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Day 8- Favorite Sitcom Characters- Seinfeld's George Costanza and Elaine Benes
My White House
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Favorite sitcom characters were tough to pick. I love my sitcoms! I ultimately picked Elaine Benes as my favorite female sitcom character and George Costanza as my favorite male sitcom character. Very tough to pick two Seinfeld characters instead of diversifying it a little more. Runner ups in the male category are Niles Crane (Frasier), Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Michael Scott (The Office) and Ari Gold (Entourage). Runners up in the female category are Miranda Hobbes (Sex and the City), Dana Whitaker (Sports Night), Liz Lemon (30 Rock), Leslie Knope (Parks and Recreation), and Annie Edison (Community). (Also, Frasier Crane, Abed Nadir and Charlotte York but I used/using them for other days.) FYI, I don’t count Orange is the New Black or Gilmore Girls as sitcoms- no matter what the awards shows say.

Still, Seinfeld is my favorite sitcom. It’s hilarious, its humor is my kind of humor. Moreover, it subtly says something interesting about group dynamics, especially through Elaine and George. To put it simply, it feels like being the Seinfeld Foursome made George and broke Elaine but it didn’t make a difference because that cynical, waste of time, trivial existence is fundamentally what they both wanted and what finally landed them in prison. To paraphrase Angel the Series, the Seinfeldian philosophy is, “If nothing we do matters, then….that’s it!….nothing anyone does matters! This is a show about nothing!”



I wrote how Joan Halloway and Xander Harris both gained a great deal for themselves and shattered some important glass ceilings/saved lives by working in an opposite-gender driven community. However, Elaine feels like the opposite. Elaine started out with pretty conventional goals. She wanted to find career success as a publisher. She wanted to get married to as desirable a guy possible. And Elaine for all of her quirks seemed armed with the raw materials to get conventional success- she’s clever, very pretty (despite the hilarious 1990s fashions), extremely cute, apparently came from a privileged background as the daughter of a super-famous author.

Attaining conventional goals like marriage or publishing success isn’t the one method to achieve success. However, it is *a* version of success and when done correctly, it is *a* method to leave the world better off. However the more time that Elaine spent on the show hanging out with Kramer/Jerry/George, the more that Elaine moved away from attaining success or progressing in life and just remained in a stasis of going to the same coffee shop, the same Chinese restaurant, Jerry’s apartment and just snarking about the tiniest, most meaningless issues.

Meanwhile, George was the group’s designated loser. I mean, Kramer was at least eccentric and lived in a weird fantasy world where money was never an issue for him even though he didn’t work and where he could have sex on demand with pretty odd, wild women who *I* found unappealing but Kramer enjoyed. However even though the show made great pains to describe how ugly and stupid George was and how he wasn’t slated for success, George was the idiot savant on how to thrive in the Seinfeld foursome. His renowned talent for lying and schemes, his singular ability to come up with trivial and nonsensical conversation that captured the imagination of his compatriots, his flair for the melodramatic- made him aces at leading the Seinfeld Four arguably even more than Jerry. Moreover, the early seasons show exactly how bleak George’s life is without his friends. George’s conversations with Jerry were the highlight of his day in the early seasons- far above sitting in a cubicle from one of the jobs where he’ll likely be fired or sitting at home with his hilariously annoying parents.

Then, George actually attained conventional success far beyond any of his compatriots. His job at the Yankees was presented as cooler than any of his friends’ job. Susan was a bigger catch than any of the love interests presented on Seinfeld, except for John Kennedy Jr. who wasn’t really ever a *love interest* for Elaine so much as a fantasy/crush. Then, NBC put on George’s and Jerry’s pilot putting them on the road to a mega-hit if they didn’t screw it up through lock-up-able callous indifference to human life in the series finale.

However, George always attained these interests both directly through associations with his friends and metaphorically very much in the wacky Seinfeld world. He got his job at the Yankees based on a typical Monks coffee conversational whim to do the opposite of everything that he’d normally do. He met Susan by pitching a sitcom to NBC with Jerry and Jerry got their foot in the door to do that. Moreover, the fact that George of all people could get such a dream job and such a desirable girlfriend/fiancé is part of the *joke* of Seinfeld. Seinfeld isn’t interested in telling logical dramatic stories; it’s interested in telling bizarre jokes that crack viewers up with the bizarreness. And it paraphrases the "The meek shall inherit the earth" into the "The entirely lame will inherit the earth if they work into the right comedy of errors. In fact, look at the powerful Mr. Pitt, George Steinbrenner, Mr. Peterman, Susan's parents- the lame *have* already inherited this earth through the right comedy of errors!" Hence, *of course*, it would be George that got the closest to big time success.

Meanwhile, George got everything from his association in the Seinfeld Four. Close to big success (which he mucked up in different ways), an exciting group dynamic which was a relief from his crappy roots, and for all that the group made fun of him as the ultimate loser, George was quietly leading them, calling the shots and creating the culture of the group more than anyone including Jerry. However not only was Elaine short-changed in her ability to succeed in the real world, Elaine got the short end of the stick in the group because of her gender.

