The End of 'Yada Yada Yada,' But You Already Knew That
"There's nothing to talk about."Skip to next paragraph
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"Ah, what's there to talk about."
"Well, at least you and I are talking about how there's nothing to talk about."
"Why don't you talk with her about how there's nothing to talk about?"
"She knows there's nothing to talk about."
"At least she'll be talking."
- George Costanza and Jerry Seinfeld in the episode entitled "The Stand-In."
If this tongue trip to nowhere tickles your funny bone, you may be one of the 30 million viewers or so who have turned Jerry Seinfeld's New York apartment building into the cornerstone of NBC's Thursday "must-see TV" night, making it one of the Top 5 shows for the past five years.
Since December when its creator, stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld, announced that nine years was enough, the show has been dubbed the "zeitgeist comedy." It has also been called a "generational snapshot," "reflection of the ironic, and "self-referential spirit" of the '90s.
As Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer prepare to close the door on the Seinfeld apartment one last time on May 14, critics and supporters of the show are squaring off over its ultimate place in American TV, viewers' hearts, and as a reflection of what, if anything, the weekly antics say about the health of American culture as it ends a millennium.
Has "Seinfeld" hit some basic defining chord in the national consciousness?
Has it helped create a new kind of TV reality through its aggressive indifference to good taste or conventions of any sort? Does the media avalanche say more about who we are in the '90s than the show itself?
Conversations with fans and critics across the country show the answers depend on your perspective (or your demographic), and the things we find funny tell us a lot about who we are.
For Daniel J. Czitrom, this typical Seinfeld repartee is indicative of a growing sense that the '90s hipster "knows everything ... it's all hype and now, we're all the sophisticated, inside dopester," says Mr. Czitrom, a Mount Holyoke College (South Hadley, Mass.) history professor and author of "Media & the American Mind: From Morse to McLuhan."
Czitrom, a native New Yorker, points to what he calls the self-absorbed city-dweller attitude of the show. He sees it in this comment from a model named Tia, spoken to Jerry in an episode called, "The Airport": "I never met a man who knew so much about nothing," says Tia. The show is all about American attitudes toward pop culture, Czitrom says, adding that "we all love to feel like the outsider who's really in the know."
A marketing machine
While acknowledging the show's great appeal, Czitrom also maintains that the massive marketing both of the show itself and its end is part of what he calls "a crisis in journalism."
He says magazines, such as People, that elevate celebrities and devalue genuine political discourse are largely responsible for starting a trend that has accelerated greatly over the past decade. "Journalism today is becoming a branch of [large, corporate] public-relations machines." (In fact, as his first post-"Seinfeld" move, the stand-up comic reportedly is considering plans to open an advertising agency.)
African-American writer Amy Alexander agrees wholeheartedly with Czitrom's assessment. While confessing to what she calls "the guilty pleasure" of watching "Seinfeld" ("I snicker at their nastiness and then I feel bad about snickering"), Ms. Alexander says that the resulting reverential coverage produced by this hype-inflation prevents a real dialogue about the genuine issues raised within a pop-culture phenomenon.