Using Jerry Seinfeld to Explore the Five Basic Elements of the PC Culture Debates™

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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87 Responses

  1. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?

    (Comments are now open…)Report

  2. Avatar morat20 says:

    I think a shorter version is: “Jerry Seinfeld’s target audience aging with him. Seinfeld blames ‘college kids these days'”.

    Everything else is just handwaving.

    I do think the complaint about, in the age of YouTube, it being really risky to vet new material against a live audience has some validity. I can see why it was a common practice, and getting to try out a new or edgy bit ‘risk free’ against a club crowd before you ran it prime time was a useful tool that’s just gone now.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      That fashions in comedy, like everything else, change is something comics should know. I assume they do but think that applies to other comics. Lots of things used to be funny but aren’t considered so now. That is life. Someone needs to tell Seinfeld he is getting older. He is right that people throw the words racism and sexism around to much but that is a separate point.

      However, in the end, he is most famous for a sit com about humorously obnoxious people who never ever learn from their mistakes. So none of his current silliness should be a surprise.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      and when Chris Rock said the same thing? Yet another old fogey with an old fogey audience telling the college kids to get off his lawn?Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        Um, I hate to break this to you, but Chris Rock is 50. So yeah, he is an old man and probably doesn’t relate to college kids even if he hooks up with Rosario Dawson in his latest movie.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Um, yeah. He’s fifty as noted.

        I realize “age” is fluid in entertainment, where 50 and 60 year old men are partnered with 25 to 30 year old women on a regular basis, but Chris Rock was making waves when college kids today were being born.

        Seinfield, Chris Rock — they were big names for my generation — born in the 70s and early 80s. College kids today were born a in the 90s.

        “Kids today” — it’s the same complaint going back to Plato.Report

    • Avatar Barry says:

      There’s another thing. Jay Rosen (IIRC), a press critic, coined the term ‘the people formerly known as the audience’, to illustrate the fact that the internet has given voice to a lot of people.

      For example, in the Bygone Newspaper Days, a reader could write a letter to the editor, which would be published days later, *if* the editors decided to print it.

      Especially in the early blogging period, you could see a lot of columnist resent the mother-loving heck out of uppity peasant bloggers who dared to contradict them. Especially when those peons were right.

      Similarly, Jerry Seinfeld was not really vulnerable to criticism on such a scale until the past 10-15 years. His career peaked while the audience was still the passive receivers.Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    PC #1:

    I largely agree that a lot of internet fights seem to be about people choosing to die on very strange hills and not being able to be judicious on their battles. There is a human element to this and it is something that everyone does in their life but we do see a lot of famous people seeming to be able to know when to shut up.

    PC # 2:

    This relates pretty well to # 5. Fodder for days. There also seems to be a general truism of when it rains it pours. I am now seeing stories about how Dolezal sued Howard University in 2002 for discriminating against her as a white woman.

    PC # 3:

    Couldn’t this just be generational as Morat20 pointed out? Seinfeld ended in the 1990s and he has not really done any high-profile projects since. Comedians and Cars is not a super high-profile thing. A lot of millennials were not old enough to remember his TV show. I could see Seinfeld getting into the news for something more harmless and seeing a lot of Millennials head scratch about why Seinfeld was so funny considering it is the complete opposite of today’s popular with young people comedy. Seinfeld is not Kay and Peele, Portlandia, Inside Amy Schummer, etc.Report

    • Avatar Alan Scott says:

      Saul Degraw:
      I could see Seinfeld getting into the news for something more harmless and seeing a lot of Millennials head scratch about why Seinfeld was so funny considering it is the complete opposite of today’s popular with young people comedy. Seinfeld is not Kay and Peele, Portlandia, Inside Amy Schummer, etc.

      I’m old enough to remember Seinfeld. But I’m not old enough to remember it fondly. And I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone much younger than me who particularly enjoys the show. I think Seinfeld is very much a Zeitgeist thing, and doesn’t much appeal to those who weren’t part of that particular era.Report

  4. Avatar Kolohe says:

    As for Marcotte, I wouldn’t want to be an African American man on trial for rape with her on the jury.Report

  5. Avatar aaron david says:

    I will agree with you that Seinfeld as a comedian is past his prime, mostly from being out of the loop. (Seinfeld is still the funniest sitcom show. Timeless)

    Marcotte is never on point. She seems to exist only to fuel the outrage machine and as such seems to fit right in with TPM, the NRO of the left.

