2/28/07

Seinfeldian Detachment

Watching "Seinfeld" during my dinner break tonight, I saw one of the most famous (and most quoted) episodes of the show: "The Soup Nazi".

In in, there is a scene where Jerry is with his girlfriend in line at the soup stand and they are kissing, playing their silly "You're schmoopie!" game. Upon seeing them, the man at the counter, the aforementioned "Soup Nazi", screams out "You're kissing in my line? Nobody kisses in my line!" Jerry's girlfriend, shocked, responds with, "How dare you?! I'll kiss wherever I want to! Come on, Jerry!" and then bolts out the door.

Jerry, however, stays behind, clearly conflicted between his girlfriend and the soup, which apparently will make one weak in the knees.

As she comes back in to force Jerry along, Seinfeld's face shows he's consideration momentarily before he commits:

"Do I know you?" he asks of his girlfriend.

This is a classic example of what I believe should be called "Seinfeldian Detachment". In many ways, it's the ultimate in selfishness. It's being so wrapped up in one's self that he's no longer conscious of, or perhaps is apathetic towards, the feelings of others.

The characters of Seinfeld are often well aware of the consequences that their actions may cause, but in almost every situation, they fail to act. In fact, the only time any of the main characters do act is when it is a trivial matter or when it involves them. Rarely do the characters even help each other out, for example, when Jerry leaves George to dine with J. Peterman after Elaine ditches them. "What about George?" Elaine asks Jerry over the phone. "Eh, he didn't make it," Seinfeld responds with a false sympathy.

In an episode where a girlfriend of Jerry's wants him to be more open, he begins to fake every emotion, from anger to sadness.

Jerry: Damn it, they gave me cream! I asked for nonfat milk!
Patty: I think they have 1% over there.
Jerry: 1%?! They can kiss 1% of my ass!
Patty: OK, Jerry, enough. I'm not buying it.
Jerry: You're damn right you're not buying it!
Patty: You shouldn't have to try. It's just being open.
Jerry: I'm open. There's just nothing in there.


To an extent, I think this has an interesting correlation to poetry. I've been thinking a lot about how Johannes feels I am putting too much emotion into my poems. While being an emotional person, I've always felt a certain attraction to the detachment Seinfeld's characters exude. In fact, I would argue that many of us who grew up watching the show gravitate towards the narcissistic, self-absorbed, and unaffected nature of Seinfeld. Our mannerisms, speech patterns, etc. are all based off a Seinfeldian dialect. Could the emotional nature of the show be far behind?

For some reason, however, I am unable to detach. "I" seems to appear in poems, even though I don't think I necessarily mean for the "I" to be "me", but it's hard to avoid. And while I certainly don't want to detach in personal relationships, I can see how it would be advantageous in poetry. Most of my detached poetry is more popular than anything else I've sent in.

Seinfeld is like The Wild One for our generation. Dylan wanted to wear a leather jacket and ride a motorcycle. We want to sit in coffee shops and discuss mundane topics and occasionally have something terribly funny happen around us.

Perhaps the connection to Brando is obvious: Seinfeld's characters are to a great extent loners who are only connected to the other three friends through either long-term or neighborly interactions (how Elaine got there I don't know). The desire to be like alienated characters seems to run deep, and "Seinfeld" plays to the same sensibilities, despite it's mainstream popularity.

2 comments:

François said...

Oh, yeah. Emotions are the devil. It's always about "little me" in the end. That's what I dislike about 90% of American poetry.

Amish Trivedi said...

I agree, but I feel that I can't personally escape them, even in writing. It's something I'm practicing and trying to get away from.

Episode III that you have, while there's an "I", I don't think it's the same as a Romantic "I". Probably why Johannes likes them :)