mattered to me then was making people laugh. But as I grew older and more experienced, just the fact that people laughed wasn't good enough. I began doing stand up because of the work of comics like George Carlin and Stewart Lee, comedians whose work was not only funny, but that really meant something. I was tired of going out to the comedy club every other night and just hearing meaningless crap. Here's a joke about public transport, here's a joke about how I don't get sex from my wife. Was this it? Was this all there was to comedy? An endless line of talentless nitwits telling lazier jokes than I wrote when I was fifteen? Were we going to joke about penises and public transport forever?

George Carlin, "Scratch any cynic and you'll find a disappointed idealist".

I was growing up, but the comedy scene just wasn't growing up with me.

And that isn't me saying there's no talent left in comedy. There's a tonne of comics I've worked with that I deeply respect. But a joke just being funny isn't enough for me anymore. A laugh isn't enough to justify you wasting precious minutes of your audience's life. I realise it's cynical, and I've written journal articles previously about the exact opposite thing; about how there was infinite beauty in a joke's meaninglessness, but I just don't feel the same way anymore. To quote George Carlin, “scratch any cynic and you'll find a disappointed idealist”. That's what I am. Comedy disappoints me.

And so, when I see people make the argument that comedy is special and that being funny justifies being offensive, well, I can't disagree with you more. It just isn't right to intentionally victimise people with your comedy, regardless of how funny you think it is. Whenever I head down to the comedy club and hear jokes told by a privileged, middle class, white man about how the Muslims are being idiots and the Maoris are being criminals, and hear them justify their politically incorrect statements with the proposition that “it's just a joke”, well, the idealist in me dies a little more. People say it's the duty of the comedian to push the line, but the truth is that when you make these types of lazy jokes, you're not pushing the line. You're going down a path that's been tread by thousands of other comics before you. When Seinfeld called flicking a smartphone “gay” he wasn't pushing a line. He wasn't innovating or making any radical new statements about society. He was telling a lazy joke that honestly, wasn't even that funny. What annoyed me about his statements was that he blamed this joke's failure on political correctness gone mad. People aren't comfortable laughing a joke whose only proposition is “gay people act gay lol” and they shouldn't be. It's part of being a good comedian to know your audience.

Does this mean that comedians aren't allowed to say whatever they want? Yeah it does. Is it a bad thing for comedy? I don't think it has to be. Honestly, it's about time us comedians grew a conscience.

So now you're thinking I'm a brainwashed liberal whose been totally swept up in the PC movement. You think that I think, you can never make jokes if there's even the slightest chance that your jokes might offend somebody. That because comedians don't have the freedom to go and offend people, all comedy's got to be lame dad jokes about how a duck walks into a bar. If you're thinking that right now, then you've completely missed the point of everything I've said. I will always advocate for the reasonable middle ground. Put simply, I think that comedians should be allowed to make offensive jokes, so long as they aren't dicks about it. I'm not saying Seinfeld is a dick because he made a joke about gay people, I'm saying he's a dick for blaming the failure of his joke on the PC movement. Very few things annoy me as much as allocating arbitrary blame on “PC”.

But I'm not totally on PC's side either. I honestly don't even think that Seinfeld's joke was that offensive. A gay french king, I mean who really cares? Hold your horses, I know you think this is contradicting what I said about Seinfeld earlier, and in truth, it sort of does. What I mean to say is, it's offensive enough to not laugh at, but I don't think it's offensive enough to be offended by. I think that's the major difference that Seinfeld hasn't realised. If upon saying the joke he was booed offstage then there would be a problem. That would be PC gone mad. But, that didn't happen. All that happened was that people weren't totally on board with laughing. I tried to get that point across in my previous article, but I realise in my exaggeration it may have come across differently.

