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ArtVandalayFinalPaper

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 7 months ago

The Paper about Nothing

 

The simple concept of four incredibly shallow and self-centered New Yorkers sitting around a diner booth discussing the minor flaws of their partners does not seem completely enticing. However, such a rudimentary idea became a major success in the form of Seinfeld. From Jerry to Elaine and George to Kramer, Seinfeld transformed into a triumph due to each individual characters’ behaviors and how easily relatable they are to an ordinary person. Throughout the television sitcom’s nine year run, Seinfeld touched on many taboo topics during its time such as homosexuality, self-gratification, virginity, and breast augmentation, among others. While many shows on during Seinfeld’s run would have touch on these subjects with notable hesitation, Seinfeld managed to cover them with effortless nonchalance. For example, in the early episode entitled, “The Subway,” Elaine has plans to attend a lesbian wedding. While a fellow passenger on the metro system is clearly appalled by this event, Elaine is neither disgusted nor ashamed like many would be. This displays how such a unique and at the time, odd situation can be handled with remarkable ease. To further agree with the genius of Seinfeld, writer Gennaro Desposito comments in his article, “Seinfeld Continues to Influence American Culture,” that the brilliance of the show is how much of real life is incorporated into it. In addition, he feels that Seinfeld’s effect on popular culture can be attributed to how it uses mundane reality as a foundation for outrageous comedy. Perhaps the greatest effect on popular culture that Seinfeld has had has been the effect on the American lexicon. From Los Angeles to New York, many person’s speech has been peppered with phrases like “yada yada,” “man-hands,” and “re-gifter.” Over its nine year run, Seinfeld had an enormous impact on American popular culture due to the show’s capability of connecting to the viewers by making the sitcom’s plots believable and completely relatable.

 

It may seem surprising that Seinfeld became such a success given its relatively slow start. Back in 1990, The Seinfeld Chronicles aired and was not well received immediately by both critics and audiences (Give Thanks for the ‘Seinfeld’ Story). Not until the fourth season did the show become as commercially successful as it was critically acclaimed (Wikipedia). From the start, creators Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld referred to their program as the “anti-sitcom” because there was none of the hugging or learning of most sitcoms (Popular Culture Study Guide). It remained quite unique throughout all nine seasons as it did not allow any scenes to lapse into any sort of sentimentality like many of the sitcoms during this time period (Wikipedia). This lack of sentimentality was assisted by the caustic and cynical overtones of the show. Throughout every single Seinfeld episode, the intricate plots were eventually boiled down to easy-to-understand-and-relate-to story arcs. Several story threads would be introduced at the beginning of an episode. These threads would almost always involve the four main characters in different situations that would eventually come together at the end in satirical fashion (Wikipedia). Every episode made this program distinctive by turning everyday, casual incidents and situations into a half hour comedy block (Seinfeld MBC). Moreover, many viewers noticed the postmodern nature of the show. That is to say that Seinfeld was somewhat ahead of its time in the concepts covered throughout the show’s run such as masturbation and homosexuality. The interesting characters, engaging silly plots, and notable critical acclaim attributed to turning the show from an almost cancelled product to one of the most watched programs in television history. It is safe to say that these interesting characters were a key ingredient in the program’s success.

Perhaps the greatest factor that helped deviate Seinfeld from the ordinary sitcom was the interesting and easily dislikable set of characters. The basis of the characters Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer was that they were all single New Yorkers with disputable job histories who seemed unable to develop any sort of meaningful relationship in their lives (The American Thinker). This inability to form a relationship may be due to the vain, shallow, and self-absorbed behavior that they display. For example in the early episode, “The Pony Remark,” after possibly causing his mother’s cousin’s death, Jerry is more worried about winning his softball championship than going to the funeral (Seinfeld Scripts). Throughout many of the episodes, a large portion of the half hour is filled with poking fun at each other or someone less fortunate. In fact, they rarely do anything besides make fun and complain besides have sex with a significantly high number of people (The Culture of Narcissism). Indeed much of the humor on the show was derived from the characters inability to maintain any sort of romantic relationship (The American Thinker). The characters may have been able to do this had they been less superficial and less inclined to help each other only out of self-interest (Seinfeld MBC). They make incredibly awful mistakes yet do not feel that remorseful about what they have done. Most notably in “The Invitations,” stingy George decides to purchase the most inexpensive wedding invitations that eventually lead to his fiancée’s death from toxic glue. When at the hospital upon learning of her death, George and the rest of the gang decide to run off to get coffee at their restaurant instead of grieve. While constantly making fun of others, the characters also were worried about how they were perceived. For instance, in order to maintain a high reputation at her place of employment, Elaine lies to her coworkers by saying that the fellow employee she made out with the previous night at a company get together was her boyfriend, not just a fling. Each individual character has his of her flaws, but together, they make for great television.