Elaine was drawn to being the one chick in the foursome because Jerry/George/Kramer pretty much always treated as a curiosity, the translator from the X-chrosome side of things. Yet, that came with a pretty potent price. All four main characters are odd friends to each other- relentlessly self-absorbed and callous about the other’s problems yet so intertwined in each other’s lives that they’ll take on big inconveniences, time drains, humiliations to help the other out. However, Larry David generally paints a world here and in Curb Your Enthusiasm where helping a friend out of a jam through a comedy of errors isn’t being a nice person. It’s finding a source of entertainment in a pretty dull world. I can’t really say who the best friend of the four is or who the worst friend is. It’s not even worth debating.

That said, I do think that Elaine frequently gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop from my calculus because of her gender but I’m pretty confident that Elaine sees it differently. Whenever any of the guys need a pretend girlfriend or lady-friend to help them in one of their schemes, they call on Elaine. Any sexual humiliation of Elaine like her nipple popping out of her Christmas card photos is treated like a big, titillating source of amusement. Her feminist positions like her refusal to ever marry a guy who was pro-life or her objections to George pressuring his girlfriend into a nose job are a ridiculous joke to the guys. George/Jerry/Kramer watch sports, talk hot chicks, etc. and Elaine is pretty much expected to put up or shut up. I mean, the four all share common interests in a lot of feminine activities- movies, shopping (especially for clothes), restaurant hopping, endlessly dissecting the etiquette of others, gossiping, etc.- and that’s a big part of why Elaine is friends with them. However, the guys don’t meet Elaine halfway. Even if she’s not interested in sports or doesn’t appreciate the guys making her sexual endeavors a figure of fun, it’s her obligation as the minority gender to shut up and deal. And certainly, none of the guys are gentlemen who endure discomfort to be chivalrous to Elaine. Many of the eps feature Elaine in a particularly uncomfortable position compared to the guys because they relentlessly pursued their own interests and grabbed the comfiest option for themselves or refused to help Elaine. Elaine flew coach compared to Jerry being in first class. Elaine was stranded in the garage trying to hitch rides because Jerry/George/Kramer all wandered off to urinate in public. Elaine and Jerry were on the fools’ errand to pick up the chocolate bobka to represent the whole group for a dinner party they were all supposed to attend. Elaine complained about going the subway and asked to split a cab but the guys all wanted to take the subway and Elaine wound up on the worst, crowded subway and broken train as opposed to Jerry who made a nudist friend and went to Coney Island, George who met a hot woman and tried having sex with her even though she handcuffed him and robbed him in bed, or Kramer who heard good tips for the race track on the subway and won a lot of money.

George/Jerry/Kramer are typical 1990s men. They are casually sexist and entitled about being men but they don't preach women hating. Their sexism is much more trivial in how they use and discard girlfriends, how they cling to weird ideas about lesbians or female executives and keep it up because their ideas are funnier and less emasculating than reality. They pretty much think that all older women are a waste of time annoyance including their own mothers because they're past the age of dating and sex. They think issues like female contraception or abortion are a big joke. However, they're not frothing at the mouth with sexism and they fit logically into their post-1960s world. They accept female bosses or wealthier females, even though it's uncomfortable for them. Then again, they also live in the 1990s so they don't even need to go through the bother of *pretending* to be chivalrous or gentlemanly to have a place in polite society. And I love that these guys can be casually sexist without some neon "Chauvinist villain" light over their heads. Moreover, they *like* Elaine. She's the girl that they're happy to have in their treehouse. They're not out to inconvenience Elaine. They don't wake up with wicked designs to sexually humiliate her. It's merely that they relentlessly pursue their self-interest and their self-interest dovetails frequently with making a joke out of Elaine's real female or by never taking a hit on their own comfort to help out Elaine.

However, I do think that this ends up not mattering to Elaine. Elaine is pretty addicted to being The Chick (see TV Tropes). She rather likes being the authority on women, the only one of Jerry’s girlfriends to remain as a friend, etc. It’s telling that even when Elaine was fed up with how shallow and limiting Jerry/George/Kramer are and went to look for other friends, she wound up with three guys who are the kinder, gentler versions of her old friends...and then, went back to her old friends.

As always, there was a point here somewhere.....

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This is really great; I've never really done this level of analysis on Seinfeld before.

Thinking about it, I think a lot of what Elaine gets out of the group dynamic, too, is that this is a place where she feels secure as being the obvious best and brightest, morally superior, more educated etc. Elaine has a 146 IQ after all, and George...doesn't. Jerry seems like he's bright-ish but not much more than average. Elaine can tell herself, regularly, that she is better than them, and feel that superiority that she is hanging out with a bunch of losers and could leave and go get better friends if she wanted to. Which is part of the Bizarro Jerry/George/Kramer plot. Those guys Elaine winds up with, who are interested in books ("I read!" "BOOKS, Jerry!") and are polite and down to Earth, and who aren't going to ruin her life, are ones that only Elaine could conceivably fit in with; Jerry is too self-absorbed and into trivilaities, George is too obviously a loser, Kramer too obviously unable to fit into any human society as anything but a Wild Man/off the wall entrepeneur. Elaine gets the taste of being a real girl. And then she immediately has to get away from them because she's not actually "good enough" for their world, having acquired and heightened her Seinfeldian tropes (the "get OUT").