    All that said however, comedy is in the eye of the beholder. Seinfeld is absolutly right on that “You’re funny, I’m interested. You’re not funny, I’m not interested.” And he does have to die on that mountain, as that is where he lives. Now, on that mountain he can die a slow death of no one caring about his jokes. Or, people can dig them up, launch broadsides against him, and force non-relevent humor to be part of the PC wars. My guess, its just like Luis CK and rape jokes. If he is pointing them at someone you dislike, you will be OK with it.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      “Seinfeld is still the funniest sitcom show.”

      You say that like Arrested Development never happened.Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        I think if AD had lasted 10+ years and you were able to walk in at any given point and get all of the jokes, it would be better than Seinfeld. Alas…Report

    • Avatar giovanni da procida says:

      Many people feel this way. I never found it particularly funny. My roommates in college used to watch it religiously, but I never saw the point.Report

      • Avatar RTod says:

        I used to hear this from a lot of people at the time. I suppose it’s one of those things you either find funny or you don’t.

        Then again I suppose everything else is, too.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          Back in the day, people thought Tom Green was funny. A fellow grad student used to nearly pee himself laughing whenever Tom Green was on the TV. I had no idea why he was so side-splitting, but apparently he was. And I imagine it’s the same thing with Seinfeld. “So wait, these people are jerks or idiots, and that’s…funny?” “Yeah! The funny part is in how they’re jerks!” “But they’re still jerks!”Report

          • Avatar trizzlor says:

            Great example. At the time it came out, I thought Tom Green’s Subway Monkey Hour trip to Japan (which is basically him being a dick to people with social customs that prevent them from responding) was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. And while I still know for certain that Green putting a dildo on a sushi conveyor belt and videotaping the reactions was comedy gold, I also know enough not to choose that dildo to be the one I die on.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              R100 was totally hilarious, along those same veins. Japanese people put in the totally awkward position of having people break All The Social Rules is hilarious. (Luckily, I’m pretty sure the Japanese think this is somewhat funny too.)Report

            • Avatar James K says:

              @trizzlor

              So, it was basically Borat in reverse?Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                It’s actually not all that different from Borat at all, IMO. People got a lot of mileage out of saying “look at how unsuspecting Americans don’t correct or condemn Borat when he disparages Jews, that means they agree with him”.

                But I suspect that at least some of the time, the people who appear to be “agreeing” with Borat are actually simply unwilling to publicly embarrass a foreigner who appears to have backwards ideas, so they nervously laugh and nod and hope the awkward moment will pass quickly (and later ask each other privately “Could you BELIEVE he said that?!”)

                Their politeness/courtesy or social norms get turned against them, to make them look worse than they otherwise might. What’s the percentage in publicly dressing-down a charmingly-clueless foreigner who speaks broken English on camera?

                FWIW, I love Sascha Baron-Cohen, I think he has done some hilarious and very very smart stuff. But it bothers me when people reach the simplistic conclusion that his pranks always show that his interlocutors are terrible people. I think sometimes they are just too nice to correct an idiot.Report

  6. Avatar LWA says:

    I am old enough to remember when the first complaints arose in the 70’s about how everyone had to be so careful with their language, for fear of grimly unhumorous minorities and gays and lesbians, and no one ever knew if “Negro” was correct or an epithet.

    I remember how once there was an article about replacing “manhole” covers with something less sexist.
    I thought at the time that these battles illustrated less the humorlessness of minorities and women, and more how their chosen turf was so small.

    I mean, if you can’t close the pay gap with men or stop police brutality of young black men, you can at least claim some scrap of satisfaction that you got a sign on a door changed or forced a comedian to change his joke.

    I think this is why its so hard for dominant white culture to get the outrage, because the outrage is really about things unsaid and deeply difficult to address.

    Its easy for me to see Piss Christ and feel tolerant and tough skinned and broad minded, because I feel at ease among others of different religions and ethnic heritage but the Christians who feel marginalized and fearful, get insanely angry about “Happy Holidays” pageants.

    Notice how other marginalized groups like gun owners have gone from defense to offense, from defending the existence of a right to own guns to insistently demanding the right to flaunt them in bars and churches, in places where no one has ever thought of bringing them before.

    Or the rural guys who are so wildly offended by the existence of a Prius that they modify their trucks to deliberately spew black smoke.

