A recent article from Vic Alhadeff in the Sydney Morning Herald chose to criticise the famous Seinfeld ‘Soup Nazi’ episode for trivialising Nazism:
It’s witty and well scripted, but it commits a cardinal offence: it trivialises the meaning of what a Nazi is, and in doing so degrades the language associated with those who devised, planned and perpetrated the most grotesque genocide in history.
He drew a connection between the characters’ use of the word ‘Nazi’ in this 1995 episode and the current use of the word by shock jocks and journalists to describe everything from their political enemies (e.g. those femo-nazis) to everyday sticklers (e.g. those grammar-Nazis):
“In the context of trite Nazi references they become cheapened, the experience is diluted and the words are offensive and hurtful, particularly to those who suffered.”
Now do I have perspective here to talk about this heated topic? Probably not. Am I Jewish? Not really.
But like the Seinfeld dentist who converted to Judaism so he could make Jewish jokes, I too am adopted-Jewish. My father has remarried a Jewish woman, and as us Jews know, if your mother is Jewish then…
Is it wrong to joke about the holocaust? Almost always. Is it wrong to use the term Nazi tritely? Sure.
But dismiss Seinfeld’s use of the word Nazi as being trite as you miss the point of comedy. Read this short scene from the famous ‘Soup Nazi’ episode:
Jerry Seinfeld: What are you gonna get?
Sheila: I’ll decide at the last minute.
Jerry Seinfeld: You better decide, sister. You’re on deck.
[Sheila kisses him]
Jerry Seinfeld: Sheila!
Soup Nazi: [pounds on the counter hard] HEY!
Jerry Seinfeld: Uh oh.
Soup Nazi: What is this? You’re kissing in my line? NOBODY KISSES IN MY LINE!
Sheila: I can kiss anywhere I want to.
Soup Nazi: You just cost yourself a soup!
Sheila: HOW DARE YOU! C’mon Jerry, we’re leaving.
[leaves the soup kitchen, but Jerry stays. Sheila comes back in]
Jerry Seinfeld: Do I know you?
Jerry pretends not to know his friend in the face of appeasing a ‘Nazi’. The soup queue in the episode is not a scene where one person is an annoying pedant-like Nazi. It’s a comedic take on the ‘blind-eye’ behaviour of Germans in the 1940’s’. 18 years after the episode aired, and 70 years since World War II it’s still relevant.
Oh and another point.
It’s funny. It just is. The fact that Vic Alhadeff can reference something that was aired 18 years ago and we all know what he’s talking about proves it resonated. It was funny. It was funny and it is still funny.
Forget everything else I said, that should be enough of defense.