As the two were chuckling at the reference one just made, they suddenly noticed the blank look on their friend's face. So the one who'd told the story repeated himself, something about what Kramer had said in such 'n such scene being just like what someone in their office had done earlier that day, but this time he spoke more slllooowwwlyyy like there was a language issue at the root of their failure to communicate; and yet - still no response from their young friend.
"Didn't you ever see that?"Sadly, there are still, however many years after the show went off the air, scores of people who routinely 'speak Seinfeld', and do so in supreme confidence that they're enhancing their conversations with these allusions and references to critical episodes, scenes and gags from the show. No doubt for those who're as familiar with it as they are, they get the meaning, they get the joke, and they COMPLETELY know how it relates to the present moment, and I've no doubt their conversations are ever so much more than they otherwise would have been, because of their show references.
"That episode? Of SEINfeld?"
"Nah, never watched the show."
The two chucklers gasped in shock.
"What...? Seriously?" and in unison "You've never seen Seinfeld?!"
"Nope." came the entirely unconcerned reply, and "Pass the ketchup.", as he went about the more important task of spurting condiments on his burger and digging in.
And yet there are other people, many more other people, more and more every day, who've never seen Seinfeld, who do not have and never have had any mental space reserved for the show; and even many who would do everything they could to leave the room if someone were to turn it on. And these Seinfeld-less people, a distressingly expanding portion of those that the Seinfeldians know, will so deeply frustrate them with their inability to have communicated to them, that certain laugh, that important Seinfeldian insight ("Soup Nazi!"), and they will have to endure the 'cut off in mid sentence' sensation of coming up against not just a lack of understanding, but the utter absence of there even being the possibility of communicating what the Seinfeldian had in their mind, to the Seinfeld-less person they were attempting to let in on the joke.
Appropriately enough, for a show famously about nothing, there's more to the Seinfeldian's discomfort here than meets the eye.
For when I overheard this scene I'd thought I understood how those two at the lunch table must have felt. I'd spent the 80's in a travelling Rock band on the West Coast, and we'd developed a lingo of meaningful references all our own; particular looks, expressions, words, phrases (for the few of you still out there, here ya go:... "Nice boots", "Pigeon Poaching", "Would you believe?!", "Oh Knawful", "San Deigo", "40", "Roller Skates", "Going north", "Too much air today", "U-Haul", "50 cycle hum", "Jartran" - you're welcome), which passed volumes between us, becoming our (only partly intentionally) secret code language. And as I still occasionally lapse into an expression here or there, being the only person able to 'get the joke', I thought I'd felt what those Seinfeldians were feeling; the realization that you can't help the person you're talking to, to 'get the joke'. And if you try to explain it... the humor escapes and only your odd meaninglessness remains to them.
But what I realized this weekend, while watching a livestream of the Ferguson riots and trying to help defend a friend who was being attacked online who was being accused of not being 'black enough' because he cared too much about truth and justice - WHAT?! - and then I realized, that the joke was on me. Those band memories were simply irrelevant personal memories, no different from anyone else's personal recollections of friends & days gone by. But what the Seinfeldians, and the 'not black enoughians' were (and are) experiencing, isn't about the experiences of youth or race, but a microcosm of something that is happening in the wider Western world all around us. There too we have the case of an understanding which is also being shared by fewer and fewer people every day, and the absence of communication which it presents there is infinitely more far reaching in its significance, because what is not being communicated by it is much more than just a laugh track, and much more to do with our being able to live a life worth living.
And what that is, is this:
cul·tureWell, not quite that exactly, since as the definition given in the first instance there references "20th century popular culture", which might be more fitting to the Seinfeldians culturette, and it seems remarkably lacking in the ability to convey an understanding of what Culture actually is.
- the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.
"20th century popular culture"
synonyms: the arts, the humanities, intellectual achievement;
Ok, here's another definition that gets somewhat closer:
"Culture: Integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behaviour that is both a result of and integral to the human capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations. Culture thus consists of language, ideas, beliefs, customs, taboos, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals, ceremonies, and symbols. It has played a crucial role in human evolution, allowing human beings to adapt the environment to their own purposes rather than depend solely on natural selection to achieve adaptive success. "There, that's better.
That seems rather... large, doesn't it? Although Culture is a fairly new word, its meaning stretches all the way back to why the Greeks referred to other peoples as barbarians. It wasn't just the the 'bah-bah-bah' sounds of their language, but the fact that their language conveyed little or nothing of what was understood to be important by the Greeks. What the barbarians spoke wasn't Greek to them, its words wouldn't carry the "Integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behaviour" of their world and so was meaningless and worthless to them. Culture may be a new word, but its meaning is not only ancient, but all encompassing for a society. Until recently, anyway.