    Its easy for me to laugh at these guys (and I do!) and fart in their general direction (and I do!) but I also know that underneath the demands for Merry Christmas and sneering at Prius’s its really just their way of scoring a tiny victory.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      LWA: Notice how other marginalized groups like gun owners have gone from defense to offense, from defending the existence of a right to own guns to insistently demanding the right to flaunt them in bars and churches, in places where no one has ever thought of bringing them before.

      One of those things where I want to shout, “Hey, get off my side, you moron!”. And you are right, the flaunting is a way to piss others off & score imaginary points. I honestly can not think of any instance where being aggressively confrontational has ever won the hearts & minds, except perhaps to convince people that the much more polite folks arguing for the same thing are decent & sane.Report

      • Avatar Zac says:

        “I honestly can not think of any instance where being aggressively confrontational has ever won the hearts & minds, except perhaps to convince people that the much more polite folks arguing for the same thing are decent & sane.”

        In a way, though, isn’t that a greater strategic victory for your side overall? I mean, that’s how you move Overton Windows, arguably.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      “I think this is why its so hard for dominant white culture to get the outrage, because the outrage is really about things unsaid and deeply difficult to address.”

      Excellent point, @lwa .Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      “…the Christians who feel marginalized and fearful, get insanely angry about “Happy Holidays” pageants.”

      The thing is, while they might feel marginalized and fearful, this feeling is irrational. At most, they are losing the ability to dictate terms to the broader culture. The loss of the ability to marginalize others is not itself marginalization. FWIW, I am a Christian, though a member of an older tradition than White American Evangelical Protestantism, which is the group complaining about “Happy Holidays.” They are also, come to think of it, the people who will cheerfully tell me that I belong to an apostate church. In fairness, only the bigger jerks among them actually come out and say that, but it is nearly universal with White American Evangelical Protestantism to routinely characterize themselves and their peculiar traits as “Christian,” implying that other traditions are not.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        Well, unless they are an excuse to get all hate-mongery against Muslims (i.e. Coptic Christians being persecuted or killed in the Middle East)Report

  7. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I still think that the new PC culture is basically a product of the Internet in general and social media in particular with more than a little contribution from free markets. The PC debate of the early 1990s did not work because it lacked broadcast power. The Internet was just beginning to enter into mainstream consciousness by the time PC culture was dying. It survived long enough to become a joke but it could only make itself heard on college campuses and than only in a limited capacity.

    Social Justice warriors are much stronger and more effective than the 1990s PC movement because the Internet allows them to express their displeasure instantly and in a magnified fashion by shares on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Late capitalism comes into play because the globalized world and freer markets make more of their targets more vulnerable than in the past. In the early 1990s, professors who said unpolitical correct things were untouchable because most of them were tenured or on a tenured track. With the increased reliance on adjuncts, most professors are more vulnerable. Social justice warriors give executives and administrators an ability to keep adjunct professors on short leash. Celebrities and former celebrities are more protected than adjunct professors because they are wealthier, more famous, and have more vocal supporters but are still more vulnerable than they were in the 1990s because in a globalized entertainment industry you really can’t afford to piss off that many people. In this way, social justice warriors are tools for people that they would normally hate.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      So you’re saying that SJW’s are useful idiots for corporate overlords and greedy college administrators to keep well-educated but underpaid service providers in their place? That by advancing their own social justice agenda, they are actually working against economic justice? If I weren’t suspicious that this was something of an intellectual overreach — because those very same administrators and corporate honchos are among the first to roll their eyes at the nuisance of placating the SJW’s when politically awkward situations arise — I’d say it qualified as “actually ironic.”Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        This is exactly what I’m saying. SJW are very sincere in their actions but they do serve as useful idiots and help really wealthy malefactors perpetuate the economic injustice of the new gilded age. This is more true in academia that elsewhere because it provides a real convenient excuse to fire professors or keep them as adjuncts but it plays out elsewhere to. This isn’t really a conscious choice on the part of executives but it does provide convenient cover on many occasions. Freddie DeBoer hints a lot about this in his writing on privilege and how modern elites are co-opting the left by adopting a more cosmopolitan outlook.Report

        • Avatar LWA says:

          Its been a very long time since I was a college student, but I do recall vividly how overly earnest and gullible students could be played like violins to advance academic grudges and interests.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        I don’t think Lee is claiming that the SJWs caused the adjunct crisis. The overreliance of adjucts happened because of independent reasoning. Yet I can see how adjuncts would be more fearful of rising the ire of students because of the precarious nature of their position.

