Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Seinfeld and Reality TV

Seinfeld really was (sic) the first "Reality TV." It began in 1989, years before the modern Survivor-type dross appeared, continuing the cultural acclimation of an existence devoid of meaning. Seinfeld's "show about nothing"-ness was the precursor to shows even more about nothing. For the first time in its era, backed by unbeatable dollars, art drenched itself openly in a cloak of meaninglessness.

Seinfeld: when the world was unabashedly proud, for the first time, of its own lack of meaning. The Emperor reveled in His own nakedness, while His subjects, instead of recoiling in horror (or better yet, simply walking away), laughed and pointed at the shriveled genitals of plot occasionally glimpsed beneath the hairy belly rolls of the same character joke you'd already seen in the first episode, eight seasons ago.

Consider the Reality TV trends first shopped against the populace in Seinfeld:

1) Headlined by someone who can't act well, and who openly applauds said fact.

2) Planning out, in scrupulous detail, pointless events, and how they will congrue toward riddle-endings; while, simultaneously...

3) ...pretending that the careful planning was really accidental, e.g., "about nothing."

4) Breaking a show into two tiny "intro/denouement" credit sequences, with only two real substantive dramatical segments in between, to allow for an additional commercial break and reduce the overall program time while increasing commercial volume.

Seinfeld vitiated the few remaining scraps of plot and meaning left in American television drama; drowned the last un-irradiated infant in a tub of money and social ostracization. After the reprehensibly soulless shtik of Jerry Seinfeld--a grift of the world's meaning; greater in effect by far than the mere extraction of cash via advertising junk--it came as almost a relief to watch hosts who admitted that they weren't even trying to act, or bother to portray a plot, theme, or meaning (like being "merely beaten" after having your fingernails extracted by salted pliers). Seinfeld, and the "reality" it acclimated people to, is the brainchild of the random, purposeless life: the life where there is nothing to learn; the life that has no depth; the life that mocks the concept of life itself, showing how nothing can or will ever have deeper purpose (and never did to begin with).

All the hopelessness in Seinfeld was, of course, a lie. In order to create the ridiculous, elaborate riddles that set up the show's jokes, the accountants masquerading as "writers" had to cobble together different improbable, externally-imposed events, throw them at characters in precise sequences, and introduce side characters and scenes at the exact right times to set up the "answers" to the shows riddles. Like elite poetry, motivational posters, and movie and television plots, Seinfeld was formulaic in every way. It begged the question of an intelligently designed world, then used the impossible happenstances set in motion by its creators to justify nihilism. After Seinfeld, who wanted to even try to care about anything anymore? Even explosions, gunfights, and car chases can't compete with the neural lows of watching society's temporary social prejudices paraded before a crowd.

(Why this emphasis on "riddles"? Because bad plot--formulaic plot--is really nothing other than an extended riddle. The "story arc" of introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion, is an artificial creation; a factory system for creating a shoddy mimicry of literature. Raised on the McDonald's equivalent of writing, most of us lack the ability to discern, anymore, a real hamburger. Larry David's sequel to the show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, trumpets the "story structure" he used to fabricate the illusion of writing without actually having to create anything meaningful. Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side. It's clever, and maybe worth a chuckle--really--but the extended setups and riddles of sitcom writing are the chuckle-worthy literary equivalent of hastily sketching a dick and a set of hairy balls on the subway restroom wall in black permanent marker. Funny, but if the restroom wall ends up on TV at a million dollars an episode, it indicates that something is very, very wrong.)

The Planned, Un-planned Sequence of Climactic Events

Think of The Dark Knight, and the Joker. The Joker turned Harvey Dent mad (and into "Two Face") by calling other characters "schemers," and claiming randomness in his actions. Yet, in his every action, the Joker was in fact the better planner. From his bank robbery at the very beginning, to his confrontation with Batman at the end, the Joker had scripted everything. He was the real schemer. So too Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld (and their host of assistants, writers, ghostwriters, scriptwriters, screen editors, producers, interns, etc., who fed them lines): only by putting massive thought into each 22 minute "riddle" could they create the "chance" and "randomness" illusions that made their seemingly mad, meaningless world appear to have coincidental good-luck humor.

(In the philosophical world, this is an expression of Plato, Leo Strauss, or Rumsfeld. The essence of their ideas, if you're unfamiliar with their trains of reasoning, is that the masses need to be controlled by the calculated ministrations of Wise Men, who lie to the masses for their own good. The Wise Men know that they're lying, but it's wrong to spoil the masses' lives by telling them the truth, because the masses are too stupid to live without faith in the Wise Men. Seinfeld lies about being about nothing, even though it actually is about something: nothing. I.e., it does have a meaning, and the meaning is that life has no meaning. The spiraling irony of the show is that it took a lot of motivation, goal-setting, planning, and inner belief to create such a paean to meaninglessness. Like Dawkins, those who rationally plan out extended arguments for purposelessness are forced to use the only tools available in the universe--tools of purpose--in order to construct monuments to the nothing they so desperately want to believe in.)

