Google Search Bar


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Seinfeld Context

The United States has always been a country of dreams!

In the beginning, people came to the US seeking religious freedom. The American Revolution proclaimed freedom to the colonies. The suffragettes brought about liberty to women. In the seventies, people were freeing their minds and fighting for equal rights for African-Americans. The US has always lived on ideals with universal values. After the demise of communist systems, democracy seemed to have conquered the world. Notwithstanding, America was left a victor without an ideology.

The post-war, Post Modern (Pomo) general population was no longer interested in universal values but only in nihilistic-oriented themes in the diverse means of cultural expression. According to postmodern theorist Jean-François Leotard, post modernity is characterized as an "incredulity toward universal explanations", meaning that in the era of postmodern culture, people have rejected the grand, supposedly universal stories and paradigms such as religion, conventional philosophy, capitalism and gender roles that have defined culture and behavior in the past, and have instead begun to organize their cultural life around a variety of more local and sub cultural ideologies, myths and stories. In the Postmodern era, each person makes its own mores (mores defined as social behaviors not delineated by law). The world has become a global village, but speaking several different cultural languages.

The Watergate political scandals and the Vietnam War led to a decrease in civic consciousness in the United States. Later on in the 80’s, the fall of the Soviet regimes led to the end of the ideological discussion between capitalism and communism, as if history had come to an end. Having the history come to an end, the greater discussion between the two ideologies also ended, leaving the debate room empty.

The 60’s and the 70’s were decades that questioned all sorts of values, from mores, sex, beliefs, politics, arts and the like. All concepts were debunked but not replaced by a new world-view. The 80’s and 90’s was a period of growth to most developed countries. Under a frenzied globalization process, a non-disputed neo-liberal ideology empty of humanistic values, but moving on materialistic grounds, took over the globe. The 90’s is considered by many sociologists a period of increasing materialism and hypocrisy (real politik) brought about by a fascist Corporate America culture.

In 1991 Douglas Coupland popularizes the term Generation-X, for a generation of people born in the 60’s and 70’s. These are the people that dislike the status and the social climbing that comes along with money. They are interested in the money only without the status or the social tagged compromises. He also popularized the term McJob, referring to lowly-paid jobs by chain stores and the suppression of middle class job due to economic overhauls and technological innovation. Generation-X is characterized by a lack of ideology, but concentration on group issues, such as feminism, minorities, environment, homosexuals and others.

All these elements are somewhat symbolized by the sitcom program ‘Seinfeld’. The show is a by-product of the cultural environment described so far. Seinfeld, as Jerry Seinfeld puts it, it is a ‘show about nothing’ blowing out of proportion minimalist and nihilistic situations in life relationships. Most characters of the program fit into the description of the nihilistic postmodern man.

Characters of the sitcom can be seen through Nietzsche’s view of the human condition. They are intrinsically amoral beings, or nihilists, but with an optimistic view of life. They live through a life a of Nietzsche’s eternal return, their lives being a repetition of meaningless events, and they are at the same time, the Nietzschean Superman. The Superman is the person who can create his or her own values, uninfluenced by societal norms, and who can successfully live according to these self-created values. The four characters of the program do it by superseding the everyday boredom of life with laughter. Seen from another angle, it is possible to understand that….

The postmodern characteristics of the show Seinfeld expresses that the characters, whom are reality based, are struggling with the mentality of postmodernism and the shows popularity indicates that these personal struggles are more common then ever before.

The ideology of life being absurd through the loss of meaning creates these narcissistic fragmented role models to which others follow and mimic. Media shapes reality, as well as, reflecting reality. Post World War 2 serves as a periodical landmark to the rise of technology as a “technopoly” (Postman), leaving inhabitants with only materials to hold sacred and forced to survive with the assistance of technology.

Only the postmodernist can recognize the injustice of technology, mainly in the form of media. However, the postmodernist struggle lies in adapting to the surroundings of a world based on control and power of the media and holding true their individualistic lifestyle. In Seinfeld the characters roles are ones of individuals living in an era of individuality.

The by-product of these narcissistic mentalities creates a more “homogenous society” structured to becoming independent of physical attributions, such as, race, religion, or gender, and becoming dependant only to a character’s own life. In short, egos become privileged as; superegos and social roles become diminished, marginalized. The main character Jerry and his ex-girlfriend, present “friend”, Elaine, are perfect examples of the postmodernist man and woman, who both recognize their imprisonment to their own personal stereotypes and are both driven by their selfishness. Each character in Seinfeld is unique because it is clearly shown through the writing that each character is driven only for their own personal entertainment or pleasure, despite the expense of others around them.

In order to label the characters Jerry and Elaine as postmodernist, there must be a clarification of the definition of postmodernism. However, in order to understand the ideology of postmodernism one must have an abstract idea of what modernism inclines.

Modernism can be seen as a period of time in which the people “embraced the power of scientific rationality, the spirit of progress, a vision of unlimited potential for human society, and an optimism for the future in which man could obtain his two greatest needs: meaning and material security.” Unfortunately, with the rise of science and technology came the rise of media domination and individualistic sacrifices. The mistake of looking to man for universal answers, has proven the loss of optimism of the modernist. From the ashes of the modernist comes the polar opposite of the modernist, the postmodernist. In order to gain an understanding of the postmodernist, one must look at five “presuppositions” of the postmodernist worldview (According to R. Wesley Hurd).

The first “presumption” of the ideology of the postmodernist is that, “the quest for truth is a lost cause.” Postmodernists’ have come to the understanding that humankind is incapable of obtaining universal, objective truths, because any person alive is stuck in a certain time and location which is bias to any previously stated truth.

Second, “A person’s sense of identity is a composite constructed by the forces of the surrounding culture.”

