Jerry Seinfeld sneers at political correctness for selfish reasons

The cast of popular 1990s NBC sitcom Seinfeld – (from left) Michael Richards (who played Kramer), Julia Louis- Dreyfus (Elaine), Jerry Seinfeld (Jerry) and Jason Alexander (George).
The cast of popular 1990s NBC sitcom Seinfeld – (from left) Michael Richards (who played Kramer), Julia Louis- Dreyfus (Elaine), Jerry Seinfeld (Jerry) and Jason Alexander (George). PHOTO: NBC NETWORK

Picture this: Jerry Seinfeld is performing stand up at a college.He is walking to the theatre with Kramer when they are stopped by a mob of snarling students.

Kramer(bug-eyed and shaking with fear): J-Jerry!We gotta get outta here! These guys are the political-correctness police. You don’t wanna mess with the PC police, Jerry. They’re mean, Jerry. Mean!Ack! (Cowers behind Jerry)

Student, with pink hair and mean attitude: Hey, you’re the comedian?  Who made the joke about nurses? “What is the deal with nurses? They bring us food, they clean up, so why don’t we tip them? Five bucks for a clean bedpan sounds fair.” That’s what you said, right?

Jerry: Take it easy, fella. What’s wrong what that?

Student: First, I’m awoman (canned laughter, as Kramer does a full-body double take). Second, “nurse” is offensive, that’s what’s wrong, funny man. It should be “medical attendant” or “care provision engineer”, scum. You stole our language. You’re a hetero hijacker! The crowd chants “hetero hijacker” and boo the men.

Jerry (panicking): I’m not a hetero hijacker!No hijacking!

Kramer: Well, Jerry, you gotta admit, he... she has a point.

Jerry wakes up in a sweat. It has all been a nightmare.

Jerry Seinfeld is proof that if entertainers stay in the spotlight long enough, chances are, they will knock themselves off the pedestals we put them on.

I was thinking about how, in June, Seinfeld said in a radio show that he won’t do stand up in colleges any more because of rampant political correctness.He received a lot of support for that statement, all coming from a disturbing place.

When someone who’s successful complains about political correctness gone mad– Seinfeld, theTop Gear blokes and their fans, producers and directors who white wash parts so white actors play parts meant for racial minorities, then get media flak for it– they are usually interpreting the term “political correctness” in a restricted and self-serving sense.

“PC” is anyone who has the temerity to tell them –usually white males at the top of the food chain–what is taboo and what is not.

Because of that dismissive curl of the lip when they say that phrase, “PC” has come to be associated with stridency, thought-policing, militant feminists and hysterical ethnic types, all baying for the blood of the successful mainstream artist.

What they also are doing is sending out a code word to like-minded people (“Are you with me?”)–others annoyed by what they see as the unfair curtailment of their freedom by pesky fringe weirdos.

It’s a slippery slope, they argue. First, they took away my jokes about women.Then they came for my bits about racial minorities, homosexuals and the mentally challenged.Now, I can’t do my bit about fat people? What’s next– they’ll arrest me if I make fun of how lunch boxes aren’t a thing anymore?

This anti-PC hysteria is, of course, all a straw man. Nobody is policing Seinfeld’s speech. It is all in his frightened little mind.

But it is interesting to ask how he came to be so scared of a bogeyman that exists only in the fevered fantasies of certain blokes.How did these strapping Brits and Americans, all stars of television and film, come to feel so fragile?

I think it’s got something to do with their age. Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson and Seinfeld are hitting their granddad plateau.

They used to be vibrant; now they’re doddering into dotage, so they’ve either had to become edgier (Clarkson), pushing the boundaries, or, in Seinfeld’s case, make themselves out to be warrior heroes in an imaginary war.

Problem is, Seinfeld is far from being anything close to a hero of edgy speech. His standup material used to be about brands of sticky notes, missing socks and standing in line at the post office; I imagine these days it’s about what kind of Porsche to buy.

If he is placing himself next to legends of free expression such as Lenny Bruce and George Carlin comedians who suffered arrests and censure for testing the limits of free speech–he’s delusional.

Or, as Kramer would plead, “Jerry, that’s crazy talk. I’m beggin’ ya, snap out of it!”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2015, with the headline 'Oh please, Jerry, you're delusional'. Print Edition | Subscribe