"Not that there's anything wrong with that."
This was the funniest TV catchphrase of 1993. It was a line from a Seinfeld episode called "The Outing." The joke centered on a misperception by a college newspaper writer that the series' main characters, Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza, were a gay couple.
OK, do you see what's coming?
Earlier this month, here in 2015, the real-life comedian Jerry Seinfeld went on ESPN Radio and said: "I don't play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, Don't go near colleges. They're so [politically correct].' " He also said younger people, "just want to use these words: That's racist;' That's sexist;' That's prejudice.' They don't know what they're talking about."
That rankled San Diego State University student Anthony Berteaux. The 20-year-old is an op-ed writer for SDSU's Daily Aztec, and also writes for the college version of Huffington Post.
Berteaux wrote an open letter on HuffPo attempting to school the legendary comedian on what the standards are today for comic presentation.
He wrote: "It isn't so much that college students are too politically correct (whatever your definition of that concept is), it's that comedy in our progressive society today can no longer afford to be crass, or provocative for the sake of being offensive. Sexist humor and racist humor can no longer exist in comedy because these concepts are based on archaic ideals that have perpetrated injustice against minorities in the past."
Provocative TV comic Bill Maher couldn't let that go. His response last week to Berteaux's missive began: "Dear you little shit, I'm sure you're busy with your new letter explaining astrophysics to Stephen Hawking and giving jump shot pointers to Steph Curry, but try to get a clue."
Maher then made a series of non-PC statements and concluded that those jokes are, "perfectly okay. Because everyone gets made fun of for something. And it's never 100 percent fair."
On the face of things, Berteaux seems to be enjoying the public outcry his letter unleashed. He friended me on Facebook but did not respond to a request there for an interview. Give him this: he reposts and re-Tweets a lot of the negative reactions out there in the social media ether. His writing ability is exemplary for a person his age, and the kid has a future as a social commentator.
In this first step onto the big stage, unfortunately, his youth was showing. It's awesome that the next generation is sensitive toward race, gender and multiculturalism. But comedy is art, and to attempt to dictate to a comedian what one can and can't say is a form of censorship.
That's not to say Jerry Seinfeld's age isn't also apparent. The times, they are a-changin' (Jakob Dylan's father sang that). But Seinfeld's calling card is his observational wit. And two decades ago, he was using what is arguably the greatest TV sitcom ever to demonstrate creeping political correctness, even while doing comedy about being mistaken for a gay man.
In the mid-'90s, there'd never been a prime time television episode like "The Outing." The original script by Larry David, according to interviews on the DVD box set, was almost scrapped for fear of offending the gay community. But by adding the line "not that there's anything wrong with that" when referring to being perceived as gay, Seinfeld and David decided the episode would be socially acceptable. It simultaneously satirized both homophobia and political correctness.
In the world of real politics, it's correct to ask for racist Confederate flags to be taken off public buildings. But censoring art, speech and even comedy, is a side step to the left of enlightened thought.
If "The Outing" was produced today, would it be eviscerated by the PC brain police? I'd like to hope not. That episode, not incidentally, won the 1994 media award for Outstanding Comedy Episode from—wait for it—GLAAD, the organization formerly known as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
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