Which I think says a lot about how group dynamics work. People often find themselves with friends they don't like, with people whom they look down on, and whom maybe they really are smarter than and in principle more ethical than. They don't leave though, because...well, what if they find a better group, and suddenly they're not better than everyone else, or are even, gasp, worse than? George operates under the Peter Principle, "promoted" in his life up to the level of his incompetence, and Elaine sort of operates under the reverse, downgrading herself to a level where she won't be seriously rejected or challenged. Like Lucifer, she gets to be queen in hell rather than a servant in heaven.

Further comparing/contrasting Elaine and George (and going back to AtS a little, lol), I think it's likely that the two characters are the most likely to get DEEPLY offended about something and then go on a destructive, burn-the-house assault. George regularly risks and destroys his jobs over small insults, and obsesses over things like Jerry's girlfriend not liking him to the point of destroying his current relationship; he nearly ruins the NBC pilot by insisting on the "nothing" premise come hell or high water. These mostly have to do with George's pride, though occasionally he'll find a social cause to feel good about himself with, usually something completely arbitrary, like insisting the security guard gets a seat, a kind of conspicuous consumption of empathy in an area no one else would think to because it's genuinely misplaced, so that he stands out as awesome in a way no one else would have. Elaine raises hell over the abortion thing with Poppy, and, especially famously, gets excited about the possibility of burning the Soup Nazi's stand to the ground. Really, Elaine's issues are about pride, too, but she interprets things more clearly through at least a perfunctory moral lens, and she is angry about the Soup Nazi because NO ONE SHOULD BE ABLE TO GET AWAY WITH THAT. There's a certain obsession that the two share when they're on a project, but Elaine at least couches what she is doing in terms of social issues, which she probably genuinely does "care" about (though she also obsesses over trivialities like the relationship-ending exclamation mark debate), and on some level believes that she's acting righteously.

Jerry does this type of thing to an extent, but he's much mellower -- he'll end a relationship because a girl eats her peas one by one, but that's because he doesn't actually care about the relationship, and it doesn't actually have any significant negative effect on him, whereas he always seems serious and concerned whenever one of his shows is threatened. (I guess an exception is Jerry ruining a set so that he can stop Bania from getting the laughs from Jerry's set. Jerry does seem to genuinely care about comedy.) Jerry is too easygoing, with a stable source of income and no particular problems or desire to rock the boat of his life, to obsess to this extent. And Kramer, while he gets his mind set on different schemes, never or almost never seems deliberately destructive, so much as being so indifferent to whatever structure he's in that he'll burn it down without thinking about it (literally in the case of Susan's cabin).

I think Elaine's insecurity about her attractiveness when compared to Sue Ellen Mischke especially, and probably others, is another reason why she likes staying in the cesspool where she is valued for her attractive womanliness. Elaine/Julia Louis-Dreyfus is of course *incredibly* beautiful, but because of the 90's standards and the sitcom world and the huge pool of single women in New York, she is still kind of seen within the show as mildly attractive rather than the absolute knockout she is; this unfair standard for women is something that further keeps her locked into the gang when she could, if she were less self-absorbed or even wanted to, try to escape from.

Edited at 2014-01-17 08:38 pm (UTC)

This is awesome. I have to go out (and think more) but I agree with everything in both comments. I especially like the point that Elaine and George are the two characters that get the most riled up about causes "go on a destructive, burn-the-house assault". YES!!

I do think that's part of Elaine and George diametrically opposed position as the gang's "winner" and the gang's "loser". As the person most slated from birth to be a successful person, Elaine needs to win at these big ridiculous causes to prove that she's a good, effective person even though her life is increasingly sad and meaningless through the comedy. Meanwhile, George knows that he's a loser and he wants to break out of that and be seen as a *someone* but without working hard at it or losing any of the comfy familiar blankie aspects of being a loser that endear Jerry to him. So, George picks up BS causes to try to be more than loser without working too hard at it or scarily changing his identity.

Jerry and Kramer escape that because they exist out of the loser/winner dichotomy. They've got nothing to prove. Jerry, as he puts it, is Even Stevens. So, he just approaches life with a nit picking equanimity. And Kramer is just crazy which is off the winner/loser scale and as you say, leads to plenty of "burn the house down" without the intentional "go on a causiness" of it.

Also, Elaine and George get MUCH more dramatic when they do something good and they DEMAND credit. Jerry just smugly sits and internally congratulates himself at helping Abu. ("I *am* a good man. My mother always said so!") George, however, turns it into a HUGE deal. I helped a whale- THE SEA WAS ANGRY THAT DAY, MY FRIENDS. Elaine wears her urban sombrero all over town. And Kramer just does the melodramtaic stuff because that's what he does- not necessarily out for congrats and applause that will change his view of himself or people's view of him.

Hopefully more later!

