The Reality Institute

What Seinfeld Gets Wrong about Nazis in Season 3’s “The Limo”

Recent news that members of the alt-right Proud Boys gang attacked anti-fascist protesters in New York City on October 12 somehow seeped into my subconscious. The other night, I dreamt about Seinfeld, season three, episode 19: “The Limo”. George and Jerry decide to grab a cab from one of those chauffeurs who meet people at the airport, with George pretending to be the name on the chauffeur’s paper sign, “O’Brien”.

George and Jerry have fun driving around town in a limo, headed toward Madison Square Garden for what they think is a Knicks game, but what actually turns out to be a Nazi rally at which O’Brien is set to be the lead speaker. We then learn that Donald O’Brien is the head of the Midwest chapter of the Aryan Union about to make his first public appearance.

As absurd as the episode may have seemed in 1992, “The Limo” seems more relevant than ever during a time when far-right elements have found a resurgence across the planet. From Bolsonaro in Brazil to Trump in the U.S., neo-Nazis are having a comeback. And while Seinfeld may have been ahead of its time in many ways, its portrayal of the far right doesn’t quite hold up when compared to the alt-right of today.

As a bald and dumpy, regularly unemployed loser who lives at home with his parents, George Costanza seems like he naturally falls into place playing the Aryan Union figure of Donald O’Brien. And his speech is filled with the sort of hateful drivel that you’d expect from a caricature of a neo-Nazi: “…and the Jews steal our money through their Zionist occupied government and use the black man to bring drugs into our oppressed white minority communities.” (To which, Jerry replies, “You’re not going to open with that, are you?”)

However, today’s Nazis have morphed from the older generation depicted in Seinfeld into something different. Though they often may be losers that live with their parents, most members of the alt-right are younger, educated and have learned to become media savvy, meaning that, while they might spout racial epithets in private chats, they typically veil their bigotry in public.

Miami New Timesrecent expose on Turning Point USA, a right-wing college group with chapters across the United States, demonstrates this well. The group has come under fire for private messages from its chapter at Florida International University, which exposed both the hateful beliefs of its members, as well as its desire to keep those beliefs from the public. Members were told in private chats to “avoid using the n word and don’t reference Richard Spencer [a prominent white nationalist] too much and don’t Jew hate … all the time.” [sic]

This media subterfuge has enabled many members of the alt-right to gain media prominence. It seems that you can’t open up a New York Times or turn on NBC without seeing a “balanced” profile of one white nationalist or another, though such profiles of the far-left seem to be too much for the mainstream media to touch.

One might not imagine high-profile members of the alt-right giving speeches at Madison Square Garden today, but, aside from the aforementioned spotlights in mainstream media, the alt-right have actually been invited to such large venues as the University of California at Berkeley, University of Florida and Michigan State University. In some of those cases, events were actually cancelled, but only thanks to significant public outcry.

Returning to the Seinfeld universe, fictional reporter Jodi Baskerville relays to the news studio that a crowd of increasingly violent and angry New Yorkers have gathered at Madison Square Garden, as George/O’Brien arrives to give his talk. Baskerville says, “The police seem unable or unwilling to control the crowd.”

Anyone who has been following current events related to alt-right rallies across the U.S. is fully aware of anti-racist counter-protests that occur in response. In Seinfeld, Baskerville makes it sound as though the local police are on the side of the protestors, hoping to see O’Brien get his just desserts, but the 2018 reality can be quite different.

After an August 2018 “Patriot Prayer” rally held by alt-right protesters in Portland, local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the Democratic Socialists of America argued that the police had used excessive force against anti-racist counter-protestors. The latter two groups were reported as saying that Portland police “targeted Portland residents peacefully counter-protesting against racist far-right groups, including white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazi gangs.” The ACLU’s Doug Brown captured footage of police pushing him and other counter-protestors down the street.

Similarly, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund filed a lawsuit against the District of Columbia implicating collusion between the Washington D.C. police department and right-wing group Project Veritas. In California, court documents showed that police collarborated with neo-Nazis to identify anti-racist counter protesters at an event in Sacramento.

Another difference between the way Seinfeld treated neo-Nazi phenomena and the real world of 2018 that is worth noting. In “The Limo”, Jodi Baskerville reports that “Even David Duke has denounced [O’Brien] as a dangerous extremist.” That line was sure to get a laugh from many audiences, but perhaps for different reasons in 2018, given the fact that David Duke has praised the alt-right many times, including the role they may have played in the election of Donald Trump.

The show closes out in its typical style: the momentum of the episode’s plot avalanching into an absurd incident that absorbs the camera before cutting to credits. In this case, George is in front of the news camera with a chyron identifying him as Donald O’Brien. As the hordes of protestors consume him, George manically denies being O’Brien while shouting for Jerry.

We may clamor for the destruction of such a figure as O’Brien before a collection of TV cameras, but, again, the reality in 2018 is more absurd than a 90s sitcom. As recently as October 16th, 2018, just days after a gang of Proud Boys beat up a group of protestors, the New York Times profiled yet another alt-right figure head, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes. Also in reality, there is no laugh track to play us off. There is no final stand-up routine wherein Jerry Seinfeld’s quaint observational humor can ease us into the next commercial break.

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