Five Ways Seinfeld Predicted The Future
Messrs Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander in Seinfeld, season nine. Photograph by Mr Joseph Del Valle/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
How Messrs Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld were ahead of the curve with their cult sitcom.
For a show famously about nothing, Seinfeld changed everything. That’s the premise behind Ms Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s new book, Seinfeldia, out now. The programme’s central tenet may have been “no hugging, no learning” (while life did not reset itself at the end of each episode, the characters were discouraged from any kind of emotional development), but it had a lot to teach its audience. And despite the final episode airing more than 18 years ago, the sitcom that’s sort of about a stand-up comedian, his best friend, neighbour and ex-girlfriend, but really is about so much more – or less – still feels culturally relevant.
Its band of heroes (or antiheroes) set up the trope that lead characters didn’t have to be perfect, or even that likeable, years before the likes of Tony Soprano and Walter White gained purchase. You can see the show’s DNA in every sharp, smart and sassy sitcom that has come since – from The Office (both UK and US versions) to Arrested Development to Master Of None – and also Friends. It gifted us Curb Your Enthusiasm – the improvised series created by and starring Seinfeld co-creator Mr Larry David as a version of himself – a new season of which is on the way. And it gave Mr Joey Bada$$ something to talk about in season two of Mr Robot.
But beyond merely laying the foundations for the “Golden Age of Television”, its legacy is visible in the shared psychology of our real world. It coined terms such as “sponge-worthy”, “regifting” and “double-dipping”, and in doing so accelerated the concept that the trivial annoyances of the privileged (#FirstWorldproblems) could be a thing (and even that being a thing could be a thing). It revelled in the notion that we could all be selfish, self-entitled, grown-up children, obsessed with breakfast cereal and shoehorning pop-culture references into everyday life, and that that was OK. And who in recent times hasn’t wanted to pull a “Costanza” – dramatically quitting at the end of one week and then rocking up the next Monday morning pretending that nothing happened and hoping that no one noticed (a move that would have resonated with at least half of the UK this June).
The show was ahead of its time, and while it came to an end in 1998, it still has a lot to say about life in the 21st century. Here, then, are five things that Seinfeld got right about the future.
It’s not a lie if you believe it – the advice that sidekick and sage George Costanza (essentially a fictionalised version of writer Mr Larry David, played by Mr Jason Alexander) gives to Jerry Seinfeld (a fictionalised version of comedian Mr Jerry Seinfeld) to help him beat a lie detector test (set by his girlfriend, a cop, who wants to find out if he really does watch 1990s soap opera Melrose Place, even though he denies it – we’ve all been there). This could almost be the motto for our age, where perception trumps (with both a lower- and upper-case t) reality.
In Jerry’s pitiful excuses to break up with someone – for having “man hands”; for eating peas one pea at a time; for being naked all the time, even when doing unattractive things like opening pickle jars – we have a precursor for today’s Tinder user. Back then, the volume of traffic passing through Jerry’s love life – somewhere in the region of 70 women over the nine series of the show, Mses Jane Leeves (later Daphne in Frasier), Courteney Cox (Monica in Friends) and Anna Gunn (Skyler in Breaking Bad) among them – probably seemed epic. Now there’s a constant supply of would-be suiters at the end of your digits, moving on at the slightest whiff of commitment no longer seems that remarkable.
It is acceptable for grown adults to talk about comic books
Legend has it that there is a reference to Superman in every single episode of Seinfeld, including then-Lois Lane Ms Teri Hatcher appearing as Jerry’s girlfriend. That tots up to almost as much airtime as Batman v Superman seemed to go on for.
Non-fat yoghurt makes you fat
Back in 1993, the millennium bug hadn’t even not happened yet and people were more worried about government conspiracies to conceal alien abductions and so forth than if the processed foods that then claimed to help you lose weight were in fact part of the problem. So when Jerry’s neighbour Kramer invests in a new frozen yoghurt shop, it seems like a cert – until he starts receiving dividends in the form of an expanding waistline. Scientists would not debunk the low-fat myth until the mid-2000s, with the blame for obesity now often levelled squarely at addictive sugar rather than fat.
With the fashion world’s clock currently turned back to the 1990s, the baggy plaids, Nike sneakers and lobster prints of Seinfeld’s wardrobe wouldn’t look out of place on the modern catwalk. (And while the cape sported by Mr Larry David in one of his very occasional cameos is rather dashing, we draw the line at the puffy shirt.) But if you don’t already regard George “draped in velvet” Costanza to be a trendsetter way in advance of his own time, consider this complaint from Jerry: “You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You’re telling the world, ‘I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.’”
Seinfeldia (Simon & Schuster) by Ms Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is out now