29 September 2009

Posts about Nothing: Jerry Seinfeld; Nihilism of the Comedian, Part One


I'll admit a lack of notable posts the past couple weeks, but here's to making it up- over the past three months I've undertook some extensive research, cataloging and examining aspects of the personality and place of Jerry Seinfeld in his eponymous show (read: I watched a bunch of Seinfeld). More than simply state that Seinfeld is an insensitive, shallow human, which I believe is immediately obvious, I want to place him in the context of the Nihilistic Comedian, harbouring a basic anti-social personality disorder that allows him to detach from humanity, observe and laugh at its inherent stupidity.

I will break this entry up into a few different sections, firstly directly confronting evidence towards his anti-social pathology, then both internal and external treatments of his Comedy Act within the Seinfeld Universe and finally, the Counterpoint of Newman. Let's begin.

"They are not human! Very bad! Very very very bad!"

So says Babu Bhatt in "The Finale" (S9;E24), which beautifully summarizes the basic character traits of nearly all the Fab Four of Seinfeld, but Jerry in particular. Jerry seems to be particularly enigmatic in his extreme apathy and need to disguise many basic human emotions with jokes and comedy. As George says in "The Soup Nazi" (S7;E6), "He's so weird sometimes. I havent figured him out yet."

In many instances, there are very serious issues that Jerry flirts with then ultimately does not care about. In "The Couch" (S6;E5) Jerry cheerfully brings up abortion in Poppie's restaurant, which effectively ruins the business when many issue-charged patrons leave or get into arguments. Jerry even looks proud that this was his fault, he keeps bringing it up to Elaine throughout the episode. Elaine on the other hand, feels so strongly about the issue that she will not eat at Poppie's because he is pro-life. Jerry essentially mocks this belief that she holds so strongly, including the possibility that she could not "love" a dude who would be anti-abortion.

Probably the most significant case of Jerry blatantly mocking his own danger occurs in "The Susie" (S8;E15) wherein he is completely unconcerned towards accusations of murder, instead making snark comments to Elaine's co-worker Peggy, such as "Not only that, I broke his thumbs!" with a big smile.

Jerry is also never too concerned over the status of George and his NBC pilot ("The Watch" S4;E6), even after George negotiates down and then eventually canned ("The Pilot, Part 2" S4;E24) due to Elaine. He is angry, sure, but not tremendously so. It is clear that he makes plenty of money, the throws it around a bit, both in "The Watch" and many others. It is not until "The Cadillac, Part 1" (S7;E14) that demonstrates how much he really makes virtually only through stand-up (although some of his money comes from the Super Terrific Happy Hour in Japan ("The Checks" S8;E7). This draws an interesting parallel to real-world Jerry who loves stand-up and claimed would revert to it if ever "Seinfeld" failed, and notably did the same after when it was a success. He's never too concerned with Television, because he belongs on stage, being that pure Comedian. To further layer this up, feel free to examine George Simmons' (Adam Sandler) career path in Funny People (2009). It's the heart of comedy that keeps people like this going.

In addition to his own problems, he is also never moved very much by the serious plights of others. In "The Bubble Boy" (S4;E7) as the bubble boy's father is crying, Elaine hands him and Jerry napkins to wipe their tears but Jerry simply nonchalantly wipes his mouth instead. He consistently goes for the joke over any display of serious emotion. In "The Pony Remark" (S2;E2) he displays a raw sort of insensitivity, albeit on accident, although it is worth noting that his joking often causes faux pas with older people or simply anyone who don't realise that he jokes all the time. To a slightly lesser extent is his treatment of fights or girlfriends, such as in "The Glasses" (S5;E3) where after a big fight he asks his girlfriend in a goofy tone, "Wanna get some pizza?!" In Jerry's mind there is never a need to dwell on something sad or terrible, a good joke is always around the corner.

Jerry's relationship with women could be an entire post in itself, but several common elements demonstrate his apathy towards the fairer sex. In "The Voice" (S9;E2) Jerry claims not to harbour strong feelings for girlfriends so he can break up quickly. Also note carefully in this episode how Jerry, always the comic, chooses the fun voice over the dry girl. He also picks soup over girls as well as friendships in "The Soup Nazi." Perhaps Jerry is so confident in his ability to get another girlfriend that he feels free to break up on a whim, or else he truly does not really care about who he dates, exemplary of floating through a beautifully comic nihilistic life.

