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Friday, June 17, 2011

Seinfeld and Stasis

Returning home late yesterday from teaching, with bag in hand from the local Taquería and already longing a little for my bed tho' it was not even fully dark out yet, I was struck by an episode of "Seinfeld" my remote strayed onto while I munched my cheese quesadilla.

The episode was nearly twenty years old and yet seemed absolutely contemporary -- the layout and gadgets in Jerry's apartment, the attitudes and conversational rhythms of the principals, the pop culture references, even the haircuts and outfits (including Jerry's bland bourgeois duds and Kramer's vintage oddball numbers), literally everything could be directly transplanted into the present day with the same intentions and nobody would blink an eye at any of it.

I do not mean to minimize the skill of the writers in saying this, but I think it indicates far more the utter deathly stasis of American culture over the last quarter century than some luminous prescience on the part of Larry David that "Seinfeld" feels so perfectly contemporary to this day. Even the finest smartest slickest most forward-thinking sit-coms from twenty-years before last night's "Seinfeld" episode first aired, would have felt dated and skewed to "Seinfeld's" audience were it re-run that same night, however much they might appreciate its artistry and chuckle at its jokes, arriving from the alien shore of an America long past.

"Seinfeld" could debut today little changed and achieve an identical popularity and identical accolades for its innovations. Nothing has happened but paralysis and decay in America since "Seinfeld" (and, face it, what "Seinfeld" was remains little more than that rarest of things, a network sit-com that simply doesn't completely suck, which is a good thing to be, but a far cry from an attribution of greatness).

Hearing the sampled, covered, cloned music pouring out of the radios of indistinguishable automobiles on our crumbling roads suggests the same stasis.

Seinfeld symptomizes our stasis, and warns us about the dead-end road we are traveling as a nation. It will take more than a laugh track to make paralysis feel like progress for long.

1 comment:

Lorraine said...

James Kunstler made a similar observation:

I saw teenagers here and there along the way, wherever a convenience store exerted its magnetic pull of sweet and salty snacks, the boys all wearing black outfits, those dumb-looking calf-length baby pants, and death-metal T-shirts. This must be the longest period of history for a particular teen fashion - going on two decades now? When even teenagers lack the enterprise to think up a new look (that is, to make a fresh statement about who they are), you know you're in a moribund society.