 

The entire sitcom’s concept was based on stand up comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his stand up act. It comes as no surprise that plenty of the show focuses on his comedic career as well as his tumultuous relationships with those around him. As aforementioned, the four main characters are completely self-absorbed in almost every way. However, Jerry may actually be the most sensible character in that rather than engaging in the heinous activities that the remaining three commit; he merely makes sarcastic comments about what they do (Wikipedia). Throughout the span of the series, Jerry had numerous relationships, none of which lasted more than one episode, with the exception of a few. He occasionally broke up with them for completely embarrassing reasons. For example, in the episode, “The Engagement,” Jerry breaks up with a date because she peculiarly eats her peas one pea at a time. Furthermore, Jerry seems to take immense pleasure in watching his ‘best’ friends fail. The previous traits would surely disgust anyone, but Seinfeld in no way would be the same without Jerry’s famous quips like, “She had man-hands,” or “But I don’t want to be a pirate.” While Jerry found plenty of success in life, he had to be balanced out by a self-loathing loser of the group.

Aptly described by fellow character, Elaine, as a “short, stocky, slow-witted, bald man,” is George, the ‘loser’ of the group. George Costanza is a neurotic, self-loathing man incapable of thinking for himself a great portion of the time. He constantly takes advice from his Jerry who once jokingly told George to do the opposite of everything he would naturally do. Following this advice, George actually was successful in this approach. However, this is one of the only positives out of a very negative life. Without remorse, George commits several heinous crimes. Apart from the aforementioned ‘invitation incident,’ in “The Bris,” George attempts to receive monetary compensation from a hospital after a man committed suicide from the building (Seinfeld Scripts). Throughout the series, there was a bit of a humorous budding rivalry between George and Lloyd Braun, a former mayor adviser turned mental patient. The Costanzas always seemed to be more impressed by Lloyd than by their son, over which they are incredibly domineering. Many avid Seinfeld viewers adore George and his ability to deny any sort of responsibility. On the other hand, those who despise Seinfeld usually point towards George as the reason why. While George was the easily persuadable character, Elaine was the staunch, argumentative character.

After the first episode of The Seinfeld Chronicles aired sans a female lead character, co-creator Larry David felt the need to add a bit more to the show once it re-aired as Seinfeld (Wikipedia). David created Elaine, the sassy and spunky character that more often than not came off as irritable and impatient (Seinfeld MBC). Her irritability is evident throughout the series including several notable moments: In the episode, “The Bubble Boy,” Elaine becomes very ill-tempered when in order to ‘make good time,’ George begins to drive unreasonably fast. This causes Jerry and Elaine, driving in a separate car, to become lost. Needless to say, she was not pleased (Seinfeld Scripts). In addition to being impatiently irritable, Elaine also seems to pick arguments with almost everyone she encounters from Jerry, George or Kramer to her bosses or boyfriends. She also had quite a few boyfriends spanning the nine year season run. Most similar to Jerry, a great deal of Elaine’s life revolved around finding an attractive partner. However, she was more likely to maintain a longer term relationship. Towards the end of the series, Elaine was romantically linked to David Puddy, an aloof mechanic who utilized “the move” while pleasing Elaine. Although, this relationship could be characterized as off-and-on as they would break up momentarily to spite one another. While she may be the most successful of the four, Elaine remains quite bitter about her state of life. In “The Bizarro Jerry,” Elaine remarks that she needs to find new friends (Seinfeld Scripts). Almost completely opposites throughout a great deal of the program’s run, George and Elaine do have one thing in common: an arch nemesis. Sue Ellen Mischke, ‘the braless wonder’ is Elaine’s rival who seems to always get what Elaine wants. Indeed, she marries a man Elaine once slept with in the episode, “The Betrayal.” While Elaine, George, and Jerry have common interests, the oddball of the bunch, Kramer, is completely out there.

