Tag Archives: The Simpsons

Notes on Nothing: 25 Years of SeinLanguage

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the debut of Seinfeld, as the genre-redefining sitcom first graced our television screens as The Seinfeld Chronicles, with very little fanfare, on July 5, 1989. It went from an afterthought, a summer run-off and near footnote, to a comedic juggernaut that indelibly altered the television landscape. Since I noticed many websites and bloggers and critics providing their valuable insight and analysis, I thought I’d throw in my two cents as well. Because if there’s anything the internet needs, it’s more of the same.

First, if not for Seinfeld it might have taken me another couple of years to understand masturbation, or least be aware of its existence. It’s no exaggeration to say that one of my initial brushes with self-pleasure came courtesy of “The Contest,” the landmark episode that somehow danced around jerking off for 22-minutes but never explicitly said it. Later, I’d come to realize what a masterful performance it was, what a majestic ballet to say so much without every saying it. It was truly bit of brilliant lingual gymnastics (and even later I’d realize that they maybe applied their cunning linguists to cunnilingus, but that was far behind my realm of understanding at that time (and possibly at this time)). Even if I didn’t fully comprehend what they were discussing, it was an eye-opening experience to just barely grasp that these people were talking about what seemed like the most adult of activities, at 9pm, on NBC, when I was sitting in my bedroom eating ice cream (I was lucky enough to have a television of my own from a very young age, which allowed me to probably watch a lot of TV that I shouldn’t have (see: Silk Stalkings)). I was used to Full Houseto Growing Pains, to Saved by the Bell, where the epic romance between Zack and Kelly seemed as important and real as anything could ever be. This is was a different kind of show, with a different kind of language, with a different agenda. Again, I didn’t quite process that at the time – I couldn’t – but I knew it was nothing like the shows I was accustomed to (TGIF, The Disney Afternoon, for the most part). It gave me a view into the adult world, and in many ways it was as formative in my education as Health class and freshman year and my one summer at sleep-away camp. To me, at eleven-years-old, the people on Seinfeld were grown-ups doing grown-up things. Not just masturbating, but sitting in a diner drinking coffee, going to the movies, seeing the baby, arguing over whether or not soup is a meal, dating a different gorgeous woman every week, hanging out with Keith Hernandez, just popping-in at your friend’s Upper West Side apartment. But also masturbating.

<!–more– More Nothing: Jews, Jewiness & Keith Hernandez…>

Secondly, Seinfeld was perhaps the first time I recognized Jewiness on TV, especially Jewiness that was camouflaged as something less overtly Semitic and thus more palatable for the general audience (there was, of course, CBS’s Brooklyn Bridge, a favorite of my father’s, but that was hit-you-over-the-head Jewish, and was more like historical fiction. Also, I think I imagined the Seavers  from Growing Pains as Jewish somehow, for some reason, despite the frequency of Christmas-themed episodes, Alan Thicke’s hair, and, later, Kirk Cameron’s big-time, overwhelming Jesus-ness).  Even as a child I identified with the characters of Seinfeld on a cultural level; their conversations, their cadences, their backgrounds, their outlooks, they just felt natural and familiar, and at the same time it was Jewiness without the Jewish grandmother or the random yiddish phrases or the Shabbat candles or, really, all the guilt. It wasn’t arguing about how long to cook the brisket or who has better matzoh ball soup or why aren’t you a doctor like your brother, it was sitting in a coffee shop arguing about buttons, about sex, about nothing. It wasn’t the Brooklyn Dodgers, it was the New York Mets. It was the modern Jewish experience stripped of all the traditions and customs and weight and distilled down into Jerry Seinfeld’s nasally voice, upturned nostrils and early-90s mullet. And, perhaps more significantly, it wasn’t until years later that I realized, as many others did, that “Costanza” was not a Jewish name, because to me, and to everyone, George Costanza was a Jew, through and through. Yes, growing up on Long Island, the Jewish-American experience felt very similar to the Italian-American experience – I often felt like an honorary Italian – but there was no mistaking George as anything other than a bundle of Hebrew neuroses.  In retrospect, knowing that George was based on Larry David, this seems obvious, but we didn’t know that then, and it was just another way that Seinfeld accomplished something real and spectacular.

Finally, Keith Hernandez is my favorite baseball player of all-time, a fact that was certainly bolstered by his memorable turn in “The Boyfriend, Parts 1&2.” However, even though I was a huge fan of Mex (as his friends call him. His friends and me) following the Mets ’86 World Championship, displaying a Hernandez 8×10 on my bedroom wall and a Starting Lineup figurine on my shelf, I wonder now if Hernandez is my favorite player because of his memorable turn in “The Boyfriend, Parts 1&2.” And, taking that a step further, I wonder if Seinfeld became my favorite show specifically because of Hernandez’s memorable turn in “The Boyfriend Parts, 1&2.” Hernandez, now a Mets broadcaster (and prone to his share of off-the-cuff gaffes), is left-handed and played 1st base, while I, currently unemployed, am right-handed and played the bench, so there’s not much in common that would inspire me to choose Keith as my favorite player, making his appearance with Jerry and Elaine more important than any of his baseball accomplishments. Or, perhaps, was it just my favorite show continuing to provide moments that bolstered its position as my favorite show? Whatever the reason, it was truly an intersection of the Venn diagram of things that I love. Add in JFK assassination conspiracy theories – something I was weirdly into as a kid – then you had, maybe, the perfect episode of television for twelve-year-old Seth, and another example of why Seinfeld seemed to speak to me so clearly.