Ha! "THE SEA WAS ANGRY THAT DAY, MY FRIENDS." It occurs to me that part of the magic of that scene is that it really couldn't have been told by any other character. IMO, Kramer's best and most famous monologue was his breathless description of getting Toby to the hospital after her pinky toe was severed. And part of the reason this works is that Kramer is totally agitated, and yet still doesn't seem to view his incredibly heroic behaviour as heroic. "I let her off at the next stop." "You were still making all the stops?" "Well people kept ringing the bell!" It's not because Kramer is actually an amazing, heroic guy, so much that as a crazy wild man he CAN be heroic far beyond most people because he doesn't think the way most people do, and when he is in a position to step up sometimes he will. George, by contrast, is acutely aware of his failings as well as what is expected of him and how frequently he does not live up to even the lowest of those expectations, so on the rare time he overcomes those failings he is flush with success and melodramatic and excited. Which, curiously, that marine biologist episode is also an indication of the type of man George *could* be, because out of a desire to live up to his false image he actually risks his life to go save a whale, and manages to save it, and in the moment afterward he is so high on his own achievement that he actually tells his girlfriend the truth, as if, perhaps, taking the opportunity to become a better man. And naturally she dumps him because it's awful to have lied about that and then go rescue a *whale* under false pretenses, and it's back to George-as-loser, at which point he's so convinced he can never do anything good that he might as well not try.

(Actually, this makes me think a little of Wesley in "Guise will Beguise," but Wesley, unlike George, has a conscience and dedication to doing good and heroism that is stronger than his insecurity and laziness and self-centredness, so Virginia's understandable anger that Wesley deceived her is not the end of Wesley's attempts to step up and be a hero. Obviously there are a lot of other differences in the situations, given that Wesley started the lie that he was Angel to protect Cordelia rather than for general self-aggrandizement.)

Great points! Absolutely agree re: the difference between George and Kramer. Kramer is so far from normal that Kramer doesn't have much of a conception of comparing himself to others which, yes, is why the pinkie toe rescue was so funny. But George is always comparing himself to others. Similarly in terms of melodramatic self-congragulatory monologues, I flash back to Elaine and I NEARLY CONQUERED THE VAN-WYCK. NO ONE HAS EVER CONQUERED THE VAN WYCK BEFORE ME. Certainly, Elaine wasn't claiming a moral victory there. However to go with Elaine's "I oughta be a winner, damnit!" life feelings, Elaine did feel the need to go to Jerry's apartment all disheveled and exhausted to demand props for nearly conquering the Van Wyck because Elaine knows that she actually didn't conquer it and attain her goal of dropping her annoying house-guest at the airport on time so he could get the fuck out of her life. However, Elaine *will* wring some victory out this by telling the story to Jerry and George.

Big word to your Wesley v. George comparison re: Guise will Be Guise. Another small point of comparison that amused me is that George didn't *want* to play a marine biologist. George's standard faux profession to get respect/dates from others is to be an architect named Art Vandalet. But Jerry made a mistake and called him a marine biologist and so, George had to play that different, unintended respected profession. Similarly, Wesley's MO at getting respect is to talk up his rogue demon hunterness and emphasize that he's an *associate* of Angel, not really an *assistant* or *employee*. However, Wesley had to play *Angel*- a different, unintended respected tough guy.

Which, curiously, that marine biologist episode is also an indication of the type of man George *could* be, because out of a desire to live up to his false image he actually risks his life to go save a whale, and manages to save it, and in the moment afterward he is so high on his own achievement that he actually tells his girlfriend the truth, as if, perhaps, taking the opportunity to become a better man.

The series indicates that George *does* have natural gifts. He's brave with the whale and on other occasions. His ability to creatively lie and scheme is universally recognized as the best in the whole mendacious foursome. He came up with the idea for the show about nothing...and we all know that the show in our world became the mega bonanza hit Seinfeld made millionaires out of a lot of people involved in the show- from the main players to smaller characters that got discovered on that show and later became famous.

Susan saw specialness in George enough to want to marry him and she wasn't a fool- although, her failure to totally see him killed her (the toxic stamps that he got because he was cheap). His loserness more comes from the fact that he's spectacularly lazy and clings to his low-self esteem and loserness as who he is and he's got little interest in anything beyond the shallow and trivial. It's why George would never have a Wesleyesque character arc of starting off as a loser and becoming incredibly competent because George entirely lacks Wesley's diligence, strength of will and conviction to do good and look beyond the lie to the deeper issues. Plus, the lack of demons and vampires in the Seinfeld world obv.

Edited at 2014-01-18 02:09 pm (UTC)

I also am reminded of Elaine melodramatically flying off the handle at taking George's toupee and yelling "I DON'T LIKE THIS THING!" Elaine and George are wound up the tightest of the four, and this may be related to them having the most amount of unrealized potential. Kramer has all kinds of potential, but no brakes and so he just does whatever he wants at a given time and then forgets about things as a pure id creature. Jerry is pretty much where he wants to be in life -- which is to say, relatively successful but not so successful that he has much responsibility. Elaine and George vacillate between success and failure and are always acutely aware of it, and also have large amounts of anxiety and anger and grandiosity.