Notworthy for his famous ‘entrance’ into Jerry’s apartment is Kramer, the most animated and eccentric character of the Seinfeld cast. Kramer would burst through Jerry’s apartment door with remarkable speed and slide in with his crazy hair sticking straight up. This eccentric behavior Kramer demonstrated also caused him to be painfully honest to some. When Jerry recognizes an annoying acquaintance walking towards Kramer and him in “The Cartoon,” he mentions how this woman should just stop trying to be an actress because she is no good. Kramer decides to reveal to her that she should just give up on her aspiring career just like Jerry said (Seinfeld Scripts). This is one of many mental gaffes that Kramer just lets slip by without taking any responsibility. As animated as he is, Kramer also remains slightly secretive throughout the show. The viewer never really knows a great deal about Kramer’s life more than that he is perpetually unemployed and he has several ‘lady friends’. Up until the sixth season, a mystery had surrounded Kramer as to what his first name is. When Kramer’s slovenly mother visits in “The Opposite,” she reveals his first name to be Cosmo (Seinfeld Scripts). As aforementioned, ‘Cosmo’ Kramer has trouble finding or holding onto a job. While this may be true, he sure does have big ideas which he feels are going somewhere. Among these big propositions are the ‘Bro’, which is a bra for men who need support and a bladder system for oil tankers, which was a concoction of his corporation, Kramerica. However, his most successful invention was the ‘Coffee Table Book’ about coffee tables. While touring for his book, Kramer spits coffee on Kathy Lee Gifford and is no longer allowed to tour. Although Jerry, Elaine, and George mostly hang out with each other, Kramer has a few friends on the side. The most notable friend is Newman, Jerry’s enemy. This friendship has caused Kramer to have to choose between the two groups at times. In the episode, “The Millennium,” Kramer has to decide whether or not to exclude Jerry from their Millennium party upon Newman’s request (Seinfeld Scripts). The big thinking, lack of direction Kramer was surely a needed addition to the remaining characters. The four characters truly helped in making Seinfeld such a commercial success as well as a cultural phenomenon.

Seinfeld provided its viewers with many classic television moments involving its unique cast of characters throughout its run. Beginning with Jerry, he remained true to his shallow roots through the final seasons in his encounter with his date in “The Bizarro Jerry.” He noticed that she had abnormally masculine hands, which he described as ‘man-hands,’ and true to his character, he broke up with her. George’s stubborn behavior was evident in another classic, “The Bubble Boy.” In the midst of playing Trivial Pursuit with the disadvantaged ‘bubble boy,’ George refused to acknowledge that the answer was a typo. By doing so, George angered the boy and his bubble was popped. One of the funniest moments of the series came from Elaine and her dance moves in “The Little Kicks.” George described these moves as “a full body dry heave set to music,” and suddenly became the laughing stock of her work. Lastly, while viewing a surgery from above, Kramer drops a junior mint over the railing and into the patient. Once more, he does not necessarily feel responsible or guilty for the act. While the previous classic episode examples are unquestionably hilarious, one episode stood out from the others.

Airing during the show’s Emmy winning fourth season was the episode entitled, “The Contest” (Wikipedia). This ‘contest’ referred to in the title involved Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer delaying their self-gratification for as long as possible. The four placed bets with one another and the winner took the loot. If the four could withhold from doing the deed, then they would remain ‘master of their domain.’ A great deal of the comedy in the episode comes from how every character is affected by not masturbating. Jerry and Elaine toss and turn in bed while George becomes irritable and snappy. The brilliance of the episode lies in the writing department. Throughout the entire thirty minutes, the term masturbation is never used. Episodes like this are a major reason why the show was so admired in American popular culture.

Apart from being just a popular television show, it was also one of the most influential television programs of the 1990s. From this show came a great deal of terms that people commonly use in the real world. An entire online dictionary named “The Jerry Seinfeld Dictionary of Terms and Phrases.” Including in this anthology are ‘bubble boy,’ ‘master of my domain,’ ‘shrinkage,’ ‘man hands,’ and ‘yada yada yada,’ among many others. According to Katharine Gantz, these phrases and terms go unnoticed by the casual or unknowing Seinfeld viewer (Wikipedia). However, to many, these terms are like a second language. Apart from the effect Seinfeld has had on the lexicon of viewers, it has also had a significant societal impact. In the episode, “The Sponge,” Elaine mentions that she always uses the recently discontinued birth control sponge. This caused an increase in demand for the contraceptive and in the following years, the Today Sponge was brought back to the market (“Pop-culture phenom, Today Sponge is back”). Similarly, following the episode, “The Pez Dispenser,” sales of pez soared due in part to its exposure on Seinfeld (Desposito). Seinfeld’s affect on popular culture is evident and it is obvious as to why the show was so successful.

