Since the rise of PC Culture in the past few years, there has been positive change in the entertainment world as well as society as a whole. However, with all things PC there is a point where we as members of society have to ask, “are you being serious right now?”. From Ace Ventura to Friends, everything we love from the 90’s has come under scrutiny and has been placed under the PC microscope for further analysis. From Ace Ventura’s transphobic undertones, to women being seen as mere sexual conquests in Friends, the 90’s has come under attack as a problematic era. However, no 90’s sitcom has come under more PC related controversy than Seinfeld.
Seinfeld saw a prime time television series for the first time in history openly discuss and make entire episode premises on masturbation and homosexuality. These are only two of the topics which have seen PC millennials vying for the removal of Seinfeld from streaming services.
Basing entire episodes around the premise of masturbation or homosexuality in the 90’s was seen as ground breaking and met with critical praise from critics and audience. Looking back on these episodes, how well did Seinfeld portray these topics, and why is their portrayal so heavily scrutinised?
Season 4, episode 11, ‘The Contest’. This is one of the more known and iconic episodes of the sitcom due partly to the fact that the term ‘masturbation’ was not used once. Instead, the term ‘Master of my Domain’ was used to describe someone who successfully resisted the urge to masturbate. ‘The Contest’ sees the four central characters; Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine propose a bet about who can last the longest without masturbating.
The episode was met with critical acclaim and even saw the episode take home an Emmy Award for Writing. Nevertheless, controversy came over 20 years later with certain aspects of the episode.
The episode sees all four characters boasting that they can last the longest as the master of their domain. Open criticism fell onto the lone female character Elaine for wanting to participate in the bet because she is a women – and apparently ‘women do not need to masturbate’ – insisting that Elaine should be forced to bet more money because the bet is too easy for her.
The episode also sees Kramer eliminating himself voluntarily. While Elaine loses the bet next, leaving Jerry and George too shocked to speak, eventually George says “I figured you’d cruise right through the Spring”.
The central comedic takeaway of the episode at the time was that men have no understanding of women, highlighted by all three male characters claiming women do not masturbate.
The PC movement can not just dismiss the impact of ‘The Contest’. An entire generation of viewers were taught to banish the negative stigma of masturbation. Unfortunately, this comedic lesson came at the cost of women everywhere. PC Culture can criticise the component of the episode which they consider offensive, however the positive cultural impact of ‘The Contest’ far outweighs any controversy.
Season 4, Episode 17, ‘The Outing’. “Not that there is anything wrong with it”. One of the most iconic lines muttered by Seinfeld fans. ‘The Outing’ sees main characters George and Jerry mistaken for a gay couple by a journalist interviewing Jerry about his career.
When the journalist asks how long Jerry and George have been together, the two realise what the journalist is implying and do everything they can to stop her from publishing the story. They hysterically plead their case that they are not gay, with George even offering the journalist sex to prove his heterosexuality. Countless times during the episode after the article is published, Jerry and George must convince their friends and loved ones that they are not in fact in a relation. Ending every awkward encounter with the famous line “not that there is anything wrong with it”.
This episode was not only considered radical for television, it was considered radical for the current era which saw homosexuals persecuted for their sexual orientation. Seinfeld’s ‘The Outing’ was a moment of acceptance. Homosexuality was not Jerry and George’s orientation, but they made it clear that there was “nothing wrong with it”. Yes, this was not a very appropriate manner in dismissing the rumours spread about George and Jerry, however there was pretty much nothing else on television during the 90s that was openly discussing the acceptance of homosexuals.
Seinfeld broke that barrier and made the topic of homosexuals on television a mainstream topic. The creators where even worried they would offend the gay community, however Sienfeld actually won a GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Award.
The episode has many millennial upset due to the manner in which Jerry and George were denying their supposed homosexuality. Nevertheless, the fact that a television show in the 90’s was even discussing homosexuality so openly is something to applaud.
These two episodes and the themes and premises they embodied not only were progressive for the 90’s, they were culturally important and created a discourse for society. Did the way that they created the discourse offend the PC movement? Obviously. However, that is comedy.
A great comedian by the name of Steve Hughes once said, “Political Correctness is the oppression of our intellectual movements so no one says anything any more in case somebody else gets offended”. This statement has proven true with the current state of comedy in the PC era.
Feature Image: Getty Images/NBC.