Once again the notion of being only capable of living in a certain surrounding will forcefully mold who that person will become. “From the postmodernist perspective, we should not think of ourselves as unique, unified, self-conscious, autonomous persons.”

Third, “the languages of our culture (the verbal and visual signs we use to represent the world to ourselves) literally “construct” what we think as “real” in our everyday existence.” The languages created to be used in society only offers a limited interpretation of the world in which we live in. A good example of how this can be answered personally is the answer to this question, what languages do you personally think in? From this answer there is an indication of the limit of our own brains based on the knowledge in which was available around us in our lifetimes.

Fourth, “‘reality’ is created by those who have power.” In recognizing that language and those in power shape the culture of man, then life becomes in the eyes of the postmodernist nothing but a game of chess in which only the rich and powerful are given the will to change the pieces. Lastly, “we (postmodernists) should neutralize the political power inherent in language by ‘deconstructing’ it.” In the deconstruction of language, there are two beliefs stated in any comment. According to Jacques Derrida, a leading postmodern theorist claims that when statements are made, two opposing sets are created.

One set being a “privileged” belief, the favored, and another being a “marginalized” belief, the oppressed. A simple example of these opposing sets can be seen in the comment, “Sex should only happen in marriage”, where the favored belief is that sex in marriage is “right”, where sex outside of wedlock is looked upon as “wrong”. The postmodernist by recognizing these sets has the power to distinguish between the two, only to realize that any belief that is favored or undesired holds a biased foundation to the individual whom stated the comment.

Each episode creates“realism”, which is, “a powerful feeling we can’t put into words, it is the formidable, unlocatable desire which our lives order themselves around but which we can never understand.” The “realism” in which Seinfeld can partially capture, in other words are the detailed moments in all our lives, which are not usually given a voice. The voice in this instance is television. The show acts as a portal into the heads of the postmodernist, living in the postmodern era. The characters are those based on real people, whom the writers and creators insisted on staying as real as possible.

The show then can be defined to be one of the most “realist” portrayals of postmodern life. Within the show it then indicates that the characters’ personalities and actions are mirrors of those that are occurring in the postmodern society. Jerry Seinfeld, who plays himself, can be described as a by-product of consumer America and a sarcastic comic. He also is portrayed to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, because he is constantly appearing himself and his apartment to be completely clean and organized. First, as the main male character in the show, he has the advantage of having the most television time, making his actions and appearance, all the more impacting on the viewer. Jerry Seinfeld then is not just “playing” himself on the sitcom, but is representing an entire generation of white males, the dominant. However, the character is not viewed as dominant at all.

He is constantly getting himself into situations of miscommunications causing one or another character to become impacted. As he is showed in each episode to have some sort of dilemma, as minuet as it may be, shows that there is no escaping drama in the postmodern world. The factor that is the primary force of most of the conflicts on the show Seinfeld is about characters being trapped to their own perception and selfishness.

By making certain choices each character repeatedly causes some sort of problem with another’s life. The writers are making the point that in the postmodernist mind, they are only capable of thinking of themselves. Another unique aspect of Jerry’s character is that he can not be classified in the characteristic of the traditional masculine male. Jerry instead is often confused with being a more feminine male character, due to his clean and neat appearance.

Traditionally males are viewed as, according to Jackson Katz, the author of “Tough Guise”, as strong, unemotional, violent, and tough. In Seinfeld and the postmodernist male, the only quality that exists in Jerry, who remains true with the stereotype, is being unemotional. In the episode “The Serenity Now”, one comical aspect of the episode is that Jerry becomes emotional, causing a rapid change in his personality. His actions then are viewed to be odd, opposed to his natural unemotional state. It can be then explained through the idea that the postmodernist has excerpted that life being so absurd and meaningless is not worth emotional distress. The selfishness of each character also implies the egotistical trend of society, in which rather than caring about others, due to our imprisonment to our own biases, it creates these narcissistic characters.

The other half of the show Seinfeld is placed in the hands of the character Elaine. As becoming the main female character, she fills the second part of the glass of the dominant majority of the postmodern era. The bio of the character Elaine is that of the post-liberated female who, has the most successful occupation on the show, outside of Jerry, and as a character that can not be pushed around by the “boys”, instead she is doing the pushing.

A unique aspect of her character is one of who sacrifices emotion for pleasure. Traditional females where never characterized as being “dominant”, whereas Elaine, being the portrayal of the postmodern female, is knowledgeable enough to understand how to obtain pleasure in her life. Unlike most female characters, Elaine can forge in sexual activities and use her sexuality as a tool in order to obtain her needs. The absence of “love” and emotions between her and her male companions indicates how woman, as also men, reject emotion, for instant gratification in the postmodern culture. In one episode entitled. “The Abstinence”, Elaine visits Jerry, only to progress in sexual intercourse despite having no emotional attachment. To the postmodern male and female, sexual intercourse has then become derived into a moment of personal feeling and not into the universal, abstract idea of lovemaking. Supporting the claim of the rise of narcissism in the postmodern society, both male and female postmodernist have achieved such an extorted amount of knowledge that the ideology of reason and science has overpowered the faith of the spiritual and imaginary.

Postmodernism then has shifted the basic foundation of the modern world that defines male and female roles. No longer females to be only looked upon as weak or inferior, however only a certain few can be personally compared to the individual whom is making the claim. Gender roles was a term traditionally used in the modern era, however in the postmodern era, individuals are multiplying causing a more diverse range of roles that males and females are accepted to play. As certain males become more “feminine” and woman more “masculine”, beside each person is that of an individual living through only their own perspective.

Brief and to the Point:

Even though Seinfeld was about “nothing” it has taught us that although life being absurd, can be comical to view individuals trying to make sense of this postmodern era.


1 comment:

bikalpa said...

well written.. enjoyed the post..