Actually, it's pretty cool how similar those two characters are, and I think maybe it's those two who contribute the most to the sensibility of the show, with Jerry as something like straight man and Kramer as total wild man. (If we take the Marx Brothers (Duck Soup era), Zeppo is not actually useless as Cordelia implies but functions as something like a straight man, easy to replace with Margaret Dumont or another foil but still, within universe at least, sane and successful. Probably Jerry would be the stable, straight-man Zeppo and Kramer would be Harpo -- who doesn't speak, is defined by physical comedy and released id. Groucho and Chico shift roles but both are defined by verbal comedy.) Jerry is fully comfortable with life being meaningless and trivial because he's fully comfortable with superficial, but Elaine and George aren't quite, and this makes them imbalanced. Kramer doesn't recognize the in-universe meaninglessness of the world because he basically lives in an alternate universe. George is not successful enough to be blase about life's ups and downs like Jerry is and has pent up resentment; Elaine's dreams of success are not enough to keep her from being dragged down.

...

Actually, it's pretty cool how similar those two characters are, and I think maybe it's those two who contribute the most to the sensibility of the show, with Jerry as something like straight man and Kramer as total wild man. (If we take the Marx Brothers (Duck Soup era), Zeppo is not actually useless as Cordelia implies but functions as something like a straight man, easy to replace with Margaret Dumont or another foil but still, within universe at least, sane and successful. Probably Jerry would be the stable, straight-man Zeppo and Kramer would be Harpo -- who doesn't speak, is defined by physical comedy and released id. Groucho and Chico shift roles but both are defined by verbal comedy.)

Word! I agree with your Marx brothers comparisons. What's more, Chico and Groucho were always the schemers looking to make money, change their lives. Seinfeld is serialized as opposed to the Marx Bros movies. It's interesting that Elaine and George both had the two notable long-running relationships- Susan and Puddy. Kramer had a sort of long-running thing with Elaine's roommate, I think, but it was verrrry uncovered and rarely shown. Generally, Kramer and Jerry just had a string of girls. George and Elaine get stories about their regular jobs that they hold down for many episodes in a serialized fashion. Kramer just has one-off cockamanie schemes. We see Jerry doing a bit at a comedy club before every ep but that's not a story. The only thing approaching a long running story about Jerry's stand-up career is his issues with Bania and that's not really about Jerry's career so much about Jerry's personal peccadilloes.

There really is a theme that George and Elaine most live in our world and hence, they're the angriest and most intense about not getting to win at life.

It occurs to me that because Jerry is so clearly close to Jerry Seinfeld, real life comedian, especially early on (and I love the way they mock this with Jerry's faux-terrible acting in the show-within-a-show -- "Because he's MY butler" and all), he is sort of like a refugee from our world and so his blase attitude about everything happens is partly because he is a real person and can leave the show's universe for our own at any time. This sounds like taking postmodernism too far, but I don't really think so, because Jerry's stand-up routines and the way "Jerry"-the-sitcom plays out and Jerry winking to the camera at the end of "The Race" ala Superman and just our knowledge that Seinfeld is basically playing himself early on especially makes him really not a "character" the way Elaine, George and Kramer are. And while Elaine, George and Kramer are to different extents possibly based on real people -- George on Larry David, Cosmo Kramer on Kenny Kramer, and there are rumours that Elaine is based on Carol Leifer, though she's also denied it -- they're still played by performers and have their own lives in-universe that can eventually depart from whatever the RL people's lives are. Which makes Jerry's role as observer/commenter of the craziness around him really pop, and makes it sort of okay that he breaks every now and again, because Jerry-the-character doesn't seem to take anything in his life seriously, which is brilliantly deconstructed in the "Jerry is taught to feel the full range of human emotions" late-series ep. Jerry's defining comic feature may be his inability to commit, but not just romantically: he seldom commits to *his surroundings*, seldom really believes that anything around him is happening except insofar as he can joke about it.

In the old TV show, Superman used to wink at the camera ala Jerry in "The Race". The version of Superman Jerry seems to idealize is this particular TV Superman who is too big for his TV, who winks at the audience and knows that he's the star of his own heroic narrative. Jerry's conviction that he's Even Steven and his total job security and his relative disinterest in his friends' problems except as comic fodder and his increasing frustration when he's actually put in a genuinely inconvenient or emotional situation all add up to this sense that Jerry-the-character sees his life as a show where he's the star, and even, comically, is somehow like Superman the *heroic* lead of the show, even though he almost never does anything heroic or even moderately nice. This is why Newman gets cast as an arch villain because he doesn't like Jerry, because every Superman needs his Lex Luthor.

There really is a theme that George and Elaine most live in our world and hence, they're the angriest and most intense about not getting to win at life.

Right, and Elaine gets the most angry and jealous w.r.t. George whenever it briefly looks like he might win over her, or even when she's just angry. I think the show recognizes the extent to which a *lot* of social dynamics end up being a zero-sum game where there is always going to be a loser in a group, and Elaine as the only person besides George who is vulnerable in that way (because Kramer and Jerry have just opted out of that possible role) is going to damn well make sure that's not her. Which is why she confides in her rabbi neighbour that she thinks SHE should be the one getting engaged and so on. It's so unfair! It would never occur to Elaine that she and George are in competition, until George suddenly does something right (or apparently right) and then it's all-out war.