        The same thing goes for complaints about grading too easily. An adjunct has everything to lose and nothing to gain by being a hard grader. Too many student complaints can mean no job next semester.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        They certainly got a reporter fired for reporting (truthfully) on someone scamming a bunch of people for money for a sex change operation.Report

  8. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I’m am going to disagree that the current PC movement is about page clicks. That does them a lot of injustice even though I strongly disagree with them. I think that one reason for the growth of the social justice movement on the Internet is that many liberals and leftists feel politically impotent in real life right now. This is especially true for the Further and Far Left that never made peace with capitalism. They are engaging in a PC fight on the Internet because it is one of the few ways they could act politically and get results. For this reason, critics of social justice should take comfort in it because it comes from the political impotence to act elsewhere.

    The other thing is that I think that many social justice warriors really do believe that the current PC wars are going to lead to a better society. I think they are wrong and are basically acted like an Inquisition more than anything else. I think that their own tools could be used against them like the Radical Feminists found out when they decided to reject transgendered women as women but as far as I can tell, most social justice is done from a position of extreme sincerity.Report

  9. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Eh… I don’t really buy your 5 elements here. At least not in this case. You give no evidence that #2 happened in part because it didn’t. In fact, the only time a false backstory is created is when you give us the Very Obvious and Must Be True Reason for why Marcotte targeted Seinfeld and not Rock.Report

  10. Avatar Chris says:

    I like Marcotte as well, both as a writer and a thinker who forces me to approach things from points of view I might not have otherwise considered.

    I take half credit for this (the other half going to Aaron).Report

  11. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Nice post Tod. I don’t disagree with anything you wrote, and I feel outraged that I don’t feel more outraged about all this, especially knowing that my lack of outrage will OUTRAGE someone. And I should probably be outraged about that.

    Given your last paragraph about page-clicks, I wonder if the explanation maybe doesn’t go in a different direction. Which is to say that all this stuff isn’t motivated by getting more page clicks, but instead, something to do with attention spans and the endorphin buzz which comes from our new-found immediate gratification media. Heven’t thought about it too much, but it seems to me that Marcotte and Seinfeld (and TPM and Tucker) can only get page clicks/eyeballs if there is a market for providing quick-hitting PC outrage BUZZes to consumers of media. Which isn’t necessarily the fault of those consumers, yeah? Stuff just happens faster now than ever before. And OUTRAGE – at least the type we’ve been talking about over the last few weeks/months/years – strikes me as more similar to gettin high than trying to make the world a better place.

    ((Which isn’t to say that Marcotte or Seinfeld or Josh Marshall are degenerate addicts, OK?))Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      This was space awesome:

      ” I don’t disagree with anything you wrote, and I feel outraged that I don’t feel more outraged about all this, especially knowing that my lack of outrage will OUTRAGE someone. And I should probably be outraged about that.”

      And I suspect there is something to your high on outrage buzzes as well. Something I had in the post the got left on the editing room floor is how much of this ends up being stuff we’re not really outraged by — that is to say, no one on either side is going to change what they do or what the watch, and in a week no one will really remember it — it will just get linked to in two years when Seinfeld says something else we want to be outraged by.Report

  12. Avatar trizzlor says:

    A few scattered thoughts:

    1. The reason this is clickbait is because there’s actually very little we can learn from Seinfeld’s comments, so everyone gets to trot out their narrative. Just from a data science perspective, if you want to know whether X effects Y, the last guy you want to ask is someone who has experienced X and a bunch of other massive changes at the same time. Seinfeld has gone through a phenomenal hit show about New York that featured hardly any black people; a box office disappointment; a viral internet-only chat show; the twitter age where random angry fans can message him directly or get an article promoted to front-page status on HuffPo; a close comedian friend who withdrew from comedy after repeatedly yelling the N-word at his audience; honored host of the SNL40 circle-jerk; etc. etc. This story is ripe for any pundit to overfit their favorite conclusion, and they’ll be right. It’s the same reason carefully thought out arguments tend to get a smattering of “+1” comments, while off-the-cuff half-thoughts can devolve into massive, passionate threads.

