The Nostalgic Joy of the Win-Win ‘Controversy,’ Courtesy of Jerry Seinfeld
Jerry Seinfeld has given us the nostalgic reboot we need. No, not of Seinfeld, but of the distinctly early-2010s joy of a harmless online controversy.
Like most New Yorkers—you know, the real ones, those of us who have stayed in the city throughout the pandemic and intend to stay in the city, dammit—I very much enjoyed Jerry Seinfeld’s New York Times takedown of James Altucher’s viral essay arguing that New York is “dead forever.” Jerry Seinfeld has brought me joy in many ways—I wrote a whole book about one of them—but this has been truly special. For, not only did his rousing defense of my city come at exactly the time we all needed a spirit lift, but it has also kicked off a weeklong round of classic, old-school, circa-2015-or-slightly-earlier Internet infighting. This is the kind where everyone wins: the guy who started it, the guy who continued it, and anyone else who jumps in along the way.
So, to recap: Altucher published his piece on LinkedIn, arguing that the main reasons people move to New York City—business opportunities, culture, and food—are all going to be moot in the post-pandemic times. Basically, people will move away and everyone will get used to using the Internet too much and no one will want to come here anymore. Also, Altucher himself, who co-owns a comedy club in NYC (called, unmemorably, Standup NY), moved from New York to Florida. Thus New York is over and goodbye to all that and here is this essay, and if a writer leaves New York and doesn’t write about it, did he really leave at all?
Seinfeld swooped in over the weekend and gave this LinkedIn post a major boost by responding to it with the wildly disproportionate firepower of a piece by Jerry Seinfeld in The New York Times. There’s a bunch of wonderfully cranky, vague insults thrown at other places for essentially not being New York, but there’s also some lovely gems like this:
There’s some other stupid thing in the article about “bandwidth” and how New York is over because everybody will “remote everything.” Guess what: Everyone hates to do this. Everyone. Hates.
You know why? There’s no energy.
Energy, attitude and personality cannot be “remoted” through even the best fiber optic lines. That’s the whole reason many of us moved to New York in the first place.
We have subsequently gotten Altucher’s comedy club co-owner Dani Zoldan harumphing back at Seinfeld in the New York Post by whining that Seinfeld never said thank-you to them when they sent him two (two!) Zabar’s gift baskets for Rosh Hashanah (two years in a row!), and, furthermore, was kind-of cold to fans when he did perform at the club. First, this does nothing to negate Seinfeld’s original argument that New York is not dead. Second, his being nice or not nice has nothing to do with whether “woke” people should like him, though Zoldan implies that it does. (Jerkiness is quite different from, say, racism or sexism.) Third, there is nothing in Seinfeld’s body of work that has implied that he is a warm and kind soul, and his not being one does not diminish my enjoyment of his work. It’s nice to be kind to people, but I honestly don’t care if he’s pleasant to fans. This man is not trying to be The Rock. He hangs out with Larry David. He made Seinfeld. What do you expect? On the other hand, I really enjoy the detail about the two Zabar’s gift baskets. So very not-dead New York.
And! Now there’s also a column from Tampa Bay Times writer Stephanie Hayes defending her state, which ended up collateral damage in this fight. It’s honestly super-funny and self-aware. You should be both things when inserting yourself into a Seinfeld beef. I am very much a Stephanie Hayes fan now. Here’s one part I like:
Look, we know our problems. You don’t have to tell us. I’ll outline a few.
We seem to think COVID-19 is athlete’s foot. We have a phallic shape. We are saddled with the “Florida Man” trope, a thinly veiled device to make fun of people who are poor or have mental health issues. The heat index reaches 112 and people wear hoodies; it gets cold and they wear flip-flops. We finally got Tom Brady and, well. We are being pranked by God, 24/7.
This is great, too:
Comedians. For the 9,000th time. Picking on Florida is punching down. It’s pantsing the kid at school whose only friend is an oddly smooth rock.
All of this has truly made me feel like it’s the early 2010s, like when we would all get mad at the Tiger Mom or make that song “Friday” a hit for being terrible. It’s the kind of controversy where everyone wins: Standup NY gets a major jolt of publicity. A LinkedIn post gets national recognition. Seinfeld will inevitably play at Standup NY and the appearance will get loads of media attention. He will probably still be cold to fans. Maybe he’ll get another Zabar’s gift basket. Approximately 17 more columns will be written. And we can all enjoy the escapism for at least a few minutes before returning to the hellscape that current reality has become.
But at least we’ll know one thing: New York is not dead. It can still generate a media controversy like no place else.