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With Apologies to Scalia: Let’s All Stop Referencing Seinfeld

October 10, 2013

A few days ago, I read New York Magazine’s interview with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

There’s a lot that I could say about that interview, and certainly a lot of people have. Scalia has never been particularly well beloved amongst the people I know largely because of his conservative views and strict interpretations of the Constitution. So, of course, some of his comments on 21st century America, religion, and his personal media consumption have been touted about in that typical armchair politico manner of, “Oh my God can you believe that Scalia said this?!”

Frankly, very little that Scalia says in that article really surprises me, when I consider the age of the man, his values, and so on. Regardless though of how you feel about Scalia it’s hard to argue that he isn’t at the very least interesting and apparently a fun interview. The thing is though, I don’t really want to talk about Scalia the man, or even Scalia the Justice. There was something he says that has really been bothering me since I read it.

At some point he’s asked how familiar he is with American pop culture.

To which Scalia responds that he’s not very familiar at all. The question of whether or not this is a good position for a Justice is definitely debatable. After all, pop culture has a much larger impact than people think, it’s part of the give-and-take of American values. Television shows, films, books, and so on can hold up mirrors to ourselves, allowing us to reflect on our values, or inform of us of events and experiences that we don’t have first-hand experience of. There’s a lot that can be said for how we as a society interact with our pop culture, and how this affects what we value legally and politically.

All of that is very interesting and all but what really got my goat is that after saying he’s unfamiliar with pop culture, Scalia goes for what has over the past twenty years been the saving grace response for many public figures, “Well, I liked Seinfeld.”

Now, Seinfeld was a great show. It was in fact, a phenomenal show. One that came at a time when America was still plugged into network television like it was one of the most important things in the universe. It’s easy to forget now that even nearly a quarter century ago (when Seinfeld premiered in 1989) that cable television was nothing like it is now. This in the days before the likes of channels like AMC, FX, or even USA bringing us programs that competed heavily with Network shows. While HBO might have been producing original programming throughout its entire existence, Seinfeld premiered long before even cult hits like The Larry Sanders Show and Mr. Show with Bob and David, not to mention HBO’s real rise to prominence with dramatic hits like Oz and The Sopranos.

The big thing that you might notice from that paragraph though is that Seinfeld premiered in 1989. 1989 was 24 years ago, meaning that we are inching closer and closer to the show being 25 years old. Given its long run (9 seasons), you might be sitting here and saying that it’s not like it ended that long ago. Seinfeld aired its final episode in Spring 1998. That’s 15 years ago.

Since Seinfeld‘s last episode, Larry David alone has written/produced/starred in 8 seasons of his show Curb Your Enthusiasm. Meanwhile, cable television has exploded, and the industry has started rapidly changing with the rise of services like Hulu and Netflix, which have gone on to produce their own award winning television programs. The networks clearly still have their chops, CBS’ has Two and a Half Men (10 seasons currently with presumably more on order), and is wrapping up How I Met Your Mother this year (matching Seinfeld’s 9 seasons) both of which are exceedingly popular (as are several of their other sitcoms). Even NBC has had shows like Scrubs, and 30 Rock that have had their own diehard followings.

Meanwhile in the land of cable television, we’ve entered into a truly post-Seinfeld world in terms of comedy. Need I even bring up FX’s Louie? Also, FX’s series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League continue the Seinfeld tradition of characters who are essentially terrible people that you would never want to know in real life but can’t resist watching.

What I’m saying is that to deny that Seinfeld’s shadow still looms large today is insanity. Hell, it’s airing at least once a day in nearly every major television market in the United States to this day. However, to suggest that you enjoyed it, and that this in some way connects you to American Pop Culture and the American people, is a fallacy I no longer am willing to accept.

Everyone enjoyed Seinfeld, the fact that Antonin Scalia did is not a revelation to me. Nor has it been a revelation when anyone in the past 24 years has said it. The fact that he actually references the famed ‘No Soup for you!’ line made it all the more painful. Go up to one of your friends, say that to them, and they’ll probably understand the reference (unless they’re below the age of 18 or 19, then their chances of understanding it grow slimmer and slimmer) but they’ll definitely be wondering why you said it since the show ended over a decade ago. Even if you used a more modern quote (one of Barney Stinson’s many catchphrases for example), people might still be confused simply because so much goes on nowadays in terms of film, cinema, and music, that they might not actually engage at all with what you’re referencing.

I’m not decrying the massive explosion of media in the past fifteen years, nor denying that Seinfeld is still a strong cultural touchstone. My point is that Seinfeld is a cultural touchstone that has long passed us. Someone telling me that they enjoyed it, in an attempt to connect with pop culture as a whole defeats the entire point of bringing it up. Find me a politician or non-pop culture public figure who has thoughts on the Breaking Bad finale, or is annoyed it’s taking us 9 damn seasons to meet ‘the Mother,’ or at least is thinking about watching Lost. That’s someone who is actually connected to our culture.

If you’re not, like probably many are because they’re hopefully too busy governing, or in Justice Scalia’s case reading law journals and decisions from lower courts, than don’t bring up Seinfeld as if it somehow makes you cool. Everyone enjoyed Seinfeld, but it ended fifteen years ago. You have to be able to pick up at least one new series a decade.

Of course this lack of disconnect might perfectly explain our current climate where good politics trumps bad government but that’s not really what I wanted to talk about today…

 

If you are interested in having your two minutes of hate though. Click here.

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