Seinfeld and Self-Deprecation

Seinfeld and Self-Deprecation

Most profitable ventures have a mission statement, a clever phrase that sums up what the project is and where it hopes to go. Here are a couple examples:

Apple/ Steve Jobs: “I want to put a ding in the universe.”
The Awl: “Be less stupid.”

Of all the lines I’ve ever heard, the show Seinfeld has the most unassuming one:
“It’s a show about nothing.”

In a way, the self-deprecation of this premise seemed ahead of its time, arriving years before Tina Fey made it so cool. (Although I’ll probably get a comment that is like “No, self-deprecation was really cool in the 80’s,” but you know what I was 2 back then.)

Since it’s somehow impossible not to see every episode of Seinfeld at least 10x throughout your life, the meaning of this slogan evolved to me over time.

At first it’s self-hating. This show is pointless, it has no substance. But then when you think about it, it seems like it’s covering new territory. Most shows are about something – cheerleaders, vampires, pregnant teenagers – Seinfeld avoids a larger topic to focus on the trivial little things that real people think about.

What I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older is that Seinfeld is a critique of our everyday personalities and minute actions. In some ways, I think the real tagline should be, “That one thing about you that makes everyone not like you.” Smelling like soup. Having man hands. The characters aren’t blind to the imperfections of everyone around them, and more importantly, they’re not blind to their own repulsion.

Growing up with Seinfeld is like taking Bible school classes about human flaws. You learn to criticize, which means you learn to be self-aware, which means you cope through self-deprecation. In a way, self-deprecation is a type of etiquette – “I’m about to blast you and everything you love. But don’t worry, I don’t like myself either.”

Just one more important life skill I learned from the boring 9 p.m. TV slot.

Becky Lang