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Seinfeld: Despair with a smile

“Postmoderns are remarkably nonchalant about the meaninglessness which they experience in life. Reading the works of an earlier generation of writers, existentialist authors like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, one almost developed a sense of vertigo, the kind of apprehension that one gets when standing too near the edge of a terrifying precipice, so bleak, empty, and life-threatening was their vision. That sense, however, has now completely gone. Postmoderns live on the surface, not in the depths, and theirs is a despair to be tossed off lightly and which might even be alleviated by nothing more serious than a sitcom.” (from David F. Wells’ Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 177)

Eurpoean reflections on the sense of meaninglessness engendered by the modern world tended to be dark. By contrast, Americans have remained more upbeat. Take the show Seinfeld which, with its bright colors and bouncy bass riffs, expressed the same meaninglessness, albeit with a smile. Wells says,

“By the 1990s, when we encounter the television series Seinfeld, for example, this sense of internal loss and disorientation had been turned into a brilliantly acted but completely banal sitcom. Seinfeld, Thomas Hibbs writes, was ‘a show about the comical consequences of life in a world void of ultimate significance or fundamental meaning.’ This show, he adds, was ‘by its own account, a show about nothing.’ The darkness of soul had lifted, though not its emptiness. Now we were no longer serious enough to do anything but smirk. The journey into the postmodern world, from the writers of this literature of bewilderment into television shows like this, is one from darkness in the depths to mockery on the surface, from suicide to shallow snickers.” (188)

What is to remedy this heavy (or maybe not so heavy) sense of meaninglessness? For Wells, it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Author: Casey Shutt

View more articles by Casey Shutt.

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