Creator Larry David referred to Seinfeld as “the show about nothing.” This was an apt description and part of the reason the show was a success. Given its minimal plotlines and easy to follow stories, Seinfeld did not require much thinking on the viewers part. The simple concept of real life as a basis for comedy makes the program easily relatable. In “Seinfeld Continues to Influence American Culture,” the author mentions that the show presents issues and social commentary throughout the show and also as part of the character’s lives. For example, it is evident that Elaine is the liberal character given her outspoken stance on abortion. In another article, Jerry Seinfeld said, “We didn’t change the culture, we just reflected it a little more intimately” (The Culture of Narcissism). This is especially true as while many despise the show’s characters, they truthfully represent how a large percentage of people actually are: selfish and shallow. Despite the opposition, Seinfeld was one of the most popular television programs of all time. In 2002, TV Guide released a list of the top 50 greatest shows of all time and Seinfeld was ranked atop the list (Wikipedia). The true testament to the show’s appeal is that in its final season, it finished number one among television viewers (Wikipedia). Seinfeld was indeed one of the most influential and successful programs of its time.

Unlike many sitcoms during their runs, Seinfeld was able to make a vast impact on pop culture and remain enormously popular. It provided viewers with a glimpse into the lives of typically flawed New Yorkers. By doing so, audiences were able to view hilarious and often embarrassing situations that Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer would find themselves in. These situations were completely believable and viewers could definitely relate. Starting from relative obscurity, Seinfeld transformed into one of the most popular television shows of all time. This could be a testament to the show remaining true to itself throughout its nine year run. The scathing sarcasm witnessed in season one from Jerry was just as effective in season nine. And Elaine remained hilariously bitter while simultaneously sassy from working with Mr. Pitt to working under J. Peterman. Moreover, George was just as pathetic in season one living with his parents to the last season, still relying somewhat on his folks. Lastly, Kramer still wandered meaninglessly through life at the end of the series with his radical ideas as he did at the start. Seinfeld finished its nine year run with its critical and fan reputation fully intact (Wikipedia). It is safe to say that perhaps no sitcom in the future will have as enormous of an impact on American culture as Seinfeld has. A show with a more basic concept than four New Yorkers grabbing a cup of joe and complaining about something or other being nearly as successful is not foreseeable, that is, unless it truly is about ‘nothing.’

 

 

Works Cited

Desposito, Gennaro. “Seinfeld Continues to Influence American Culture.” 11 Nov 2005. 6 Apr 2006. <http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/13495/seinfeld_continues_to_influence_american.html>

 

McLemee, Scott. “Seinfeld and the Culture of Narcissicm.” 3 May 1998. 10 April 2006. < http://www.mclemee.com/id96.html>

 

Thomaselli, Rob. “Pop-culture phenom, Today Sponge is back.” 2 May 2005. 6 Apr 2006. <http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?index=2&did=834494921&SrchMode=1&sid=1&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1144274923&clientId=9874>

“Give thanks for `The `Seinfeld' Story'.” 24 Nov 2004. 6 Apr 2006. <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/OVRC;jsessionid=8990097785640E44228E4E239C78E95E?vrsn=230&slb=SU&locID=psucic&srchtp=basic&c=10&ste=20&tbst=ts_basic&tab=8&txb=Seinfeld&docNum=CJ125244951&fail=3&bConts=11>

“Seinfeld.” Wikipedia. 10 April 2006. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seinfeld>

 

“Seinfeld Liberals.” The American Thinker. 27 June 2005. 10 Apr 2006. < http://www.americanthinker.com/articles.php?article_id=4601>

 

“Seinfeld- Popular Culture Study Guide.” 10 April 2006. < http://www.bookrags.com/history/popculture/seinfeld-bbbb-05/>

 

“Seinfeld-MBC” 6 Apr 2006. <http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/S/htmlS/seinfeld/seinfeld.htm.>

 

Seinfeld: Dictionary. 6 Apr 2006. <http://www.angelfire.com/nj/carlb/seinfeld/seinfelddictionary.html.

 

Seinfeld Scripts. 6 Apr 2006. <http://www.seinfeldscripts.com/>

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