Looking back, I think that as a child I imagined that I would turn out like Jerry one day; a neurotic Jew living in his Manhattan apartment surrounded by his vapid friends. I also imagined that I would turn out like Danny Tanner, a clean freak raising three kids in the suburbs with the help of my weirdo aspiring stand-up comedian friend who lives in the basement and it’s not at all creepy, but when you’re young and have never really left Long Island those two futures aren’t mutually exclusive. Obviously, my adult life has not turned out like either of those two, because 1) they’re fictional and 2) I can’t afford to live in Manhattan or the Bay area. But, certainly, living in Brooklyn and remaining an uppity, thin, neat, single Jew, I hedge much closer to the Seinfeld side of the spectrum. And I do wonder how much is nature and how much is nurture. The show, no doubt, shaped my life, but I think it was also created, and shaped, for me and people like me. Which is why you can turn on TBS and find any episode of Seinfeld and, laugh track be damned, it’s still brilliant.

It doesn’t take a doctorate in media studies to assert that Seinfeld forever changed, redefined, television. I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last. But the way it gave new meaning, and a lasting meaning, to things like Junior Mints and the Mackinaw peaches and Bosco, and then introduced phrases into our lexicon like “close talker” and “puffy shirt” and “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” is something that perhaps can only be rivaled by The Simpsons.* Over two decades later you can throw out an off-hand quote from Seinfeld and someone will immediately get the reference. The series didn’t just make a contribution to the television, it contributed to our vocabulary, it contributed to our culture. In nothing, they found everything.

*Interesting to note that when I went to sleep-away Jew camp for the first and only time in 1997 I recorded audio from two shows onto cassette and listened to them on my Walkman before bed, my surrogate for an actual television. Repeatedly listening to those poor quality recordings done on my Sony sports radio probably got me through that summer. One of those shows, of course, was Seinfeld, and the other, naturally, The Simpsons (specifically, this one). 

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Filed under Brilliance, Intersection of the venn diagram of things that I love, Matt Christopher Books, Nostalgia Corner, Seinlanguage, Wake Up, SF!, Woody Allen, Bar Mitzvahs & Bagels

Branch Closing – A Farewell to ‘The Office’

We very clearly remember the moment that we fell for The Office, the NBC stalwart that closes up shop at Dunder Mifflin tonight after nine mostly great seasons. It was the fall of 2005, when The Office was starting to find its legs after a rocky and uneven six episode first season, and we in our first autumn post-college, back at our parents’, and for the first time since we were four-years-old not attending school. We were at our best friend and future roommate’s house, hanging out, maybe barbecuing, maybe drinking a few beers, maybe watching the first season of Lost on DVD, which dominated much of our time (and thoughts) during that period. We knew about the The Office, another blatant attempt to import a UK hit stateside, but missed its brief run earlier that year, as was the case with the aforementioned Lost, as the only shows we watched religiously during our final year of college (and last few months before true adulthood) were The Simpsons and Survivor. We did, however, recall reading that it was an imperfect translation of the original, and the Steve Carell-led vehicle – who was then best known as the other Steve from The Daily Show –  was not likely to resurrect NBC Thursday night Must See TV, let alone make it past Season 2. So with the middling reviews in mind, and the fact that we were unfamiliar with the original Ricky Gervais version, we didn’t go out of our way to watch the show. But that night changed everything.

More: But that was just the beginning…

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Filed under Across the pond, Back to the Past, Brilliance, Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam, Freak Out Control, Good Humor, Is That Still On?, LOST, Must Flee TV, Must See TV

‘Survivor: Caramoan’ – Red Dawn

Dawn PissedIt’s our first week of the No Reynold Club on Survivor: Caramoan – 2 Legit 2 Quit, and the remaining members of the Edamame tribe are really starting to show the strain of the game. Eddie sees the writing on the wall, as the last remaining male fan and Uno Amigo he’s likely the next to go. Unless, of course, he can hook up with another girl, expose her to the Curse of Donkeylips, and watch her be sent off to Ponderosa. But would he hook up with an old chick like Sherri or a mom with a bottom retainer like Dawn? “Gross” he no doubt says to himself upon considering his options. Brenda? “Too into pig brains,” he likely reasons. So a reunion with Team Bro – Spring Break in Caramoan, y’all – is what Eddie expects to come shortly.

Cochran is also beginning to see the writing on the wall. Except this scribbling says that he now might be the biggest threat to win, that despite Erik’s abs and Eddie’s lisp lips he’s the alpha male on the island, and as such the bullseye might now be on his back. Dawn, to her credit, hasn’t cried in a…oh, no, wait, here come the waterworks, never mind.