    2. If we’re going to generally consider the effect of PC on comedy, I’d like to submit Louis CK’s recent SNL opening monologue as a counter point ( http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/louis-ck-monologue/2866689 ). The nine minute stand-up could be summed in the following headlines: “CK admits that he fears black people and thinks it’s okay”; “CK compares the Arab/Israeli conflict to his squabbling daughters, claims Arabs are crazy and Israeli’s are spoiled bullies”; “CK says child molestation is great”. The sketch was broadcast in prime-time on network TV, with CK repeatedly joking that he’s going to get banned and/or lose his job because of it. Were there any repercussions? These jokes are objectively much more divisive than the “gay French king” cliche. Was CK banned from college campuses? Drummed out of Hollywood? Or maybe he just knows how to tell a good offensive joke…Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      “Social Media Erupts”, “Did Louis CK go to far?” “Monologue Sparks Outrage” “Louis CK gets backlash” etc.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor says:

        Right, an outrage so strong that a month later no one cares and the target is unaffected 🙂 If Seinfeld’s point is that it’s now much easier to find angry stories about yourself on Google, then I wholeheartedly agree.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        This is the key problem: Too many people think that what happens on social media is “real.” Louis CK is going to continue to fill theaters and command the respect of the comedy world. He’s going to keep getting invited on big television shows. He’s going to keep his televisions show. The fact that some people talk badly about him on twitter just makes him one of the 100% of celebrities who get condemned on twitter from time to time.

        Twitter processes a half billion tweets per day. I can find enough tweets on a theme to fill any article I want about any topic I want as long as I write a title like, “Is X the new Y?” or “Was Z offensive?”

        Are Millennials Up In Arms About the Sky Being Green? Dozens of supporting tweets to follow…Report

  13. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I think you’re right about the basic trajectory of these stories, but I do get bummed sometimes at how quickly the blogosphere became a snarkier version of Entertainment Tonight.Report

  14. Avatar Jaybird says:

    French people are funny in their own right. The addition of “French” makes any given reference funnier. Next time you’re telling a story about two people interacting, make the first one French. Suddenly, people will be waiting for a punchline. (Compare to telling the same story and making the first person Mexican. Less funny!)

    Gay has gone under a transformation in recent years. Even among the enlightened folks, telling a story about two people interacting and making one of them gay would similarly add an extra note of “funny” to a story. Even from folks who are not homophobic (some of their best friends are gay!), the addition of “gay” is the addition of a little Billy Crystal, a little Will and Grace. A little minstrelry that will color up a story and allow the listener to add little flourishes of their own as they imagine the tale in their mind’s eye.

    Of course, now, we know that minstrelry is minstrelry and that is downright dehumanizing to the people being minstreled. But, for a while there (and the 90’s were part of that while), the invocation of the gay was not intended to be hurtful.

    If I were to try to invoke the same imagery that (I imagine) he is trying to invoke using the knowledge that gay folks shouldn’t be used like that, I’d probably say something like “a professional wrestler pretending to be French Royalty and playing to the cheap seats.”

    But that gets us back into the craft of comedy and how a good chunk of it is coming up with the perfect mental image in the perfect number of syllables that have the perfect cadence that allow you to put the emphasis in the sentence exactly where you want it (like spoken word poetry).

    Gay. French. King.
    Bam. Bam. Bam.

    And he’s looking at it as a poet… pointing out that, seriously, this is a good line that draws a good image in everybody’s mind’s eye using terms that are intrinsically funny!

    And the problem is that the culture changed and he didn’t.

    And people will soon look back on Seinfeld with confused horror the way we look back at Punch and Judy. (Did you know that Punch kills his baby by throwing it out a window? He beats his wife to death, too.)Report

  15. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I do think Seinfeld is right to the extent that words like “racist” and “sexist” are often thrown around incorrectly today. For instance, I don’t find the ‘gay French king’ line funny. It’s just sort of lame. But it is problematic because it relies on a few different stereotypes. For simplicity, let’s focus on the ‘gay’ part. He included gay there not because he needed an extra beat, but because of the stereotype about gay men’s flamboyant hand gestures. Relying on this tired stereotype is undoubtedly offensive. Is it homophobic? Probably not. And anyone describing it as such is probably going the wrong direction with regards to identifying its offensiveness.

    The problem with Seinfeld’s logic is that the misuse of terms like racist, sexiest, and homophobic is not some unique province of liberal college kids. That is done by folks of all ages and on both sides of the aisle. In a way, he is just as guilty as those college kids, using PC to denigrate their position instead of actually accurately describing it and engaging with it.Report

    • Avatar Pyre says:

      After the Mark Zuckerberg announcement (He’s going to be giving 5 million to education for undocumented immigrants/Dreamers. Given his stance on H-1B visas as well as how much Facebook uses H-1B visa holders, this should be shocking to nobody.), I’d like to add to this by pointing out how often the terms are used to shut down discussion. With the Facebook commentary I saw, anybody who was a dissenting voice to how great this initiative and Mark Zuckerberg is was immediately shut down by a chorus of “bigot/racist”.

