Television has become a mirror to the cultural aspects of daily life. It influences everyone in some way. The media’s images tell us where to shop, what shampoo to use, and what brand of soda to drink. Sitcoms have become increasingly popular through the 90’s. Sitcoms have such a large audience because they are easy to relate to, and they help us laugh at the stress of everyday life. Seinfeld is unique because it’s a show with odd characters who have a life of their own, and it displays its comedy in a new way. Let’s look at what Seinfeld has shown us about our society, the influence it has had in shaping American culture and the cultural significance it has had as a television show.
Left to right: Kramer (Michael Richards), George Costanza (Jason Alexander), Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Jerry Seinfeld (Jerry Seinfeld)
In order to be able to look at Seinfeld for its cultural impact, we need to first get acquainted with the characters. First let’s look at Jerry Seinfeld the main character of the show. Jerry is portrayed as a neat freak, and he dresses nice. Jerry to a lot of men is a hero. He has a cool job as a comedian making appearances on shows such as Jay Leno, and the Tonight Show. He dates younger girls, and lives in New York City, some people think of as the city. In our society I believe most men want to be like Jerry but feel closer to George, his good friend. George is a short, balding, neurotic, fat man, who is always losing his job, and is the butt of a joke. Richard Sandomir of the New York Times “describes the George syndrome, in which hip viewers identify with a downtrodden neurotic who never gets things right.”(1) Elaine is the most normal character of the bunch. She is loud, opinionated and intelligent. Elaine resembles the role of the woman in America. Kramer is by far the most outrageous. He is nervous, impulsive and he never goes to work. Whatever he tries to do, it always ends in a disaster. Like the time he went to the ocean to hit golf balls into the surf. One of the balls landed in the blowhole of a whale. George happened to be walking by with a girl who Jerry he had led to believe that George was a marine biologist. He pulled the ball out of the whales’ windpipe. Kramer meets famous people, and is always in outrageous places with a story to tell. He is a friend we would all like to have.
The plot of the show is to pull humor out of the little details in everyday life. Like Seinfeld’s reason for not eating fruit in cereal: “trying to decide which spoonful to take the last slice of banana in is just too much aggravation.”(0) I have felt the frustration myself but would have never given it much attention. The situations are normal, but the characters are extraordinary. Seinfeld is a good conversation between “people I want to be –I am — friends with, living in a world I wish to live in, but never will.”(3) Money is never really a problem, and the players are always equal and the dangers and triumphs are unimportant and fleeting. It gives people over the age of 25 the feeling they can still have a life.
The show exploits the experience of living in New York City. The traffic problems, crime and variety of people one might encounter while in New York. It also shows how a group of white middle class can live. The show begins to show how Jewish people are looked at in America. I believe it is an easier topic to joke about than ethnics are. The show displays Jewish people as middle or upper middle class, funny, and smart. The show also displays the troubles people have communicating with each other. Jerry parents always hear other things or just have their own opinions about what’s really going on. George’s parents are constantly yelling at each other. They cannot agree on anything, similar to parents today. The show has only minorities that have very ethnic background like Babu, and the Asian delivery boy. They all have a very thick accent and are wearing some article from their native country. According to Sotirtiou “Comedies pick up threads of the established pattern of white superiority and black servitude.”(2) Seinfeld incorporates other figures such as Steinbrener the owner of the New York Yankees as a reference to realism.
Seinfeld has been compared to other sitcom greats such as Cheers and The George and Gracie Burns Show. This show is the first of its kind in the way it uses its humor. In most other shows and sitcoms the experiences are action packed, and the one liner jokes are slipped into the dialogue. With Seinfeld they take every day experiences and make the situation funny. They look at some topics, which are not commonly discussed. One episode they had a contest to see who could go the longest without masturbating. The show is a study of urban anxiety without having to shoot up a gas station to prove it. It displays lives little interactions, and problems under a microscope. The show’s oddball, yet possible incidents add to the realism of the show. One episode was about losing their car in the mall parking lot, and why you should not urinate in the parking garage.
Seinfeld is one of the great sitcoms of all times. Its oddball characters seem to give the show a life of its own. The show has provided many laughs for all different types of people. Seinfeld will be remembered as one of the best comedians of all time, due to the life of the characters.
0. O’Conner, John J. “‘Seinfeld,’ A Comic As a Comic.” The New York Times. June 7, 1990.
1. Sandomir, Richard. “Here’s One Loser People Really Look Up To.” New York Times. May 24, 1992.
2. Sotiriou, Peter Elias. Critical Thinking and Popular Cultural. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998.
3. Zoglin, Richard. “The Secret’s Out: ‘Seinfeld’ is Terrific.” Dallas Morning News. April 13, 1993.