So let's quickly tackle the myth that PC has insidiously infected our society and censored our speech. It isn't true guys. Seinfeld was up in arms about his daughter accusing his wife of saying something sexist, when she hadn't really said anything of that nature. He thought his daughter had misinterpreted and arbitrarily labelled what his wife said. However, I think that misinterpretation flows both ways. Anti-PC advocates think that PC misinterprets harmless jokes as horribly offensive insults, while pro-PC advocates are themselves misinterpreted as being incredibly offended, when in reality, all they (or at least all I) offered was some constructive criticism. Once again, a degree of reasonableness is what the doctor ordered. I sincerely feel like the daughter's saying, “that's sexist” was all a part of the natural banter between mother and daughter, an excuse oft used by those defending the politically incorrect.

People seem to be under this persuasive belief that PC means that, if someone might be offended by something, then we can't say it. Full stop. And that's not what it's about. It's about not being a dick. Thinking about Daniel Tosh again, his whole act is about being a dick; he just took it too far in this one instance and he subsequently apologised for it via social media. We didn't need to rally against feminists in his defence, and I don't think we should rally against PC in defence of Seinfeld. I got annoyed by Seinfeld because he doesn't have a point. This “orwellian” PC movement he cites is a fantasy. The truth is, that we as a society aren't as comfortable offending people as we used to be. I remember a set by Eddie Murphy in the 80s where he literally rants about “faggots” for a full twenty minutes. He'd be crucified for that now. A point that my 1597 word commenter made was that PC has changed the degree of offensiveness people need in order to qualify as a “dick”. Its a good point. However, I don't think PC has restricted the available vocabulary as much as Seinfeld complains it has. Sure, you can't joke about “faggots” anymore, but isn't that a good thing in a society where we want to be accepting of these people?

It's all a matter of degree. People weren't seriously offended by Seinfeld's gay joke. I'm not offended by it, and I would argue that the reasonable person shouldn't be offended either. And they shouldn't be offended, not for the arbitrary excuse that it was funny, but because it just isn't that offensive. People say much worse things every night at the club. He just shouldn't have blamed the failure of his joke on some kind of fanciful PC movement. Just as he shouldn't have blamed his 14 year old daughter's innocent banter on the same thing. That's really all I was trying to say in my previous article.

In conclusion, I hope I've answered all the questions people were asking me on facebook and the like. If you still don't agree with me, that's fine too honestly, you're allowed to have a differing opinion. My goal has always been to promote reasonableness and rationality when tackling these controversial issues and I hope that you all didn't misinterpret what I wrote earlier. I want to end this piece, again with a quote, this time by Stewart Lee, “When I was fourteen, I had a massive poster on my wall of a giant pop-art mouth advertising a Swiss exhibition of abstract art. My friends and family mocked my pretention, but I loved that poster and the hope it offered of an exciting world of thought beyond the boundaries of stifling Solihull. But one day the poster fell off the wall and the dog pissed all over it, ruining it for ever, while my mother laughed. That poster is what the Alternative Comedy dream meant to me - the possibility of a better world. And now it is covered in dog's piss.”

I think Stewart says it best.


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    • mrpopo profile image


      3 years ago from Canada

      I probably said it poorly but I didn't mean that you wrote a whole Hub just for me. I meant that your Hub was in response to my comment, among other things.

      There is no implication that she has nothing better to do, where did you get that from? Nothing in the mother’s statement suggests that. Why would you assume that pursuing a relevant interest automatically means that you have nothing better to do? I play sports in my spare time and keep up with the latest sports news, does that mean I have nothing better to do because I indulge in sports related interests?

      The mother could be and most likely is aware that the daughter has a lot to do in terms of educational and extracurricular responsibilities, hell she could have all of the responsibilities in the world, she could be trying to cure cancer and solve quantum theory, but this doesn't take away from the fact that she is *probably* still going to want to interact with boys in the coming years, especially in her free time. And even if she were implying that the daughter has nothing better to do, I have no idea how this is in any way stereotypical or discriminatory against girls. Is there a stereotype out there that suggests girls have nothing better to do than chase boys? Please show evidence of this, because as far as I'm aware this doesn't seem to be based on reality. If there is no stereotype, at most this would be an implication on the daughter specifically, not on all girls.

