Seinfeld originally debuted in 1989: one year before the era of the 90s. When it came to pop culture, a lot went on during the show’s time on air. There were boy bands, the Titanic, and even the Y2k event. The show also paid homage to pop culture from the 80s.
Audiences who saw the show when it was first on television would have understood a majority of the references made. Everyone could understand Jerry’s lines about Superman or “The Bizarro World.” But for viewers who got invested in the show years later or even today, it might be hard to place certain cultural references.
The Apology Letter From Jerry’s Girlfriend
In ‘The Letter,” Jerry starts dating an artist who’s nice enough to gift George, Kramer and Elaine tickets to a Yankees game. After the game, Jerry and his girlfriend fight and break up. A couple of days later, Jerry gets a letter in the mail from her. He is shocked by how emotional and compassionate it is but finds it oddly familiar.
While watching TV, Jerry stumbles upon the Neil Simon movie, Chapter 2. He realizes that his girlfriend plagiarized the entire monologue from the movie in her letter. The 1979 Metrocolor romantic comedy was originally a play of the same name by Simon. The plot centered around an author in NYC who feels the spark of life after starting to date an actress.
The Merv Griffin Show
Seinfeld had a whole episode centered around a popular talk show from the 60s. The Merv Griffin Show gained popularity for its unique style that allowed for intellectual interviews with some lighthearted humor. The show featured various pop culture icons, from Jimmy Carter to Robert De Niro. In the sixth episode of the ninth season, Kramer finds the old show’s set in the dumpster.
He takes it back to his place and recreates the entire set. He even pretends to be Merv Griffin and hosts interviews, commercial breaks, and supposed guest stars. Kramer really gets into his role and even pretends to be speaking to a studio audience. It’s one of the most Kramer-centric episodes in the show.
The Dingo Ate Your Baby
Elaine has had her fair share of memorable moments, but not many top her scene in “The Stranded.” George convinces her and Jerry to go to a party on Long Island. They are both bored and annoyed at the guests. One guest can’t stop annoyingly saying “fiancé.” Elaine has had enough and says the line, abrasively, “Maybe the dingo ate your baby.”
To newer audiences, this might not seem like an important line. But the line is a common misquote from a 1980 incident. Lindy Chamberlain was an Australian woman convicted (and later vindicated) for murdering her child. After the incident, witnesses claim she said “That dog’s got my baby!” or “My God, a dingo has got my baby!” The incident was turned into a movie in 1988 with Meryl Streep crying out, “The dingo took my baby!”
Jerry’s Line At Susan’s Grave
This pop culture reference is more based on how dedicated newer audiences are to sci-fi. In “The Foundation,” Jerry, George, and Susan’s parents visit her grave. Susan died from poisonous glue from the wedding invitations. Fans know that Jerry isn’t good with sentiment, but he manages to uplift Susan’s parents.
But in reality, he paraphrases his line from the 1982 movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This leads to George becoming in charge of the Susan Ross Foundation. George is at Monk’s confronting Jerry and yells at the top of his lungs, “KHAN!” while the camera spins above him.
The JFK Scene In “The Boyfriend”
This episode of Seinfeld had a fun parody of a scene from a 1991 movie. The episode centers around a guest character, baseball player Kieth Hernandez. Kramer and Newman dislike him, or better yet, loathe him for an incident that occurred at a baseball game. Not many new viewers may have caught on to the story Kramer and Newman tell Jerry and Elaine.
The “spitting incident” is actually a parody of the movie JFK. Jerry breaks down the logistics and science of Kramers’ story as the “magic loogie theory.” In the movie, it’s the “magic bullet theory.” The theory was used to investigate JFK’s assassination and the way the scene was filmed and described is also reminiscent of the scene in the movie.
The Bubble Boy
Anyone who grew up in the 80s or 90s may recall a famous individual who became a cultural sensation: the “Bubble Boy.” David Vetter was given the moniker “the Bubble Boy” for being born with severe immunodeficiency. The only way to keep him safe from being germs was to encase him in a plastic bubble. In 1977, NASA developed and created a “spacesuit,” so he could walk freely.
The Bubble Boy would become a pop culture sensation that even led to a 2001 movie. Seinfeld made an episode titled “The Bubble Boy” in which a supporting character mimicked Vetter’s condition and lifestyle. George would have a tussle with him over a board game, leading to the plastic bubble ripping.
New fans today might not fully understand the cultural impact of Marisa Tomei. She recently gained mainstream stardom when she was cast as Aunt May in the MCU, but Tomei was already a Hollywood elite actor when she appeared in an episode of Seinfeld. In “The Cadillac,” Geroge learns that Elaine’s friend is friends with Marisa Tomei.
She also mentions that George is Tomei’s type. George is floored that such an actor would find him attractive. Even Jerry is stunned. George even goes out with her despite being engaged. The episode aired in 1996 and Tomei was already famous for her role in My Cousin Vinny. It won her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Last Tango In Paris
Between Jerry and Geroge, there is a lot of unimportant and passing conversation. In “The Junk Mail,” there’s a reference to a Marlon Brando movie that new viewers might not catch on to. Marlon Brando was an A-list Hollywood actor best known for his roles in The Godfather and On the Waterfront.
In the episode, George brings up his jealousy around Jerry’s childhood friend at summer camp, claiming him to be the “summer me.” Jerry denies the claim and mentions that George, too, had a “summer me,” a friend that George snuck into Last Tango in Paris. Jerry then learns that George never watched Last Tango in Paris and that George made up the friend. Jerry then says, “Too bad, it was erotic.” For anyone unaware, the movie caused some controversy. Brando was 48 at that time and co-stared with a 19-year-old Maria Schneider. The movie was X-rated and highly sexual to point of pornographic.
Newman And The Muffin Tops
Newman is well known for being a bit of a pig when it comes to food. He dislikes any type of vegetable and can’t eat fruit. Elaine comes up with a new business venture selling muffin tops, but it all goes down the toilet when they produce too many stubs with no way of getting rid of them. Enter Newman.
Newman arrives at the bakeshop with a black bag and resembles the type of ‘”cleaner” seen in mob movies. This scene is actually a parody of Pulp Fiction. The scene where Jerry rips open his shirt and scratches his chest and howls is reminiscent of the 1994 movie, Wolf.
Mary Hart Seizure
Viewers may have found it a bit bizarre and comical that Kramer suddenly suffers from blackouts when hearing Mary Hart’s voice on television. The storyline is actually from a popular pop culture reference. Mary Hart became well known for being a longtime host of Entertainment Tonight.
In 1991, a neurologist made a startling discovery regarding a patient. He determined that when his patient listened to Hart’s voice, it cause a bad reaction. The patient would have an epileptic seizure that lasted between 30 seconds to two minutes, hence Kramer having the same symptoms when hearing her voice and then Elaine realizing why.