Erik, on the other hand, clearly hasn’t recovered from the diabetic shock he experienced after devouring those chocolate glaze donuts last week, and he’s beginning to hallucinate, stuck in some kind of vivid fever dream, a mysterious voyage. Or perhaps, to teach Erik a lesson about voluntarily bowing out of challenges, Jeff Probst laced the pastries with some peyote. Either way, he’s seeing things.

More: Say hi to your mother for me…

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Filed under Analysis, Century 21 Reality, Comic Book Guy, Reginald VelJohnson, Tribal Council

‘Survivor: Caramoan’ – It’s All About…

…timing.

Survivor Caramoan - CochranIn any season of Survivor capitalizing on the moment to strike is of paramount importance, and this has been especially relevant on Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites 2 Legit 2 Quit. Ages from now, when Survivor is long gone and young scholars pore over old texts written about a forgotten television program hosted by former President of Earth Jeff Probst, they will read the story of Caramoan, and it will be the story of Stealth ‘R’ Us, and of those who tried to fight back against the ruling alliance. For that has been the theme of the season, not so much if, but when, a group of insurgents will break apart the dominating force. As a result of poor timing, Corinne failed in her attempt at a coup, and, likewise, Malcolm overplayed his hand and tried to strike too quickly. He was successful in deposing Former Federal Agent Fillip, but, perhaps, FFAF wasn’t the head of the snake after all. He was the outspoken face of Stealth ‘R’ Us, but, in the end, he might have just been a figurehead, the Mandarin, a red herring dangled out as bait. And with Fillip gone, and the corporation starting to fray, it’s only a matter of time before someone makes a move. Could be someone outside the controlling alliance, or could be someone from within. It doesn’t really matter who it is. What matters is when.

But even though there’s a storm coming, and they’re now down to just two amigos, Reynold and Eddie are in good spirits. They won’t let the loss of Malcolm stop them from a good high five fist bump.

HighFistBump

More: Tribal Councils on Tribal Councils on Tribal Councils…

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Filed under Analysis, Be careful what you wish for, Comic Book Guy, Commodore 64, Count Bleh, Mancrush, Nicktoons, Tribal Council

‘Survivor: Caramoan’ – Brodeo Clowns

Survivor Caramoan Team BroOn Survivor, such as in life, if you don’t learn from the past then you’re doomed to repeat it. We see this time and time again, as if to illustrate to young, aspiring players what not to do, teaching us lessons while we watch from our couches. Don’t get involved romantically, don’t go home with an Idol in your pocket, don’t throw challenges. Watch, observe, absorb, and if something doesn’t work, don’t try it again. However, while the power of history is strong, it is no match for hubris; it cannot outlast, outwit, or outplay the person who believes that they can go right where others have gone wrong.

Last week on Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites 2 Legit 2 Quit, Corinne believed that she could turn the game on its head, upend her alliance and install herself as new Queen of the island. But, even with the numbers already in hand, she got too confident, too sure, and talked too much. She flew too close to the sun and not only were her wings burned, so was her blue bikini. She had the opportunity to make a gigantic move, but overreached, talked to Dawn, and became the author of her own demise. Hopefully, one would think, that the other players would take notice and not commit the same mistakes. However, this is Survivor. History repeats itself. But, thankfully, in oh so different and mind-blowing ways.

Continue: Bro down or bro, down?

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Filed under Analysis, Century 21 Reality, Comic Book Guy, Tribal Council

‘Survivor: Caramoan’ – Hope Floats (But Heavy Wooden Chests Don’t)

Survivor Challenge Wooden ChestLast week’s episode of Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites 2 Legit 2 Quit began with another temper tantrum from Brandon upon returning from Tribal Council. This week, not to be outdone, Brandon’s counterpart on the Fans side, Shamar, sounded off loudly after the vote. We talked in our last post about our uneasiness concerning these two bellicose, volatile players, that their unhinged – and often selfish – behavior would unfairly take center stage, and this happened once again in the latest episode, right off the bat. Here’s how it sounded at Goata camp.

Keep Reading: Here comes the Blind Side…

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Filed under Analysis, Century 21 Reality, Crucial Taunt, Lists, Saved by the Bell, The State, Tribal Council

Happy Birthday, 7-Eleven!

Today is one of the greatest of all the non-denomination global holidays: 7/11, the self-proclaimed birthday of 7-Eleven,  also known to many  as Free Slurpee Day.  Perhaps other than New Years Eve, no day is celebrated more widely across the globe, from New York City to Singapore, from Toronto to Taipei.  Nothing brings the citizens of Earth together like a free 7.11 oz helping of pina colada flavored frozen sugar, especially as we enter the dog days of summer.  Many years ago we produced a video of die-hard 7-Eleven fans in cities around the world talking about their love of all things Slurpee, and we present this to you on this day, the day of 7-Eleven’s birthday.

So have fun out there, guys, and enjoy your complimentary somewhat frozen beverages.  Just remember: no wheezing the juice, and if you insist on having an all-syrup Slurpee, make sure you pair up with a buddy.

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Filed under Count Bleh, Lady Holiday, The Sixth Taste