IT TOOK NINE years and the official end of "Seinfeld," but at least I now know why I never liked the show. Meanness doesn't make me laugh.
Neither does a steady celebration of selfishness, superficiality, lack of compassion or utter self-absorption.As hard as I tried to like "Seinfeld" - not to mention wished I could worship with millions at its weekly network altar - the show kept pushing me back. I could never understand why.
Last week, in an erudite farewell, Tim Goodman, television critic for the San Francisco Examiner, solved the mystery.
Countering the lie that "Seinfeld" was "a show about nothing," Goodman wrote: "It was a show made by cynical modern people who laughed at television, who - in response to life in the '90s - were proud to be shallow."
Strike one against me.
Although I have seen much in 48 years to turn my stomach and dash my hopes, I am, by no one's definition, a cynic. Maybe if I grew up in the Weimar Republic I'd sing a different tune, but I can't imagine responding to life in this or any decade with a shallowness in which I took pride.
According to Goodman, "Seinfeld's" co-creator, Larry David, said the credo of the show's characters was, "No hugging, no learning." Rather, Jerry, Elaine, Newman and Kramer were ever "self-absorbed and unsentimental."
Main man Jerry "formed judgments of people he met in mere seconds" and "broke up with women all the time on the basis of looks or for having allegedly annoying habits." Elaine "lacerated other women routinely."
On "Seinfeld," Goodman said, "Meanness is celebrated. Nobody is living an examined life. Getting yours is the goal. Anger and bitterness supplant happiness. Emotionless sex wins out over love, and the mundane is king."
All around me, in this over-fed, over-consuming, over-whining culture of ours, I see people who reduce human beings to one-dimensional objects and dismiss them because of the way they look. I see Jerry-like men discard women as if they were Bic razors and Elaine-like women blame the victim.
Wall Street and politics celebrate meanness and the lofty goal of getting yours. The popular entertainment media belittle intellectual and spiritual depth and flip the bird at self-examination, enlightenment and the assumption of personal responsibility.
Anger and bitterness are encouraged by us in the news media, by much of popular music and literature and by an increasing number of religious denominations. Getting sex is more hip than falling in love, and millions of folks with too much time and money on their hands are obsessed with the mundane.
On top of this, I want to spend 30 minutes a week (or a night in reruns) with characters that embody all these negative values? Goodman says "Seinfeld" gave us a look at the darker, baser sides of human nature. I'm all for such looks every now and then in a two-hour movie, a novel or series of investigative news reports. To make a regular comedy festival of this look is my idea of slowly poisoning the human soul and buying into the belief that people are just no damn good.
"What the success of `Seinfeld' really proves," Goodman wrote, "is that we are a sick and sad bunch, but we're fall-down funny."
Strike three, and I'm out.
I'm not laughing.