"It's a Show About Nothing"
The Addictive 'Everyday': 'Seinfeld'
What's given, what's taken? What kinds of exchanges are actually made? What legacies remain? How are these exchanges assessed? Why do we care? (R.G.)
Every episode of the American TV program "Seinfeld," which airs in reruns six nights a week at 11 pm in New York in addition to it's primetime slot and which has become an addiction for certain New Yorkers, revolves around all kinds of decisions which need to be made, or which have been made, and the debates--internal and external--surrounding making these decisions. Most TV programs deal with decision making in some way since this is a very basic aspect of plot construction. But decision making takes on a special meaning in "Seinfeld" because it is, as is said in one episode, "a show about nothing," and for that reason everything seems important. The process of deciding or of changing the direction of a bad decision before it goes too far become much of what an episode may be about. Whether it be what kind of juice to drink or whether to confront a possibly bulemic fashion model in the bathroom, every choice is seriously considered. Before, during and after the choices are made the issues to be weighed are examined aloud by the different characters in a legalistic way which is so extreme, as well as so subjective, that their "juridical" processes always seem comical, maybe because we viewers recognize how seriously we take some of the daily decisions that we make--and there are a multitude of them quite specific to New York City. These thirty minutes at the end of the day allow reflection on the daily frustrations and really silly aspects involved in living in this city, absurd rituals which may be inadvertantly seriously maintained. Other prominent subjects are exchange and possession: Who owns what and why they should circulate it?
Case in Point: One Episode
Jerry is given an Armani suit by a comedian he doesn't like. He unenthusiastically accepts it. The exchange, reluctantly agreed upon by Jerry, is that he take the other man out to dinner at the other man's suggestion, this having been mentioned in a studiedly casual way. When the man leaves Jerry says to George, his constant friend, that he'd rather make a suit than have dinner with the other man.
Elaine has just returned from a trip to London in which she went with one man, but has met another man (who is really British). The British man will visit her "for free" because she has "purchased" a ticket for him with her frequent flyer miles. The British man comes. He begins correcting Elaine's way of speaking english. He borrows money from both she and Jerry. He picks up another woman. Three-quarters of the way through the show Jerry gives the Brit the Armani suit because the man who had "given" it to him is never satisfied with the meals Jerry has been prepared to offer (pay for). The Brit happily accepts the suit.
George attends the restaurant to which they all usually go at least once during an episode. As usual he and Jerry are having a meal there. George enjoys a friendly banter with the waitress. She has given him friendliness, although Jerry reminds George of her commercial role--she is getting paid by tips (obligatory gratuities). George decides that maybe she means more, that maybe she does like him. He decides to get more from the usual exchange and asks her to go out with him. She agrees. When he thinks that she could "be his" she mentions her boyfriend. He is angry because she is "taken" (spoken for). He later finds out that she lied. The trust they seemed to have had is broken. They no longer have the bantering exchange. The familiar restaurant is no longer a cozy shelter instead becomes a nervous stomach stimulus. George freezes up when the waitress appears and she now acts chilly toward him. He decides to go elsewhere to spend his money in order to consume food without tension.
Kramer keeps coming into Jerry's apartment asking for things. He raids Jerry's refrigerator with a bossy waitress who is a friend of the other waitress. She barks orders at Kramer about what to take.
The Brit owes Elaine for getting him to America, he owes Jerry for giving him the suit and he indirectly owes the other comedian because that guy keeps claiming that he owns the suit, even though he "gave" it away. Jerry has paid for two meals of the other comedian's and feels absolved of further obligations.
When the Brit, wearing the suit, makes the official break with Elaine (mutually desired) and parades his "real" intentions--which were to get set up in New York--and alludes to the suit as having helped him-- Elaine sicks the comedian, who is still trying to extract more from Jerry, on the Brit to reclaim "his" suit.
The waitress doesn't feel she owes George anything, she was polite. George feels he's owed honesty.
Kramer isn't in the cycle of exchange, he just takes and accidentally destroys.
Always delayed. Maybe to be continued in the next
episode, maybe not. Who knows? Anything can happen.
THOUGHTS FOR FURTHER RUMINATION
A "Seinfeld" Rule: Something which may not seem important at first may become very important.
It may function as a clue (of a variety of sorts;
often as an indicator of personality) or it may be a catalyst
or a secret.
(see Freud, Sherlock Holmes and Carlo Ginzburg)
The Characters and the Locations: The Glue of Familiarity