23 June 2009

Posts about Nothing: Cosmo Kramer; the Convenience of Coincidence


Hello and welcome to the first of many posts examining one my favourite television shows, and perhaps the greatest sitcom of all time, Seinfeld. There has hardly been a show like this in history, dominating every possible accolade during its time, both a phenomenal critical success and a consistent #1 ratings deliverer. During its prime, Seinfeld didn't capture the zeitgeist of the 90s, it fueled it. After nine seasons (1989-1998), the show gracefully backed out of production, right on the cusp of staleness, but still at the top of its game. What we're left with is this canon of near-perfection.

I watch this stupid show every day really; it's one of the few shows that I catch one or two episodes minimum on syndication all the time. I've done so for probably the past 15 years or so. By this time, I've started to notice the little things, flaws maybe, but maybe something quite more extraordinary. I am going to attempt to align the next few entries in this "Posts about Nothing" series (actually an apt title for any post I do here...) with some of the core characters, their nuances, and how it influenced the show. I will begin on the fringe and move inwards, startign with the budding entrepreneur, Cosmo Kramer.

At first it is very easy to write off Kramer as a hipster doofus, serving no purpose really other than to befuddle things and act 'weird.' I disagree. With a closer examination, it is very easy to see that Kramer is a being of destiny silently working alongside the cosmos of the Seinfeld world to increase the general irony and contrivances of the world. Hell, they don't call him Cosmo for no reason. Maybe.

Yeah, this sounds pretty nuts, but go with me here for a minute. Essentially, a basic ploy of the writers of the show - Kramer is such an eccentric guy, they can spin his general oddities to fit any part of the show, and give him any kind of eclectic interest to aid the other characters. They get away with this by first establishing that is an incredibly idiosyncratic and quirky character, and then almost anything he gets into almost has a legitimate explanation based on his own skewed personal philosophy. What I'm getting at is that Kramer tends to have an obsession or object in many episodes that fit the needs of other characters. In addition, his own natural blunderingness tends to either foil his own or the other character's obsessions or objects. I list the following:

In "The Bottle Deposit Part 2" (S7;E22), Kramer and Newman's scheme to drive a ton of bottles to Michigan in a mailtruck to get a better deposit refund playfully runs into Jerry's Mechanic Tony who had previously stolen Jerry's car as well as JFK's Golf Clubs which Elaine had bid on and won for her boss, J. Peterman. While he ends up saving a few of the clubs that were thrown at him, Mechanic Tony gets away, although it was nonetheless terribly convenient for Kramer to be halfway to Michigan and encounter someone who both Jerry and Elaine needed very badly to catch. This blunder is actually none of their faults, as Tony disabled the mail truck with one of JFK's Golf Clubs.

In "The Non-Fat Yogurt" (S5;E7), Kramer is directly responsible for the election of Mayor Rudy Guliani due to a trist he has with a worker in a lab testing both his blood for cholesterol and a suspiciously delicious non-fat yogurt. His nack for landing in pivotal situations at precisely the right time is part of what defines him as making his own coincidences.

A huge example is in "The Voice" (S9;E2) in which he perfects his rubber bladder idea with Darin, his intern from NYU to prevent oil spills. His test of the ball, which lands on Jerry's girlfriend, which both comes back negatively for George, as he loses his job at Play Now, and positively for Jerry, who can use his funny voice (helloooo) again for the amusement of his friends. Kramer's obsessions, or at least his charisma, drive those around him to follow along and then either gain or lose from the consequences. He is a nexus of fate and coincidence that is one of the greatest driving factors of the show. The ball idea is a good summation of a lot of similar schemes he has in other episodes that I will address here:
-The Horse and Buggy he attains in "The Rye" (S7;E11). Don't feed horses Beefarino.
-The Rickshaw in "The Bookstore" (S9;E17). Don't pull fat people up hills.
-The idea of putting his clothes in an oven in "The Calzone" (S7;E20), dooms George on two accounts, that his boss, George Steinbrenner didn't get a calzone, and his delicious-smelling clothes waft through the vents to Steinbrenner's office.
-Spending all his time in the shower, including preparing meals in "The Apology" (S9;E9) dooms Elaine who is trying to reconcile with germophobe co-worker Peggy and boyfriend David Puddy.

The greatest example of this sort of extreme convience that fits a story is in "The Slicer" (S9;E7), in which Kramer, tired of his meat being too thick that "the flavour escapes," purchases and implements his own meat slicer. This particular episode directly inspired this post, so go out and watch it. Or stay in and watch it, I don't care. His obsession with slicing his own meats leads him to affect all other three characters, for better, worse, and ambivalent. The actual machine helps Elaine save her neighbor's cat by sliding it thin meat under the door. The metal cleaner Kramer uses on the machine with Jerry's hand towel gives him an allergic reaction that causes him to become suspicious of his girlfriend, causing a break-up. Finally, Kramer dressed in a white butcher's coat allows him to take a picture of George's boss, Mr. Kruger without a shirt on, Mr. Kruger thinking Kramer is Dr. Van Nostrand, although Kruger ultimately did not care about George's screw ups. Some of this actually makes sense if you see the episode, but spinning from a small, eclectic interest, Kramer serves as an extremely convenient pivot point that drives every one else in this episode.

The show takes a more complicated road, but has essentially the same driving force in "The Van Buren Boys" (S8;E14) which involves Kramer selling his life stories to J. Peterman to use in his autobiography. After he has a nasty encounter with the Van Buren Boys, he accidentally flashes their secret signal and is let off the hook. Later, when one of George's failed proteges confronts him, having joined the Van Buren Boys, George is unable to ascertain their signal from Kramer due to his stories being sold to Peterman. As you can see, this is not the direct route of Kramer following a dream or notion of his own and then affecting his friends, but rather as if the universe itself plucks him as a pivotal point of Seinfeld destiny. Powerful stuff.

As you should be able to see by now, Kramer's eccentricities often cause some incredibly coincidence or irony within the plot of an episode. Even the characters in the show seem to think so. In "The Kiss Hello" (S6;E17), the other characters count on Kramer making a derogatory comment on Elaine friend's Wendy's funky hairdo (akin to what he did in "The Nose Job" [S3;E9]). This ends up backfiring again, this time due to Kramer's anachronistic personal tastes, telling that it is not only his obsessions or plain flair for bizarritudes that renders the Seinfeld universe a perfect ironic whole.

So there you have it. In the Seinfeld Universe, Cosmo Kramer serves as an agent of the Cosmos, his seemingly random personal tastes and interests coming through at precisely the right time to both help and hinder the people around him. Of course, in our universe he is merely a convenient tool for the writers to supplement the irony in any given episode. Take him as you will and have a good day.

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