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The world according to 'Seinfeld' No hugging, no learning. No aging, commitment or obligation. We've laughed at such postmodern sentiments for nine years. Is there anything wrong with that?

May 03, 1998|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

"That could be Hagerstown Hall," says Rob Peters, 21, a junior in American studies. "People walking in your door like Kramer. People trying to get buzzed in by you downstairs. Jerry and Kramer could be living here. In fact, Jerry's whole life is just like ours, except he has money."

Eventually, the group dwindles to just Peters, Giller and Jennah Billeter, a 21-year-old junior. The three - each a top student involved in an array ofextracurricular activities - are great friends and serious "Seinfeld" fans.

"I know what you're saying - or asking - with questions about materialism and like the rickshaw episode, for example," Peters says. "But I think Seinfeld is satirizing the situation, not advocating it."

The discussion turns to a phrase that Larry David often uses about the show: "no hugging, no learning." How you interpret that core statement - the show is completely cold at heart or committed to a postmodern honesty even when it hurts - pretty much decides which side of the fence you come down on in the debate over "Seinfeld" and its legacy.

" 'No hugging, no learning' just means it won't be phony or take the easy, sentimental way out," Giller said.

Giller, Billeter and Peters - along with a fourth student who is not here because she had to work - have been watching the show religiously since they were 13 and 14 years old and are downright passionate in their belief that there is a real friendship and warmth among Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer. In fact, Peters told me later, they model their friendship on that of the "Seinfeld" four - right down to meeting at a favorite coffee shop.

"That friendship is what makes the show special," says Billeter.

I got a glimpse of what they might have learned about friendship during those formative years late in the evening after we had just about talked the sitcom to death.

While Billeter and Peters have one more year at College Park, Giller isheaded to an internship in Congress and then law school next month. ("And then president of the United States with jobs for me and Jennah," Peters says.)

Giller is brimming with excitement about the future. But, when I ask him if he thinks he will miss the community he is leaving behind to live alone in an efficiency in Foggy Bottom, his voice sounds truly sad.

Billeter, who is standing off to the side, hears the sound in his voice, too. Instantly, she is standing next to him with a hand on his shoulder.

"Hey, we'll be here for you, you know that," she says. "We'll always be here for each other."

Jerry Seinfeld might disagree, but it's close enough to a hug for me.

Pub Date: 5/03/98

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