In the dog days of summer 2017, as the American political climate reached fever pitch and white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, claimed the life of civil rights activist Heather Heyer, shockwaves reverberated across the internet. A Facebook group devoted to shitty memes about the 1990s sitcom Seinfeld could have been a safe haven from these fiery clashes — but it wasn’t. Instead, as I wrote back then, the events in Charlottesville inspired a spate of shitposts that joked about real-life racism, fascism, Nazism and murder, all through the unlikely lens of a TV show “about nothing.” Along the way, there was plenty of debate on the limits of comedy and why we love to offend one another online.
By all indications, Facebook’s “Seinfeld Shitposting” crew has regained equilibrium. It currently boasts 39,538 members — barely any net change since August. The posts themselves appear to be almost entirely apolitical these days, relying on layers of reference to (and adulation for) the series instead of attempting to reframe it for an “edgy” topical punchline. In short, innocence reigns where rancor once flourished.
Two months after we published the original article on the group’s controversies, a user posted the piece itself on the page, where it garnered a generally amused reaction. A top comment summed up everyone’s feelings: “Starts out pretty strong but devolves as it goes into sophomore-english-class ‘look at my vocabulary’ cruft… At least it provides relevant context, which is more than I can say for most news (or “news”) articles… Solid B.” Others were baffled that anyone had bothered to write about them, or that it was possible to make a living this way. “In ten years these articles will be up for academic review for students studying internet history (2010–2020),” one sage predicted.
Some shitposters were more critical, denying that the group was in disarray or any attempt to deconstruct it. “My favorite part was where he tries to predict the humor you draw from Seinfeld based on your political leanings,” one guy sneered. “If this guy’s still here, ban his ass,” another demanded. (As of this writing, I still have access.) The most optimistic take came from someone who clearly thinks of Seinfeld Shitposting as a dialectical struggle in which balance is always restored in time. “I fucking love this group,” they wrote. “People don’t get that the best way to fight humor is with humor. Sure, some of the memes were a bit tasteless. But it eventually led up to this.”
Meanwhile, another Seinfeld meme group may be gaining traction on Facebook. “Politically Correct Seinfeld,” founded weeks after Charlottesville, explicitly invites commentary that puts the show in dialogue with our fraught current culture, with admins claiming they will “limit the number of posts by non-minorities” to keep things fair.
“Seinfeld was a funny program, but it was absolutely full of politically incorrect statements and assumptions,” the mission statement reads. “Instead of rejecting the show altogether, this community has decided to alter the jokes so as to update it to modern standards.” You can probably already tell that this is rather tongue-in-cheek, and a majority of the content treats progressives as hypersensitive or hysterical.
Still, users are also mocking Trump and Republicans for repealing Obama-era programs out of spite, celebrating gay marriage and exploring the theme of body positivity. Sarcastically or not, they’re sniffing out the show’s more problematic turns and showing us how the national dialogue has shifted over 20 short years. It’s not that the show has aged poorly, per se — I’ll defend it to my dying breath, flaws and all — it’s that we’ve come to account for experiences beyond “thirtysomething white Manhattanite.”
When entertainment speaks to a moment, it can then serve as a barometer for the moments that follow. Part of what makes Seinfeld a joy in the 21st century is how the characters remain trapped in a world without cell phones or laptops, technology that would theoretically solve 80 percent of their absurd problems. We know, however, that these devices haven’t simplified our lives — they’ve only complicated matters. Maybe today’s audiences would be quick to write off Seinfeld as offensive and out-of-touch, but they’d miss the lesson in that: Where we were can tell us where we’re going, and more crucially, help us identify the wrong attitudes and assumptions to be shed along the way.