I adore this comment! I don’t think you get too post-moderny at all. I think that’s very astute that Jerry is a refuge from this world- a semi-real stuck in the wacky Seinfeld world. He’s like Christopher Robin- a traveler from our real world into the wacky fictional world that the audience enjoys. However, Christopher Robin left his fictional world when he grew up and it ended. The animals in the forest threw Christopher Robin a farewell party when he left them to go off to boarding school. However, Jerry is an immature manchild in many ways and IMO, he even regressed through his run on Seinfeld. Thus, it’s appropriate that Jerry remained trapped in the wacky world in his creation by the testimonies of all of the wacky people that he insulted. Doomed to stay in a prison cell with Kramer, George, and Elaine because Jerry really lurched *hard* into the Seinfeld world of his diabolical creation to avoid the real world. He literally can't escape from the Seinfeld world because he missed his chance to grow up out of it like Christopher Robin.

Also, I’m always struck by how George really seems like a product of Frank and Estelle Costanza and fits into his parent’s home. Meanwhile, I enjoy Jerry’s parents too but Jerry never really seems like he’s *their son*. Seinfeld even re-cast Jerry’s dad mid-show. And Jerry’s parents live in *Florida*, making it a verrrry rare excursion out of New York when we see them.

I don't know if you watch Curb Your Enthusiasm, but it does almost the reverse of what Seinfeld does with Jerry Seinfeld. I'd warn for spoilers but Curb isn't really a spoiler type show.

*Spoilers*
Anyway: Larry David had several of occasions where he gets offended when someone refers to what George as a loser because George is *based* on Larry. Two seasons ago, there was the most awesome twisty reunion- the Seinfeld actors played themselves on Curb Your Enthusiasm in a season-long storyline about them putting on a Seinfeld reunion on NBC- thus being a TV reunion that was mocking TV reunions. It was awesomely twisty. Anyway, Larry David had a fight with Jason Alexander who stormed off and there was a conflict because Larry thought it was no big deal because *he* could play George because the character is based on him. And Jerry puts Larry in his place by pointing out that *he's* a TV icon, Julia, Michael Richards and Jason are all icons. Larry David is a "no con".

As you say, Jerry is the real life person who comes to visit the fictional Seinfeld world and just considers it for his amusement. In that reunion, Larry David is the creator and writer forced to live in this world where audience members ate up the stories that *Larry* lived and lives on Seinfeld and everyone knows Jerry Seinfeld but hardly anyone outside of the biz or hardcore fandom knows from Larry David. And of course in the Curb World, Larry David is just living his life being Larry David but oddly fictionalized and brought down to size.
*End of Spoilers*

Edited at 2014-01-22 12:03 am (UTC)

I agree about George's parents vs. Jerry's. To the extent that Jerry's parents do feel like Jerry's parents, it's because their fussiness and obsessions are still ones that never actually threaten to challenge Jerry in any way. Jerry feels guilty if he's not nice enough to his parents because they'll worry about him or they'll think he doesn't care enough about them -- but somehow Jerry's overall worth is never in question, and his guilt is sort of superficial as a result, and Jerry mostly writes off his parents' obsessions. I don't actually like the word "spoiled" and I don't think it entirely fits with Jerry, but I think it's actually a good example of someone who was parented with such constant affection (and by people who themselves are, for the most part, so sure of themselves, Morty believing himself to be the ACTUAL World's Greatest Dad and all) that they not only feel they never have to prove anything to others but have no real sympathy for anyone else believing they have to.

Seinfeld's overall strategy seems to be that everyone is a product of their environment, but there are no environments that are without their dangers, and because it's that type of show no one actually escapes with anything but total self-absorption. Jerry is smug and above-it-all, in-universe because he has a stable job and has no doubt that his parents adore him, and also because he's a refugee from our world who chooses to live in a sitcom world and crack jokes rather than find anything like meaning in his life.

I keep bringing up "The Race," because I think it's maybe a definitive Jerry episode -- that's also an example where early in life, an accident made Jerry a legend and then he chose to maintain that legend and never race again so as not to ever let anyone know that he's actually not that amazing. Which is itself a "Jerry prefers living in a comfortable fantasy than in reality" story. And oddly predictive of RL Jerry Seinfeld's career, wherein he chose to "retire" from comedy ("I choose not to run!") for a time perhaps to avoid the almost inevitable disappointment with his post-Seinfeld career, though he came back (and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is fun; I haven't seen Bee Movie). I'm not actually trying to insult RL Seinfeld here, because I think it's pretty clear that the show is a *lot* of Seinfeld's own writing and comic voice, but it sort of ties in with your points about Larry, who many/most hardcore Seinfeld fans view as the show's "real" most important genius voice (plus nutso dark contributions from Larry Charles, plus Peter Mehlman and Carol Leifer etc. and others who are relative unknowns compared to Seinfeld's and the rest of the cast's mega-stardom).

