“Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That”: The 20th Anniversary of When the Show “About Nothing” Really Mattered

We celebrate this year the 20th anniversary of a very important, meaningful episode of Seinfeld — the “show about nothing.”

Watch a clip, and read an excerpt of my piece about “The Outing” from The Huffington Post below:

It was 1993.

Andrew Sullivan had only recently written The New Republic cover story introducing many Americans to the very idea of gay marriage; it would be nearly a decade before any state would legalize it.  The notion of “marriage equality,” furiously debated before the Supreme Court and among the nation last week, was a wholly foreign concept.

Indeed, the gay rights debate that year had concerned President Bill Clinton’s campaign pledge to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.  We all know how that ended: with a terribly flawed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that wouldn’t be repealed for another 17 years.

Along came Seinfeld, initially derided by critics, then ultimately embraced by the show’s writers, as a “show about nothing.”

Yet, in many instances, it mattered a whole lot more.

As I have argued in this space before, Seinfeld’s exposure of Judaism to Middle America — along with a handful of other TV shows such as Northern ExposureBeverly Hills 90210, Friends —  had a significant impact on Jewish Americans. We could now hold our heads up a little higher, feel a bit more comfortable to publicly pronounce our faith.  We were now the tellers of Jewish jokes, alternatively wry and self-deprecating, instead of divisive and mean-spirited. It was a phenomenon that Jonathan Alter — in his famous 2000 Newsweek cover piece heralding Joe Lieberman’s history-making Vice-Presidential candidacy — labeled the “Seinfeldizing of America.”

And so too did the show help raise awareness of LGBT issues — and expose the toxicity of bigotry toward the gay and lesbian community.  The most memorable example, the 1993 episode entitled “The Outing,” featured a young NYU reporter mistakenly thinking that Jerry Seinfeld and best friend George Costanza were actually gay lovers.  It was a charge that both of them furiously denied, followed quickly with the disclaimer: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that…”

Click here if you want to read the whole piece.  If you don’t, that’s your problem. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

 

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