Happy Warriors & Not-so-Happy Ones

Long before I returned to my conservative roots, I loved the humor of a Buckley – the right seemed to have more fun with ideas. Great satire points out the foibles of the disproportionate. Jane Austen understood that. It is the sharp recognition of a truth about human nature that makes us smile, albeit ruefully. Even with the rather meager set of social values Seinfeld embodied, his friends, in their superficiality and greed and general laziness, made us laugh. We laughed because they didn’t recognize what we owe to others, what living with others requires of us – say, not sleeping under the desk or sharing bathroom tissue. The writer’s sense of the variety & density of our cultural restraints and our own impulses permeated that series.

We enjoyed Seinfeld and his friends because they loved words but also because we took a certain pleasure in their violation of good manners that restrained us: we wouldn’t make their choices, but we would be tempted. We restrained those impulses (or hid them) because we understood they violated not just gentility but morality. The last episode made that clear to us: in the real world, we would have felt contempt (or guilt) – but watching them, we could laugh. That wasn’t a funny episode; it was an arresting conclusion.

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