I think it's hard to tell, with Jerry-the-character, where Jerry's lack of ambition comes from a fear that if he branches out of his fantasy world he'll *fail*, and comes from the fact that he simply has everything good enough and he's unwilling to consider doing hard work for marginal or no benefit. I think it's closer to the latter, but if we take "The Race" as a model Jerry does seem to recognize that there are areas in which he *seems* to be successful but in which he knows if he actually had to prove himself, he would fail, and so keeps a lid on, not out of arrogance but out of fear of discovery. Which, grandiosity and insecurity are pretty closely related. Still, Jerry clearly does think he's awesome and doesn't need to prove himself much more than George i.e.

George is manipulative, petty and vengeful because he had parents who withheld affection or attacked him, his winter solstice holiday involved the airing of grievances, was picked on, has genuine bad luck, and his own bad decisions regularly come back to bite and attack him. The late-season "emotions sharing" episode has Jerry ask George to unload on him, and the shock of hearing George's formative traumas scares Jerry straight and makes him rescind his desire to commit to Elaine.


Another key Elaine moment for me is in the ep where Jerry and George have their "we're not men" "pact," where Jerry realizes he should stop with the trivialities and he gets back together with his ex and George gets back together with Susan, and Jerry instantly realizes that he much prefers being superficial and George is "stuck" with success and responsibility of his engagement. That episode has Elaine's attempts to deal with the barking dog and ends with her in the car with Kramer and Newman having been arrested, and she repeats Jerry and George's monologue that she's a child and not a woman, as a comic beat. But Elaine's current situation is that she's just gone on a crazy scheme to dognap and has been caught and everything is falling apart, whereas Jerry and George are relatively comfortable. I think maybe this ties in with what you were saying about the 90's era sexism; somehow I feel like Elaine gets herself into trouble because the world around her is frustrating and she suffers way more, and way less deservedly, than her friends -- she is the one who has to deal with the dog! -- and then will sacrifice her limited morals to deal with it. She believes she's better than this life and that she suffers more than the others do, and she's right, but she thinks this makes her entitled to do whatever to make her life better, which is wrong. George mostly seems to think, and I think the show kind of agrees, that he deserves almost all the bad stuff that happens to him, that his loser-ness is innate and NOT a function of the world being especially unkind to him. And there's some truth to the idea that Elaine deserves better and George doesn't, because lots of the stuff that happens to Elaine has nothing to do with her and is all about the world unfairly smothering her because she's a woman/for no reason. But a lot of the reason it's obvious that George "deserves" what happens to him is because he's unattractive, because his parents treat him badly, because he's schlumppy and he's just OBVIOUSLY a loser, which is, um, because, uh.... To some degree Elaine's background of having a well-respected (and intimidating to anyone but her) author father, as well as having the language to articulate the unfairness around her (i.e. sexism), as well as her natural gifts of intelligence and beauty which George lacks (though George as you said is very creative and not "really" stupid), makes her have an acute awareness of the way life treats her unfairly whereas George thinks he deserves what he gets, but much of that treatment is just as unfair, just not in ways that are as recognizable. Which, Elaine is absolutely *right* that sexism is wrong, but she also really buys into beauty biases and that George's parents being awful to him is just a fact they should accept.

(Which, because everything is BtVS/AtS, there is a tiny element of this in Willow and Xander's friendship, where Willow kind of does, by s4 anyway, have the tools to recognize that people are unfair to her on social justice grounds and is able to start defending herself, but doesn't see the way in which the gang is still unfair to Xander. I think Willow's casual acceptance of Xander being bullied throughout high school and the awfulness of his parents is similar, but for most of that she's in the same boat -- I think it's not until s3-4 that Willow starts developing the tools to recognize why *she* has a right to stand up for herself against her unfair circumstances but doesn't really have that much for Xander. Also though, this lack of caring is partly because Xander regularly alienated her in s1-3. And also also, Willow *loves* loser-Xander, as we see in "The Replacement," even though she kind of thinks of him as a loser, which is a little like the Seinfeld gang's affection for George except, you know, not.)

Elaine actually navigates that weird area really well -- where Elaine thinks she deserves better than she has partly out of privilege and entitlement, partly because the world/the gang *is* disproportionately harsh on her. It's really well-observed, all the more so because Seinfeld episode commentaries (...which, I would know that because...) seem to suggest that they really had trouble writing for Elaine.

Glad that you brought in Willow/Xander. I do think that there's a general gender problem that disadvantages both genders where guy problems like school violence or baldness are treated as just "part of being a guy" while very visible female problems like cattiness or some female physical disfigurement is treated like a BIG PROBLEM THAT NEEDS TO BE FIXED. Obv, this is primarily true for a small affluent, Western, modern subset of the population but not really in poorer areas where female problems, especially non-obvious female problems, are treated as meaningless.
Willow did take an attitude that Rodney beating up Xander every day is just a matter of fact The Way Things Are- the weaker men get their beatings from the stronger men so it's no reason for Xander to hold a grudge. Granted at this point, Willow has similar notions that Cordelia decides who's cool so Buffy can't sit with her because That's The Way Things Are. However, as you said, over S1-3, Willow did learn that she doesn't have to take that kind of crap.

