Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Poor Writing On Pop Culuture

Vox published a look back at how Seinfeld influenced television the other day. Some of it is quite good, for example their look at how Seinfeld moved the way sitcoms are shot from a multiple camera style where people perform on a stage with different cameras covering different angles, think Cheers, to a single camera style with long shots and close ups, more like a film. The piece's points about how the show changed sitcom writing were also pretty good.

But the author really missed the boat when it comes to looking at the characters. He tries to do it through the lens or contemporary liberal writing about race and I think really misses the boat. For example he claims this about George:
George essentially believes he deserves to have sex with a beautiful woman because he's a white guy living in modern America, and when he doesn't succeed (but Jerry or Kramer do), he grows ever more petulant. He doesn't particularly want to strive to succeed. He just wants life handed to him on a silver platter. 
I think that really get's the character, and the show in general, wrong.

George doesn't "believe" that he "deserves to have sex with a beautiful woman because he's a white guy living in modern America..." he's a pathetic loser who really wants to have sex with beautiful women, not because of "white privileged" or anything but because he's a greedy person. Since he has neither looks, nor money, nor status, he is forced to go through all sorts of contortions to try and achieve his goals. And since he is so shallow and greedy hilarity ensues.

Hence George willing to pretend to be a famous neo-nazi author in "The Limo" as long as he can use it as a way to be able to date tall, blond, aryan-looking women. George doesn't care about the racial or ethical implications or what he's doing, he just wants to get the blond, hence pretending to be a neo-nazi while sitting next to his Jewish best friend no less! These aren't the actions of someone who thinks their race or nationality "deserves" anything, they are are the actions of a shallow person trying scam their way by hook and by crook into what they want. Another example would be George pretending to be an architect or marine biologist to try and impress women.

But it's not just George that is lazy and wants things handed to him. Kramer famously doesn't have a job and mooches of Jerry for almost everything. But even Elaine, the strong female character or whatever, isn't any better put together than any of the others, she's just better at hiding her dysfunction. Sure she has better jobs than George, but once she get's her big break with the J. Peterman catalog she screws it up with idiotic ideas like the urban sombrero.   

This is what makes Seinfeld's comedy about things like race or sexuality so good, and so potentially offensive to some people. George and the gang only address questions about things like race or sexuality when it directly affects them or how they could appear socially. Hence George and Jerry work frantically to try and prove to the world that they aren't gay, while also stressing, "not that there's anything wrong with that!" Meanwhile Jerry get's upset when another man asks his gay acquaintance out on a date while Jerry is sitting next to him. Jerry get's offended when someone doesn't assume he's gay and then goes back to trying to prove to journalists that he's not gay! Or more bluntly George wants to date a woman from Senegal because she doesn't speak English and hence he doesn't have to worry about what to say to her. Or he's excited to date a woman in prison because she is locked up and thus can't boss him around.

In short these characters only address these issues when there's some sort of social advantage to gain or faux pas to avoid, otherwise it's completely irrelevant to them due to their shallow narcissism. That's what made the show so funny.

But the biggest problem of the piece is that they forgot the fact that so much of the show was about pushing boundaries and making reference to themes that normally wouldn't be discussed on network TV. They did this by oftentimes talking about it in an opaque manner, like in "The Contest", but that was one of the biggest legacies of the show and it's a shame Vox missed that point.

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