Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Motherhood in "Seinfeld"

For this blog post I decided to discuss the way “Seinfeld” views the topic of motherhood. Thus, the most obvious person to analyze would clearly be the show’s only regular female character, Elaine. When browsing through the initial six seasons of “Seinfeld,” the first thing I noticed was that none of the episodes discussed or were based on the topic of motherhood. Initially, I thought nothing of this and figured that the show just decided not to broach this particular subject. However, after finally stumbling upon the episode entitled “The Soul Mate” I realized that the absence of the topic of motherhood to that point was in fact no mistake at all. Motherhood was not discussed to that point because in this episode it becomes very clear that Elaine has no intention of having children, and “Seinfeld” once again uses humor to make a mockery of the belief that all women are supposed to do so.

Elaine first appears in “The Soul Mate” in her apartment with three of her friends who recently had babies named Carol, Gail, and Lisa. The following discussion occurs:

CAROL: ...but because it comes out of your baby, it smells good!
ELAINE: (sarcastic) Well, that's...that's sweet.
GAIL: Being a mother has made me feel so beautiful.
CAROL: Elaine, you gotta have a baby!
ELAINE: (trying to change the subject) Oh, hey, you know...I had a piece of whitefish over at Barney Greengrass the other day...
LISA: Elaine. Move to Long Island and have a baby already.
ELAINE: I really like the city.

This conversation is the first indication that Elaine does not want to have children. Elaine is obviously not interested in hearing about how great it feels to be a mother and does her best to change the subject and hint to her friends that she is not interested in having a baby. Later in the episode, Jerry and Elaine are discussing Elaine’s night with her friends and her feelings towards motherhood become very obvious…

ELAINE (to Jerry, imitating Carol): "Elaine, ya gotta have a baby." Ugh.
JERRY: Why do you invite these women over if they annoy you so much?
ELAINE: They're my friends, but they act as if having a baby takes some kind of talent.
JERRY: C'mon, you want to have a baby.
ELAINE: Why? Because I can?
JERRY: It's the life force. I saw a show on the mollusk last night. Elaine, the mollusk travels from Alaska to Chile just for a shot at another mollusk. You think you're any better?
ELAINE: Yes! I think I am better than the mollusk!
KEVIN: I couldn't help overhearing what you were saying. I think I agree with you. I mean, all this talk about having babies.
ELAINE: Yeah, like you must procreate.
KEVIN: Besides, anyone can do it.ELAINE: Oh, it's been done to death.

Once this conversation is over it becomes very obvious that “Seinfeld” has challenged the social normative that all women should procreate. At this point in the series, Elaine is perfectly healthy, has a well-paying job, and is becoming what society would view as “middle-aged.” Therefore, it is obvious that Elaine could definitely have and support a child, but she simply chooses not to. The show goes on to further reinforce its position on motherhood throughout the episode, even going as far as having many of the men in the show willing to get vasectomies to prove to their girlfriends that they are dedicated to them. In conclusion, the episode makes a mockery of the normative idea that all women should eventually have children.


Jessie said...

This post is great! It's completely on-target for the analysis of motherhood and gender-expectations in relation to Seinfeld! The absence of any element in a given topic (i.e. motherhood in this tv show), is one of the most difficult analyses to perform, but also one of the most productive when it comes to uncovering the really important elements of a topic/issue/etc. Your post is quite astute and you've done a great job here. Your email mentioned the issue of tying the topic to the reading (and lack of); it's probably best at this point in the semester to leave this post as it stands now. However, the reading that immediately came to mind was either Sex, Lies, & Advertising, or the piece on Hegemony. After giving it some more thought, there was also an article much earlier in the semester by Lipsitz on "The Meaning of Memory" in the Dines reader that you could have used too.
Overall, you've done a nice job and are clearly building on your (already quite good) analytical skills!
:0) Jessie

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Some clips from "The Outing"