      So I ask again, how is it sexist to suggest that a young girl will begin developing an interest in young men and, on her own free time (remember, she said on the weekends), will choose to pursue this interest? What stereotype is this enforcing? That most young women are going to be attracted to the opposite sex? That people like to pursue their interests on their own free time?

      These are factual statements, applicable to boys as well for that matter. They too will experience sexual attraction to the opposite sex during puberty, they too will pursue these interests in their own free time. So it's not sexist in the sense of gender superiority because it's applicable to both genders. I suppose if you consider biological truths to be discriminatory and stereotypical then this is sexist, but that’s watering it down to the point where everyone who isn’t bisexual or asexual is being sexist and stereotypical on the grounds of favouring one gender over another for sexual relations. Which quite frankly, is idiotic and does a disservice to actual cases of sexism.

      What should be reasonably interpreted from this one statement is that the mother, recognizing that her daughter is becoming a young woman and, due to an influx of sex hormones, is *most likely* going to develop an interest in young men. This newfound interest will be reflected in changes to her behaviour in her free time. It's not a terribly profound statement, in fact it's downright obvious, but calling a common observation in human behaviour sexist and stereotypical? Shaming and insulting people for making these observations?

      As an aside, I think you're severely devaluing the importance of these interactions just because they don't have a measurable effect in learning a skill or topic. Are socializing, experiencing young love and exploring sexualities not a vital part of the life experiences of most human beings? Are young girls like Seinfeld's daughter only supposed to be partaking in studying or "constructive" tasks? Are they not allowed to pursue their social interests in their own free time?

      What you and the daughter are seemingly trying to do is censor people's accurate interpretations of reality through shame and insults. And you are getting results, not just in the fact that Jerry will refuse to perform for colleges and universities. Wearing a shirt with a sexy female cartoon is apparently sexist, to the point that people will feel the need to harass and shame an astrophysicist to the point of a tearful public apology. Promoting an attractive woman as a standard for "beach body" is fat shaming to the point that it warrants defacing and vandalizing the ads, and threatening the company responsible. There's been at least one man who's been jailed for making an "inappropriate" joke on Facebook (look up Neil Phillips). All under the guise of political correctness. If that's not scarily Orwellian, I don't know what is.

      In light of everything you've said? See, the problem with your statement is that it's so vague that I can't even begin to identify what "light" I should be looking for to render my question and points immaterial. And which question? I asked three. I'm no mindreader.

      But all of the above questions are indeed pertinent to the discussion. The points I am trying to prove with these questions should be obvious:

      1) The wife is not being sexist in the sense of gender/orientation superiority or discrimination. At most she is being sexist in the sense that biology is sexist. This means that your piece is either falsely accusing her of sexism (like the daughter), that you consider biological truths as sexism (which I find ridiculous, especially if you're going to shame and insult them for it), or that you are using irony or sarcasm in some manner for the purposes of entertainment.

      2) You haven't provided evidence for the daughter's banter. This means that you are either lying about it or again, are being ironic/sarcastic in some manner. In any case, if the daughter did engage in banter this would dismantle the point in your first Hub because she isn’t actually standing up to gender stereotypes, she’s just bantering (assuming you are sincere with that statement). If she isn’t engaging in banter, then you are backtracking in your second Hub.

      3) You're sincere with your accusations of sexism. This would establish whether or not you believe the above points to be true, or if you were utilizing facetious irony/satire/exaggeration as a comedic technique (which was obviously lost on me).

      Quite frankly, this looks like you're trying to avoid answering the questions altogether, for whatever reason. But I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. If you could explain to me how my point and my questions were immaterial instead of handwaving it to the “light of everything you said," that'd be very much appreciated.

