Rochelle Rochelle. Yo Yo Ma. Vandelay Industries. Marble Rye. Del Boca Vista. Get out! The sea was angry that day. I’m a Day Person. These. Pretzels. Are. Making. Me. Thirsty. You got that right, mojambo–I kicked off our series of preview posts for last year’s NYC Conference with a word about the greatest sitcom of all time, Seinfeld.
W.H. Auden once wrote that “Christian comedy is based upon the belief that all men are sinners; no one, therefore, whatever his rank or talents, can claim immunity from the comic exposure,” and while the “Christian” part might be a stretch when it comes to Seinfeld, the rest of the sentiment certainly applies. The show is about as even-handed in its deprecation as could possibly be, even to the point of nihilism, as has been frequently observed.
Yet to my ears and eyes, Seinfeld transcends whatever ethos might have informed it. That is, the gags are that clever, the characterizations that inspired, the honesty that unflinching, the catch phrases that silly – these factors (plus many others) make Seinfeld an inadvertent but no less shining testament to human creativity and wit, not to mention the subversive potential of the 21 minute situational comedy. And yes, there was something deeper and dare I say universal going on all those Thursday evenings; the turtlenecks and white sneakers may have dated but that’s about it. Indeed, we get sucked into reruns night after night, year after year because we see ourselves on screen. We feel understood by Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer – watching them bump into each other and/or shoot themselves in the foot over and over again maybe even makes us feel a little less alone in our various patterns of self-defeat and recidivism. That brief half hour is all it takes for our walls come down, and with defenses lowered, who knows what might happen! A little reality can only serve the cause. After all, it’s not as though the Gospel addresses itself to anyone more directly than the George Costanza’s of the world.
But there I go, trying to offer the sort of justification for a show that routinely lampooned all such attempts. It’s enough that Seinfeld is really, really funny. Grace allows us to enjoy the things we enjoy (as opposed to those we’re “supposed” to enjoy), to be moved by the things that move us, to laugh at the things we find amusing, and explore why without threat of judgment. And I love Seinfeld. In other words, it’s okay to have some fun – which was the primary hope for this breakout.
To whet your appetite (and partially contradict that last statement) here’s a trio of irresistibly relevant clips. First, one of George’s all-time greatest monologues about hopelessness, a Costanza-fied theology of the cross if you will:
Next, there’s Jerry taking narcissism to a whole new level. Or maybe it’s just the logical (and comic) endpoint of any relationship where one person or the other has tried to remake their partner in their own image (and/or resent them when the project fails):
Finally, as we well know, a George divided against itself cannot stand. The Law of identity, the absurdity of control, freedom vs. expectation, it’s all there (more soon):
If you weren’t able to join us for the session, you can listen below. Rest assured that there was no hugging, and we did everything we could to keep the learning to a minimum. Just don’t forget: it’s not a lie… if you believe it. Giddy-up: