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.

1 comment:

Jessie said...

Nice job with your response to the author! You've really captured and articulated the many layers of this show and its content, format, and audience. Well done! I'm surprised that the author hasn't commented here yet!

Some clips from "The Outing"