Airline peanuts come in small bags because airlines are trying to save money. To the first few generations of machinated multiple-choice testing, repeating a common observation with a smile appears to be a dynamic, exciting act. The show about nothing is an expression of the life about nothing.

Racism Aside

While we're on it, Seinfeld was incredibly, blatantly racist--even for the late 80s/early 90s. Remember the stinky BMW, which Jerry got rid of by parking in a bad area of town? Where a dark-skinned, Arabic thug instantly steals it? But that's just one episode. Here's a very short, very non-inclusive list of the mockery that the super-wealthy white headliner and his middle-class white coterie of friends pile upon the Others in the background:

"The Stock Tip," Season 1, dark-skinned dry-cleaning employee shrinks Jerry's shirt, then lies about it, then finally admits after being questioned by Jerry (service-employee minorities are incompetent as well as liars).

"The Busboy," Season 2, Hispanic busboy sets a menu on fire in a restaurant, tempestuously quits his job (Hispanic people are passionate, unreasonable, and bad employment risks, as well as fiery and dangerous), then blames George and Kramer for his own mistake. He gets hired at a new restaurant, but loses his job because he is too incompetent to make it to the first day on time.

"The Slicer," Season 9, black employee of a one-hour photo is too stupid to airbrush the correct person out of a photograph. When asked to fix his mistake, he tries to pass a cartoon drawing off as a real person, but George catches him on it (black people are stupid, lazy, and try to pass off fake work as real work).

"The Strongbox," Season 9, a Portuguese guy sleeps by the incinerator in Jerry's apartment building, burns dead animals for trash disposal, and in the meantime, Elaine offers a (white!!) welfare recipient cash to avoid continuing a relationship with him (poor people are funny and must be avoided; dusky immigrants are disgusting and can't make it in the real, white world).

"The Reverse Peephole," Season 9, a loud, heavily-accented Italian building attendant uses broken English while screaming at the main characters that he is being made a cuckold of because his wife is sleeping with the grossly obese (but white) Newman (played by Wayne Knight).

"The Wizard," Season 9, "any news about China is [boring]." (East Asians are irrelevant unless they produce interesting tech. products.)

"The Frogger," Season 9, George tries to hire an electrician. The electrician turns out to have an Eastern European accent, brings in dangerous criminal friends with Eastern European accents, and is disappointed that George's job is not a crime (Czechs/Georgians/Russians/etc. are drawn to crime like moths to a flame).

"The Abstinence," Season 8, Portuguese waitress sleeps with fat, ugly, George after serving his table twice, because he orders in Portuguese, thereby impressing her (fiery Hispanic women lust for fat, sweaty white men who know two lines of their native dialogue).

"The Little Jerry," Season 8, Hispanic shopkeeper runs illegal rooster fighting ring in his shop, while shaming Jerry with a bounced check even after accepting money to take the bounced check down. When a cockfighting scene is shown, Seinfeld sees its first-ever scene with more minorities than whites in the background--after Jerry has reminded the viewer how illegal, immoral and wrong cockfighting is. Noisy, drunk, violence-loving Hispanic extras crow with excitement for bird violence, while a shocked Kramer tries to save his bird from being hurt. The Hispanic shopkeeper cheats and brings in a bird from out of town, after trying to bribe Jerry to have Jerry's bird throw the fight (Hispanics are violent, simplistic, money-hungry cheats).

"The Comeback," Season 8, an Eastern European shopkeeper with a heavy accent lies to Jerry to sell a tennis racket. When Jerry tries to return the money, the man refuses, then sends his weak-willed, simpleton, heavily-accented (and over-sexualized) Eastern European wife to sleep with Jerry in tribute. Goodness knows, sexy and vulnerable Eastern European women clamor for the affections of wealthy white Americans, who might save them from their domineering husbands.

(Then, when Jerry "really" plays tennis against the Eastern European guy, his serve is so powerful that the cowardly Eastern Europeaner jumps out of the way of the tennis ball, and is embarrassed in front of his wife. Even a scrawny standup comedian's manhood is, apparently, more impressive than that of those treacherous Eastern Europeaners.)

This could go on. And on, and on--the upper/middle class white people have silly relationships and meet quirky white characters in a middle class world, but when they run into the dark-skinned, poorly-speaking lower classes, they inevitably encounter a different kind of character: a genuinely stupid, frequently threatening or violent retail/service laborer who tries to steal from them. Jerry's faux-flaws are being too clean, too sensible, too fit, and too perfectionist, surrounded by middle class white friends who fawn over his money, in the midst of a society of dark, poor people out to get him.

The racism that riddles Seinfeld isn't a specific racism they believe in; they believe in nothing. Racism in the show was just yet another social more that the riddlemakers played off of, because laughing at a stupid, tempestuous Puerto Rican pulls more prepackaged funny-strings than laughing at a stupid, tempestuous straight white guy. They used the tools they used not because they believed in them, but because simplistic, somnatic messages of a random, pointless world thrive on the prejudices of whatever time in which they're delivered. Not that there's anything wrong with that.


  1. http://seinfelt.tumblr.com/

  2. And as if the show wasn't already pervasive and annoying enough on its own, to this day we still have people who say, "That's like that episode of Seinfeld..."