Ditto on Seinfeld. Elaine glorifies how women bravely pluck out all of their hairs of their eyebrows and pencil more arched looking fake ones but she resents George's toupee. It's a similar notion that women need the space to do whatever to their bodies to make them beautiful but men are weird for changing their appearance too much to the point that it edges on vanity.

I think it's a double-edged sword for both genders. Men, obviously, suffer because they're supposed to just take whatever comes naturally like being beat up if they're the weaker guy or going bald and not fuss over it or talk about how hurt they are over it. Resorting to feminine fixes like a toupee or talking too much about their hurt feelings is weakly feminine for men and just compounds their problem and perception as inferior men. And women are given the space and orders to talk about their feelings and hold grudges when they're bullied and the obv the space to do whatever they need to alter their appearance, but it's all done with the expectation that it will lead to a perfect woman- beautiful, socially adjusted, in complete command of using all Oprahesque feminista terms to combat bullying while allowing them to seem as nice as possible.

I think that double-edged sword is pretty present in Willow/Xander and Elaine/George. Xander and George got the short-end of the stick in the eyes of society. They were deemed losers and only given an option to under-achieve with equanimity and humor. Xander is likely *still* viewed as "eh" by society at large- but he is not an under-achiever in reality but only because Xander's strong sense of responsibility and commitment to do good forces him to fight evil and Xander actually flourished at doing that in a pretty pointedly *female* space. And IMO, the values that Xander learned in the Scooby gang in S1-4 helped him in his construction job.



Meanwhile, Willow and Elaine carry the women's obligation to be perfect. And while both are incredibly gifted in terms of looks and intelligence and come from privileged, white backgrounds, they both still struggle with the unbelievably unfair burdens that society puts on women. We've discussed how Elaine pretty much chose to settle by hanging in the Seinfeld gang where she gets to be the best and Chick, but when Elaine does get a chance to try to bag a handsome or rich guy or move ahead in office politics, Elaine pursues the chance HILARIOUSLY INTENSELY. Many eps features Elaine flirting in an OTT way (so much giggling and suggestive body language and touching) or Elaine scheming and lying to try to win the office politics battle of the week and be successful. Willow found alternate routes to success because Willow chose to prioritize being a warrior/witch for good above all but Willow also goes nuts trying to achieve perfection as a woman and as a witch/warrior in the modes of a successful everygirl AND as a supernatural lesbian witch that controls the natural elements of the planet to alter reality making Willow arguably even more extreme than Elaine.

Interesting that you said the commentaries indicate that the writers had trouble writing Elaine. I think she's *very* well-written. I do remember reading that she wasn't part of the original pilot. NBC objected to an all-male cast and demanded that they add a female character and hence, Elaine. Probably a lot of the credit goes to Julia Louise Dryfus. IMO, she's a terrific muse and a writer can count on her to make everything funny.

Yeah, I think this is right. Especially "Willow also goes nuts trying to achieve perfection as a woman and as a witch/warrior in the modes of a successful everygirl AND as a supernatural lesbian witch that controls the natural elements of the planet to alter reality." Xander goes somewhat nuts because he thinks he'll never get out of the basement and he somewhat resents not being more central to the Scooby gang (somewhat because, he mostly seems to accept it except in times of ultra-stress), but really on some level it's easier for him to find a niche which requires less constant work and in an area where no one believes what Xander does is important enough to start criticizing him over how he does it (construction), which is a mixed bag of course but still, he kind of *has* that. Willow's powers and leadership become so central but she is also constantly under scrutiny and also convinced that one slip-up in morality or competence and she'll lose everything, and yet also can't stop using her powers for very long or else she'll be responsible for everything ending. Bad situation.

In other words, I think Xander accepts that it's his lot in life to be a loser, and that's really tragic. But he seems mostly to think that he still has a right to exist even if he's a loser. Willow "knows" that if she works had and never makes a mistake she can stop being a loser, but if she slips up she loses her right to exist or should. Which is sort of similar to Elaine/George, though the lack of vampires and hellgods and apocalypses make everything with E/G lower level and more explicitly comic.

(Buffy = Jerry, right? So, does that make Giles Kramer? I feel like it kind of fits in s4, where he keeps showing up unexpectedly and has surprising weirdo adventures.)

Yeah, I think Elaine is amazingly written as well, and I think the fact that it was *hard* to write for her doesn't mean they didn't achieve it. What they did say is that basically a necessity for a great Seinfeld episode is to have a great Elaine story, because that's the hardest one -- and I think I get that. Great Elaine stories sort of make the episodes, because once that's there it's easier to find roles for the other players.

Edited at 2014-01-20 10:14 pm (UTC)

Right, and I think that overall leads to "'loser' men accept that it's possible to underachieve and live down to expectations" and "women have to beat themselves up if they ever fail to Keep Up The Good Fight," which disadvantages both in different ways.

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