      Some of that was a valid response but some of it was not. Statements about “send them back over the border” or linking it to Obama validate those responses. Concerns over “They took our jerbs” …… that could go either way as to whether that’s valid or not. (The commentary did give me some new insights into why Occupy was doomed to fail.) Trying to discuss whether the Dream Act has negatively impacted the Black community in Southern California don’t strike me as something that you can really just dismiss with “racist”.Report

  16. Avatar crash says:

    Jaybird:

    But that gets us back into the craft of comedy and how a good chunk of it is coming up with the perfect mental image in the perfect number of syllables that have the perfect cadence that allow you to put the emphasis in the sentence exactly where you want it (like spoken word poetry).

    Gay. French. King.
    Bam. Bam. Bam.

    Walla Walla. Keokuk. Cucamonga. Seattle.Report

  17. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    I hang out with recent college grads quite a bit these days, and the image I get of them differs strikingly from this image of fragile, emotionally-labile, unfun, crusading PC Nazis that’s been pushed by the media. The movie PCU is, of course, illustrative of some, but I think a lot of it is just attacking a straw man. The recent grads I know are mature, laid-back, tolerant, and serious.Report

  18. Avatar DavidTC says:

    Does anyone else think the joke is dumb because France doesn’t have kings?

    And, frankly, calling handwaving the behavior of a ‘gay French king’ is the same sort of joke as ‘white people drive like this’ *hunches up* and ‘black people drive like this’ *leans back*.

    That, uh, has never actually *been* funny, and is more a meta-joke about how comedy is supposed to go than an actual joke. It’s just sorta waving stereotypes in a general format of a joke and hoping people laugh.

    I’m sure there is an *actual* joke about how people move their hands during using a cell phone. (I’m assuming he means like gestures and stuff.) And Seinfeld is the undisputed king (not gay or French) of noticing weird stuff like that, the definitive ‘observational comic’. There could have been a funny joke there.

    The problem is that he’s out of date, and joking that makes people look like ‘gay people’ is just dumb. Not homophobic per se, but just dumb. And saying ‘French king’ is nonsensical.

    So he’s still go the ‘observational’ part down, but the actual ‘comic’ part isn’t something that *I’d* find funny(1), and I’m a decade and a half past ‘college age’. No wonder the college kids don’t like him.

    Hell, I could have written a funnier joke. Joke about people trying to cast spells, or make a masturbation joke, or anything…seriously, with some slight exaggeration you’ve got some humor potential.

    But ‘gay French king’. Seriously?

    1) And I don’t mean ‘I find it offensive’ or ‘I’m not allowing myself to find it funny.’ It’s just not funny. Gay French king? Really?Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      The present King of France is bald.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      Gay French King = Louis XIII?Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “Pre-Revolution French kings were effeminate fops” is as much of a running joke as “the French military always loses or surrenders”. Maybe you’ve managed to avoid hearing it, but it’s not as though Seinfeld just made up some weird thing out of thin air.

      But you’re right that it wasn’t particularly funny, that it’s a “white people walk like this, black people walk like this” style of joke. But that’s not a criticism based in social consciousness; it’s a criticism of craft. It’s as if Seinfeld had gone with a pun or a knock-knock joke; it’s hack work, something we shouldn’t expect from as accomplished a performer.

      Although, in a way, maybe Seinfeld’s making a bad joke on purpose as a meta-argument. Maybe what he’s going for is that people will insist that it’s not just a crappy joke but an expression of something fundamentally wrong with American society.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Oh, you just haven’t heard good puns in a while, if you think they’re hack work.
        Now, yes, you CAN use them for trolling, but they’re honestly a bit fun themselves.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        “Pre-Revolution French kings were effeminate fops” is as much of a running joke as “the French military always loses or surrenders”. Maybe you’ve managed to avoid hearing it, but it’s not as though Seinfeld just made up some weird thing out of thin air.

        Oh, I know what you’re talking about now that you’ve explicitly stated it.

        The problem is that the phrase ‘a gay French king’ does not associate with ‘effeminate pre-Revolution French kings’ in my mind.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        Although, in a way, maybe Seinfeld’s making a bad joke on purpose as a meta-argument. Maybe what he’s going for is that people will insist that it’s not just a crappy joke but an expression of something fundamentally wrong with American society.

