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Catch-22 Meaning Explained: What Really IS A Catch-22 Situation?

George Clooney and Catch-22 Logo

What exactly does the term catch-22 mean, and what's its purpose in Hulu's new Catch-22 TV show? It's rare, though perhaps not entirely unusual, for a term or phrase from a fictional work to work its way into everyday life, but that's precisely what happened when acclaimed author and World War II veteran Joseph Heller wrote the book Catch-22 way back in the 1950s, then eventually having it published in 1961.

To this day, people use the term "catch-22" in conversations, but some don't truly understand its meaning or its origin. This carries over into Hulu's Catch-22 miniseries, which released in mid-May 2019. At the end of episode 1, Grant Heslov's Doc Daneeka explains to Christopher Abbott's John Yossarian that he cannot be grounded for being crazy because he asked to be grounded for being crazy. It's a catch-22. But what does that really mean?

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Related: Hulu’s Catch-22 Is The Ideal Way To Adapt The Novel, According To George Clooney

According to Merriam-Webster, catch-22 is defined as "a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule." With regards to real life, the term catch-22 can refer to a circumstance in which someone is looking at applying for an entry-level job (which should require little to no experience), but the job position actually requires some amount of years of experience. Someone needs the job to obtain experience but can't apply for it because they don't yet have any experience.

Christopher Abbott in Catch-22 Hulu

In the context of Heller's Catch-22 book and Hulu's TV show, the term catch-22 is applied to bombardiers wanting to be grounded from their missions because they are dangerous and life-threatening. To fly those missions means that the pilots and bombardiers would have to be crazy, but the moment they ask to be grounded for insanity, they are no longer sane. Only a sane person would ask to be grounded. So if a person is sane enough to request to be put on sick leave, then they are sane enough to continue flying the missions. All in all, it's a paradoxical situation with no way out but through.

What's surprising is how often the term catch-22 can be used in real life, but for the purpose of Heller's story as well as the recently released Hulu adaptation, it will describe Yossarian's efforts to being grounded from flying any more bombing missions. Unfortunately, catch-22 situations typically stem from rules and regulations that people have no control over; therefore, they are subject to illogical conditions that are presented in seemingly logical ways.

Next: Catch-22 Review: Hulu’s Miniseries Is A Darkly Funny Look At The Absurdity Of War

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