      In any case, unless I’ve missed something you are being sincere, so you believe that the wife is being sexist (even if it’s just a “bit”) and that the daughter also simultaneously engaged in banter. You haven’t explained how she’s being sexist. At best you’ve claimed something that the wife never said and that even if she had said it wouldn’t be demonstrating sexism, as far as I can tell. Either that or you are claiming that biological realities are sexist. There’s also no evidence of banter provided, so I have to assume that you’ve made this up entirely in an attempt to backtrack, as long as you’re unwilling to provide evidence of said banter.

      TLDR; it’s not sexist to say someone will like to pursue interests in their spare time. It’s not sexist to state common biological truths about gender and orientation (or if it is, then most of the planet is sexist, rendering the accusation null). There’s no evidence that the daughter’s statements were banter. There’s no evidence that you weren’t being serious with these statements. These questions demonstrate that your accusations of sexism are unfounded or based on a watered down definition, which I think is central to the discussion of whether or not PC or Seinfeld was correct (i.e. your main thesis in your first Hub).

      Looking forward to your clarifications.

    • TheManlyBeastman profile imageAUTHOR

      Ben Cleland 

      3 years ago from Auckland, New Zealand

      Trust me, I didn't write a whole other hub just for you. As for the matter of the wife being sexist, well, it is a bit sexist isn't it? She's saying she wants to go to the city to chase boys, not go to the city to study or do something constructive. I know what you're gonna say, there's nothing sexist about being attracted to the opposite sex, but come on man. Its saying that as a 14 year old girl she has nothing better to do than chase around boys. Sure, it ain't aggressively or explicitly sexist, but it still is. You can enforce stereotypes by implication. And I mean, in the light of everything I've said, does your question even matter? Not really. The point you were trying to prove is rather immaterial.

    • mrpopo profile image


      3 years ago from Canada

      Wow, wasn't expecting a whole Hub for my response. As I'm reading it, it comes off as a bit defensive. And rightfully so, my comment was an attacking critique, perhaps excessively.

      With that observation I just wanted to mention something one of my English teachers of the past used to tell us: "the person who you most want to critique your work is your enemy, because they won't hold back." Though enemy is too strong a word (an exaggeration to convey the message - kind of like comedy), he is right. Your friends and colleagues and fans may lap up everything you have to say without question. Maybe they don't want to hurt or... offend... your feelings. And that makes your piece weaker because it won't force you to acknowledge any of its drawbacks and correspondingly strengthen your points and arguments. If any, of course.

      And yes, this really did captivate me. I know it's hard to believe.

      So that's where I was mainly coming from. I meant no ill will, and I know this can be lost in translation especially in this medium, but I hope you don't take my excessive critique too personally. Honestly, it's one of my main flaws in terms of discussion via the Internet. I feel the need to respond to every point of contention where a better strategy would be to tackle the main issues. But hey, at least it's good practice.

      Speaking of which, I read this piece in full and I am probably going to make other points about it at a later time. If you feel like it was beneficial I'll definitely do it. But in the meantime I just wanted to focus on the main issue I had with your other Hub:

      How was his wife sexist with her comment about girls liking boys around adolescence?

      In your previous Hub you said you were proud of the daughter for standing up to gender stereotypes, that Seinfeld is an idiot and a bad parent (presumably his wife as well), that what she said was indeed sexist, that Jerry is an idiot for being outraged at this incredibly serious accusation. Nothing in that paragraph indicates an exaggeration, satire or irony (especially in the context of the rest of the article, and this Hub further proves it). So I have to conclude that you're being sincere with your comments.

      In this Hub, instead of explaining how she was being sexist (an accusation both you and the daughter make), you move the goalpost to say that her accusation was just banter. Nowhere was this stated in your previous Hub, and there is no evidence for this claim in either Hub.

      So first of all, was the wife being sexist or not? And what evidence do you have to suggest that the daughter's accusation was just banter? What evidence do you have to suggest that your accusations were likewise not sincere?

      Looking forward to your response,

      Mr1597 - err I mean, MrPopo

    • lyoness913 profile image

      Summer LeBlanc 

      3 years ago from H-Town

      Hmmm.. I am intrigued- I simply must read the first article you speak of.



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