When you hear yada yada, do you say Yikes?
From 1989 to 1998, Seinfeld introduced iconic idioms such as “Master of My Domain” and “Not that there’s anything wrong with that…” Created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the show was a fictionalized version of Jerry’s life with friends Elaine Benes, George Costanzo, and Cosmo Kramer. But it also fictionalized faith. All you have to do is see how Seinfeld flipped the ancient definition on yada yada.
Seinfeld was a stitch. Its success lies in clever script writing and an admittedly superficial take on life. It was a show about “nothing.” Much like Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the point of the show was to point out that there is no point to life. We live in a “whatever” world. Hence, the iconic idiom was yada yada—whatever. Who cares?
This is the polar opposite of yada’ in the scriptures. Yada’ is knowledge with the responsibility for creating shalom. It is loving people by taking seriously this knowledge of reality and willing the wellbeing of others—shalom.
Yada’ is to know in a relational sense. It is knowledge of reality with a focus on building flourishing relationships and institutions. To yada’ is to discern and distinguish that which is true and wise and loving. Knowing God, yada’ Yahweh, is the purpose of creation, of reality, and of love. Yada yada is not whatever which assumes three things: faith is a fiction, Ultimate Reality is unknowable, and responsibility to others optional.
In today’s world, yada yada has become synonymous with I know, I know… whatever… who cares? It’s the fruit of faith communities no longer defining reality. Instead, other institutions such as NBC and Seinfeld name reality. This is the most important thing anyone can do—name something, Albert Einstein said.
There is a great deal of skepticism today that anyone can name reality. Philip Rieff wrote that we live in an age when faith is considered a fiction. There is an underlying suspicion about describing reality inside a moral order. When individuals describe a sacred canopy, they’re shrugged off. Confidence in a moral code is considered bad form. Seinfeld’s yada yada fits the warp and woof of a “whatever” culture.
Today’s rendition of yada yada is another example of what Dallas Willard describes in Knowing Christ Today—how the American faith community is no longer viewed as a public resource for knowledge of reality. Our definition of reality is rarely if ever taken seriously and acted on. In fact, as the current rendition of yada yada reveals, reality has been flipped on its head. Simone Weil saw it coming in the 1940s.
After World War II, French audiences were hungry for American films and Hollywood sent a backlog of film noir. These were dark dramas, emphasizing moral ambiguity and a “whatever” attitude about life. Simone Weil, a French philosopher, reminded readers that, in real life, “nothing is so beautiful and wonderful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy, as the good. No desert is so dreary, monotonous, and boring as evil.” In film noir, “it is the other way round,” Weil wrote. “Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied and intriguing, attractive, profound, and full of charm.”1
Film noir flipped reality, but Seinfeld was more influential because it also hit the funny bone. As Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “Humor makes all things tolerable.” More than tolerable, Seinfeld made yada yada sound terrific. Face it, yada yada has become common currency in the coinage of our culture. If the Judeo-Christian definition of reality was instead the common coinage, people would hear yada yada being shortchanged and shriek Yikes.
1 Simone Weil, “Morality and Literature” (an essay published in Cahiers du Sud, January 1944)