        If Seinfeld doesn’t understand that the only way you can use stereotypes in jokes is if they are *actually funny* jokes, then he’s not a very good comedian. You can get away with a *lot* if you make people laugh.

        And, just as relevantly, audiences are often *very bad* at realizing why they didn’t like something. Like, really bad. Ask any performer.

        The idea that someone might mistake a ‘not funny joke’ for ‘offensive joke’ is not something that should be foreign to a successful comedian, and it’s rather trolling to set things up where people will complain like that.

        Also, according to Marcotte, and who knows if she should believe her, but assuming she’s right, these jokes were apparently *about* ‘elitist’ smartphone users, which suggests an even more obvious reason these jokes weren’t funny, especially toward young people: They were attacking the audience…by, uh, calling them gay.

        College kids, startlingly, are not big fans of that in the year 2015.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “The idea that someone might mistake a ‘not funny joke’ for ‘offensive joke’ is not something that should be foreign to a successful comedian”

          Seinfeld’s question is “so what?” Okay, so some people are offended instead of amused. So what? Why do those audience members need to respond as though the joke were a direct and intentional personal attack, and why does society in general seem so eager to enable that response? Do people really not get that comedy is inherently transgressive and that occasionally their own boundaries will be violated, and that the intent is to engender a sense of empathy for others whose boundaries were similarly violated?

          I mean, is it just an expression of white privilege that mechanical engineers haven’t boycotted The Big Bang Theory?Report

          • Avatar DavidTC says:

            Okay, so some people are offended instead of amused. So what?

            What do you mean, so what? Seinfeld’s the actual person complaining here, not the audience members of his utterly hypothetical college show.

            ‘Why are these invented people overreacting instead of just silently being offended?! Curse you, imaginary people!’ *shakes fist at sky*

            Why do those audience members need to respond as though the joke were a direct and intentional personal attack

            Well, perhaps they, mysteriously, feel that mocking gay people *is* a personal attack. Odd. It’s almost as if some people are gay, or might know gay people.

            Weird, I know.

            Do people really not get that comedy is inherently transgressive

            You have a very odd definition of ‘transgressive’.

            Dead baby jokes? Transgressive.

            A sixty year-old guy claiming smartphone users look gay? Less ‘transgressive’, more ‘asshole uncle at thanksgiving dinner’.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck says:

              “perhaps they, mysteriously, feel that mocking gay people *is* a personal attack.”

              Still not sure how the comedian is supposed to respond to this. Is he expected to poll the audience members before the show to determine whether or not it’s OK to make jokes about certain subjects?

              Or should we all just understand that there are certain things we’re not supposed to mock, because they’re just such a fundamental underpinning of people’s identity. I mean, Christianity is really important to some people, and if you go around making light of it or telling cheap jokes based in stereotypes, it’s personally insulting to them.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Being a comedian/entertainer is a rough job. It’s part of their deal to guess their audience. If they guess wrong they have a bad show. That is a universal to being a comedian. They talk about trying to read a crowd to see what will work. If you don’t want to have to guess about your crowd, don’t be a comedian.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                A comedian shouldn’t be surprised if the people targeted by his jokes are offended by his jokes. When he makes a joke, the butt of that joke is gonna notice.

                Their friends might notice also.

                From there it’s the meatgrinder of culture. Did you really expect queers to take this shit lying down? Nope. We fight back. And if some idiotic brotastic wannabe funny guy gets heckled or not invited back or whatever — oh cry me a river idiotic brotastic wannabe hack.

                I’m queer every day all the time. And every day (more or less) I have to deal with some shitbird who thinks my queerness is just heeeee-lar-ious. (It isn’t. Except on days I wanna be, on my own terms.)

                And for that guy who can’t be funny except by shitting on me, fuck him. Let him flip burgers or wherever his natural lack of talent lands him.

                Sound mean? What, can’t take it funny guy? You sure can dish it out.

                So what’s the poor comedian to do?

                Well, judge the culture. Say what is funny about that culture. And then take it on the chin just like I gotta take it on the chin every time I step outside. How did you think it would work?

                Wanna mock me? Sure, try it. Better stick the landing. I’m a mean judgmental bitch. And people like me.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                @densityduck
                Still not sure how the comedian is supposed to respond to this. Is he expected to poll the audience members before the show to determine whether or not it’s OK to make jokes about certain subjects?

                And I still am not sure what you think is even going on here. Seinfeld is not going to respond to me *at all*, because he is not in this discussion.