Jerry and Elaine together are probably two of the more insensitive characters on the show. George will lie and steal, but he feels intense guilt over things he perceives as personal wrongdoing (see "The Masseuse" [S5;E9], "The Wait Out" [S7;E23]). Notably, Funerals and death cannot interrupt their petty insignificant lives. In addition to the already mentioned funeral of Susie, Jerry and Elaine at Gary Fogel's funeral ignore actual sobbing and instead partake in meaningless idle conversation ("The Face Painter," S6;E23). This trend continues in "The Alternate Side" (S3;E11) where Jerry and Elaine are generally unconcerned about her passed-out, possibly near death boyfriend and instead appear nonchalant and inept over his crisis. They mull over the nature of his eyebrows basically because they have no idea what else to do. Their lives are so vapid and empty that when faced with an actual catastrophic event, their minds find no other reaction that what they have trained to do.
"That's a shame."
This comes up in "The Soul Mate" (S8;E2) as well wherein Elaine and Jerry demonstrate this obsession with infantile subjects (like the whitefish she ate) compared to "real" problems that some of their married friends have.

Kramer is by far the most honest character, he fears no social reprisal for speaking the truth all the time. Jerry's lies are generally well-meaning, he attempts mostly to avoid hurting feelings. Elaine's are slightly worse in nature as they usually stem from trying to avoid punishment or confrontation, inherently more selfish than Jerry's. George's lies, however are the worst and constantly only to get jobs, girlfriends or other personal gain, entirely self-serving. Thus, while George is one of the most sensitive characters (He can detect almost any level of human suffering ["The Maestro" S7;E3]) he also contains the greatest evil in his lying. Oh hot daffodil.

In dealing with his friends, Jerry can be equally insensitive. He makes an offhand comment to George in "The Betrayal" (S9;E8) that he has backups for all friends (or at least for George and Elaine). He also unashamedly makes fun of george's fake jon voight car in "The Mom & Pop Store" (S6;E8) until george kicks him out, although this does not hinder his mocking. In "The Foundation" (S8;E1) he hardly cares about telling his parents he's no longer engaged, while also earlier in the episode with George barely shows any remorse towards Susan's death while visiting her grave site.

The single greatest episode that deals with Jerry's emotional issues is "The Serenity Now" (S9;E3). Indeed many Season 9 episodes dealt with these kinds of issues as the show gave its final push outside the realm of everyday-based humour and into the surreal. Elaine also typifies this push, becoming more desperate, vengeful and neurotic as the show progressed. Anyway, in "The Serenity Now" Jerry perfectly only cares about opening up in the first place because his girlfriend Patty (Lori Loughlin) has a "good body."
"I'm open. There's just nothing in there."
At first, his friends and associates are so inundated with his comedic stylings and easygoing mannerisms that any attempt for him to get angry is met equally with laughs as if he were joking. Jerry being serious is in itself a joke. Thus the crux of his personality and life as humour and drama is identical. As he experiments more and more with letting out his emotions (mostly with the goal of getting laid), his new emotional freedom leads to several disasters: Kramer gets sprayed with silly string because Jerry's love distracts George, Jerry eventually breaks up with his girlfriend, and Jerry's proposal to Elaine leads to George storing computers in Kramer's apartment, all of which are eventually destroyed due to Kramer's own emotional meltdown. If any of this flies over your head, watch the episode, it'll be easier for all of us.

Jerry's stress over this particular breakup heavily contrasts with the earlier confidence I proposed in my analysis of picking soup over girls in "The Soup Nazi." There is some evidence here that Jerry as a character only works because of this emotional bottling. As he says, "Sure I'm not funny anymore, but there's more to life than making shallow, fairly obvious observations" (Also a dig at his own brand of comedy, more on that later). Jerry's detachment and nihilism are what funds his humour. As soon as he lets himself breath and hate and love, he loses his lifeblood. Quite literally - as I have also established that Jerry makes a ton of money in-show solely on stand-up routines. Thus when he allows emotions to flow, he loses his only source of income. And as he says, "I've never had a job" in "The Stranded" (S3;E10) and reiterates the same in "The Calzone" (S7;E20). It is ironic therefore that Kramer and Lloyd Braun's artificial emotional bottling leads to outbursts of insanity while Jerry seems to have mastered the technique of emotional suppression for his entire life. Thus we reach a simple question- is Jerry Seinfeld in fact insane?

Stay tuned for more on this exciting topic later this week!

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