Friday, March 30, 2007

"Not that there's anything wrong with that"...or is there?

For this post I chose to do a collage of images based on the episode "The Outing." In this episode homosexuality is a topic of great analysis. Using humor "Seinfeld" created a show based on a mistaken "outing" of George and Jerry as a homosexual couple by a student journalist. Throughout the episode George and Jerry do everything in their power to clear up the misunderstanding and tell everyone that they are not gay..."not that there's anything wrong with that." This quote has become very popular since the show aired because it "serves in part to mock standard liberal attitudes toward homosexuality" (Raymond). This supports the queer theory suggested by Raymond that sexuality are cultural inventions or choices, and not something that is essential to the individual. But at the same time, did the episode also serve as a groudbreaking episode in which homosexuality was brought to the forefront by "Seinfeld" while also making society more comfortable with the topic as a whole?
Raymond, Diane. "Popular Culture and Queer Representation." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Sage Publications, Inc. Thousand Oaks, California. 2003.

Male Sexuality and Patriarchy in "The Deal"

Upon choosing a topic for this blog, I could not help but realize how much one of my favorite shows could be used to analyze various aspects of popular culture. In the nine seasons of "Seinfeld", one can find at least one aspect of gender, sex, religion, or race in almost each episode. During the years that it aired, "Seinfeld" was able to use humor to approach subjects of popular culture that other shows could not. Therefore, "Seinfeld" helped shape popular culture in the late 90's, and I wanted to analyze some of the influences it was able to make.

One particular episode in which I found an interesting topic to analyze in relation to gender is the last episode of the second season entitled “The Deal.” My feeling towards this episode and its relation to hegemony is very similar to the overall claim made in one of the readings from class, “The Myth of the Sexual Athlete.” Although in this particular reading Sabo is writing predominantly about athletes and the locker room, when watching “The Deal” I found it very easy to think of Jerry, George, and Kramer’s interactions as a microcosm of the locker room sex talk and how this ultimately influences Jerry and Elaine’s relationship.

Early in the episode after Jerry and Elaine have worked out a deal in which they can have sex together on a regular bases without committing to a relationship with each other, Jerry and George meet at the coffee shop for lunch. In this scene Jerry blurts out that he had sex with Elaine the night before, and George begs for details. I could not help relating this conversation to “…the late Sunday morning breakfasts in the dorm. We jocks would usually all sit at one table listening to one braggart or another describe his sexual exploits of the night before” (Sabo). Jerry proceeds to give George details of his sexual relations with Elaine, and it is very obvious that this gives Jerry an overwhelming feeling of pride. It is also evident that George is impressed by Jerry’s “accomplishments.” Jerry and George are acting as if they are teenagers in the high school locker room talking about their sexual relationships with girls and using these experiences as a way of judging and respecting one another.

As the episode proceeds, the twist arrives when it becomes evident that Elaine wants not only to have sex with Jerry, but to have a relationship as well. This is when Jerry begins to juggle the idea of committing to Elaine with the possibility of being able to remain friends and still have sex. Jerry is “torn between yearning for excitement and longing for love and intimacy” (Sabo). As the episode comes to an end, Jerry eventually chooses to break things off completely with Elaine. This serves as a perfect example of “the expectation that we [men] are supposed to act as though we want to be alone, like the cowboy who always rides off into the sunset alone” (Sabo). Jerry ultimately chooses to be completely alone, rather than be in a committed relationship. Taken as a whole, this particular episode of “Seinfeld” does nothing but reinforce the sexual values based on patriarchy that many men become exposed to at a very young age.

Sabo, Don. "The Myth of the Sexual Athlete." Sex, Violence, & Power in Sports: Rethinking Masculinity. The Crossing Press, 1994.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

"Much Ado About Nothing" by jsoliver

From 1989 to 1998, NBC aired a sitcom that shouldn’t have gone over well. Broadcasting to a nation that was largely conservative, Christian, and populated by millions simple folks, one mightn’t expect much to come from a show whose very essence exuded a distinct brand neurotic New York Jewiness. But somehow Seinfeld became the flagship sitcom of the nineties, in spite of its nature as a definite acquired taste. How millions of people managed to acquire that taste, however, might have to do with the fact that Seinfeld spoke to the neurotic New York Jew in us all.
But seriously, what’s up with that?
Actually, it’s really not so hard to fathom. Brandon Tartikoff, an NBC executive in 1989, claimed confidently it was just “too Jewish” for broadcast television (his words, not mine). But although on a superficial level Seinfeld was typical of that particular brand of humor (particularly in terms of characters who were paranoid, obsessive-compulsive, cheap, liberal, neurotic, and paradoxically atheist), it was at its heart a show about social values and how they affect us all. There was not a single episode in which one of the main conflicts did not hinge on a debate over some particular social nicety.

My Response:

jsoliver, nice analysis of “Seinfeld.” Your thesis was well-stated and well supported. To say that “Seinfeld” is really a show about nothing is ridiculous when you think about its ability to cover topics that actually are very important to us as individuals and as a society. You mentioned that the show is “about what we are, here and now” and although I agree completely with that statement, I like to think it’s about even more than that.

With its great popularity, “Seinfeld” was not only able to cover topics of our everyday lives that were important at the time, but also more controversial topics that may have been less acceptable in our culture had it not been for the show’s influence. With its ability to make people laugh, “Seinfeld” was able to cover rather taboo subjects such as homosexuality and masturbation to make its audience and our culture more comfortable with these issues. For example, in the famous episode entitled “The Contest” Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer make a bet to see who can go the longest without masturbating.

At the time, masturbation was not yet a subject widely discussed in our society and the fact that “Seinfeld” was able to air an entire show based on the topic was relatively controversial. Throughout the episode the characters have various conversations inferring that they all masturbate regularly, with Kramer claiming he does it everyday and George explaining how he got caught doing it by his mother. The show was able to come up dilemmas for each character that many people were able to relate to, thus making light of the subject and making it a more comfortable topic of conversation. Also, the fact that Elaine, the female symbol of the show, was included in the contest and ultimately lost introduced the subject of female masturbation as well. “Seinfeld” was able to assist in what we have become as a culture because it was not only about what we as individuals and a society were really about at the time, but also about what important topics were on the horizon and where we were headed as a society.

Some clips from "The Outing"