Not to make you feel old or anything, but we are fast approaching the twentieth anniversary of the Seinfeld finale. I know, I know — the passing of time is always horrific to consider, but I will say this much about the series: Thanks in part to syndicated reruns but also to the overall staying power of the show, Seinfeld is still very much so in the public consciousness, all these years later.
This includes a lot of the show’s many, many catchphrases. Maybe less so “No soup for you” or “spongeworthy,” but drop a “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” in casual conversation and most people listening will think of “The Outing,” the 1993 episode in which Jerry and George are mistakenly outed as a gay couple. The newest installment of my podcast Gayest Episode Ever focuses on this episode, on this catchphrase and whether it’s surprising that the show picked up a GLAAD Media Award for it.
The 1994 GLAAD nod puts this season of Seinfeld in the company of some major examples of LGBT art: Angels in America, Philadelphia and And the Band Played On. To me, at least, Seinfeld seemed like the outlier in this group. After all, isn’t this episode all about Jerry and George using “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” to excuse their horror at being perceived of as gay?
Sorta? But that’s probably missing the point.
The best possible argument in favor of this Seinfeld episode is that it’s actually an examination of the homophobia of people who are progressive but heterosexual — people who say that they support LGBT causes but still, on some level, don’t want to be thought of as gay. In the episode, characters repeat the phrase “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” almost because they have to, because they know they don’t want to be thought of as bigots but they still would rather not trade off whatever societal bonuses they get for being straight.
There’s a disconnect there, where these characters talk the talk but would rather not walk the walk, and you could argue that this Seinfeld is criticizing well-meaning liberals who maybe haven’t explored why, exactly, they would consider it bad to be thought of as gay.
According to the DVD commentary for this episode, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” was a late-in-the-game addition, because the writers worried that the plot as it was would be read as homophobic. Given that this episode aired in 1993, the writers should get all due credit for wanting to make it clear to the audience that they weren’t homophobic and they didn’t want to be mistaken for homophobic. The fact that there’s this extra bit, if you choose to interpret “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” in that way, just makes it all the more interesting.