Friday, March 30, 2007

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.

26 comments:

Jessie said...

It seems to me that you've chosen a great episode to analyze norms about masculinity and sexuality. The use of the Sabo piece works quite well, as though the episode is a "textbook" depiction of his writing. Although the episode depicts the obvious norms (as you've shown by relating them to Sabo's points), do you think that the show itself is reinforcing these hegemonic norms or challenging them.
It's interesting to me that you discuss the humor used to portray the "hot button" topics mentioned earlier in the post. Does the humor aid in the blatant depiction of norms associated with such topics and categories and does this depiction automatically reinforce patriarchal hegemony. Based on your work here, I would think that the humor provides the stage to air these topics on prime-time tv in the way that Seinfeld was able to do meant that the messages were literally hegemonic, but that the presentation was aimed at undermining the power of the hegemonic (making them potentially counter hegemonic messages).

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