                And *Seinfeld* is the one complaining here that young audiences (The very sort of audiences that go to see comedians, in fact.) does not seem find certain of his jokes funny…and because of that, he’s stopped doing shows in those places. He can respond to that in whatever other ways he wants. (Has anyone here suggested Seinfeld can’t do *anything*? At all?)

                I don’t know why you think he’d have to ‘poll’ anyone…seems like he figured out his audience problem on his own. And because he, unlike most comedians, actually has money, he can deliberately try to exclude those people from his audience via venue manipulation…although, of course, that’s a rather dumb strategy in the long run. (OTOH, I have no idea how long he intends to keep doing standup anyway.)

                I, meanwhile, am explaining why Seinfeld mocking smartphone users by implying they’re gay is going to not actually be funny to young people, despite the fact he seems to think it *should* be. And he also thinks they think it’s not funny because they’re offended…when in reality it’s more ‘Haha, that behavior looks gay!’ is, uh, not actually funny to most people under 40.

                Or should we all just understand that there are certain things we’re not supposed to mock, because they’re just such a fundamental underpinning of people’s identity.

                I’m not sure who you think is in charge of what jokes people are ‘supposed’ to tell, but let me assure that person does not exist.

                However, there *are* certain things that if a comedian starts telling jokes about them, those jokes will almost certainly fail. There are other things that almost certainly will fail in front of specific audiences.

                Figuring this out is basically the *entire job* of a comedian. And Seinfeld, to his credit, appears to have noticed that certain jokes don’t actually work for certain audiences.

                Although he’s decided it’s something to do with ‘college culture’ than the fact young people simply don’t find them funny. Which is the point *I’m* trying to make: He’s wrong there, and it has nothing to do with ‘PC culture’ or whatever at all.

                He thinks young people are saying ‘That is funny, but I better act all offended because that joke wasn’t PC’, when in reality young people are just saying ‘That’s not funny, and it’s somewhat offensive.’.

                Culture has moved past the point that ‘gay French king’ works as a punchline, not because people are frowning and saying ‘That’s not funny’, but because it’s *actually* not that funny to a lot of people.

                I mean, Christianity is really important to some people, and if you go around making light of it or telling cheap jokes based in stereotypes, it’s personally insulting to them.

                …which is why most comedians do not, in fact, tell jokes mocking Christians and Christianity, and the ones that *do* that sort of thing (Like Bill Maher) are usually pretty well known for it, so don’t get many people who will get offended in their audience, and the few they get don’t drag the entire audience down. That said, I’m sure they still get complaints…but, then again, if they’re known for such jokes, the complaints probably do not hurt future audiences, so who cares?

                As opposed to Seinfeld, whose audiences are probably not expecting him to mock gay people like that. Granted, this is probably due to current audiences having *no idea* what sort of thing Seinfeld is talking about. (Airline food?)

                Maybe if he positions himself as ‘angry old man who dislikes smartphones and thinks gay people are punchlines’ he can filter his audiences a bit better?Report

  19. Avatar James K says:

    I think one think that contributes to the viciousness of internet PC debates is the terms vagueness. To some people it means nothing more than “don’t be a dick”, to others it has connotations of rigorously policing people’s words and actions. A lot of debates on PC involve groups of people talking completely past each other.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      PC always meant rigorous policing. It’s a term the Right came up with.
      At least that’s how I remember it, but I was listening to Limbaugh at the time…Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Yes, but I’m pretty sure Rush means “PC” as “I get to say offensive things, and if you get offended, it’s because PC”.

        Claims of PC persecution were often basically “I shouldn’t be unpopular because I say unpopular things”.

        I’m not saying you couldn’t whip the occasional crowd up over something — some weird zeitgeist is always forming over something and disbanding after, having done their deed for the month or whatever — but lots and lots of times what you’d hear was “I know it’s not PC to say, but….” wherein the statement could have started with “I’m no racist/sexist, but…”

        Rhetorical cover. An attempt to pre-emptively sidetrack criticism of what’s about to come out of your mouth.

        Some weird sort of conversational lampshade hanging for something offensive. A very ‘have your cake and eat it too’ method.

        Rush just mastered the art. He said it to make people angry, which got people to listen, which got others to defend him, which meant he could play the victim and get more listeners (and more condemners) and basically he used it to wind the whole gizmo. He’d claim anyone who says otherwise is the enemy (PC police) and then say something ludicrously offensive or stupid. It was a nice gig for decades.Report