Click below for all "Seinfeld Ethnography" posts:
Marine Biologist The Doorman Opposite George Newman's Mail The Bootleg Marriage
Just Dessert Sleep Desk Late Coffee High Stakes Motor Oil Downtown
Code Cracking Nonfat Yogurt Bad Boy It's Not You I Can't Be... Exploding Wallet
Elaine Flies Coach The Close Talker The Alliance Broccoli Coated Culture Dinner Party
Click here for the reference to the "Argonauts" title, below.
|[a] Married RF|
The photograph above is vintage, anonymous, and in the public domain. Jerry's marriage is only the last of these. Pretend marriage. It's a big step, and the couple moves rapidly from counting "I love yous" to dry cleaning discounts. The subtext(s) in this episode are about as breathless as the narrative, so take a look, and then we'll ponder love and kinship alliances for a while.
The episode could go much, much further into the analytical realm. I was ready for a discussion session with George and Elaine at the restaurant. It is all just a little too predictable. Still, it does call to mind the very social nature of marital alliances, and the ways that a wide array of people quickly become involved in the lives of the couple. Marriage and privacy are two words that create more than a little challenge the world over (as we have seen in the news recently and as we will read below).
The fairly predictable bickering is not Seinfeld at its best, but it does move fairly quickly from the playful exchanges of a couple in love to annoyed marital/martial antagonism and breakup. If this episode is "masterful" in any way (I find the topic fascinating, but the carry-through a little cliché-ish), it is in compressing a story-line of syrupy love to cool separation in just a matter of minutes. With a nod to E. M. Forster's famous assessment of narrative, "the couple was all love-syrup, married for dry cleaning, argued, kissed, made up, rolled over, and then divorced." That's...something.
We can't both get pancakes, it's embarrassing. It's like one step
from the couples that dress alike.
And time marches on.
Can opener. "Yeah...that's what I said."
"What happened to us Jerry?"
"I guess I just wasn't prepared for the responsibilities of a pretend marriage."
"We'll always have...pancakes."
|[b] Discount RF|
The Religion of the Chinese People
They made all of surrounding nature take part in their powerful emotions; boys and girls assembling on the holy earth imagined that their youthful unions cooperated in the revival of nature, when in the Holy Place the ice on the rivers melted under the breath of spring, when the waters came to life and the springs, long dried up, spurted forth, when finally the soft fertile rain fell and the dew appeared, when the precocious flowers came up in damp corners, in the time of new foliage, of plumtrees and flowering peachtrees, of swallows returning, while the magpies built their nests and singing, the birds chased one another in pairs.
All the hopes of fertility mingled in their breasts: while the eggs they swallowed, the meteors they caught sight of, the bunches of plantains they gathered up in the laps of their skirts, the flowers they offered each other as betrothal pledges seemed to them to embody the principles of motherhood, they believed further that their nuptials were propitious to universal germination, that they called forth the seasonable rain, and that, finally, by desacralizing the earth, forbidden to human work during the winter, they now opened the fields to fertilization. Sanctified witness of their magnificent labours, the Holy Place appeared to contain an infinite creative power endlessly renewed by the Festivals.
Freedom in Fulani Social Life
In a sense, then, the function of Fulani marriage does not consist simply in channeling sexual impulses, for at the same time it diffuses them, making difficult a mutual, exclusive attachment between a man and a woman. This has consequences for people's social life as well as for their emotional life. In social life, that tendency of marriage goes in the same direction as the division of "social" labor which we analyzed earlier, for it favors what we called "the daytime social order" over that of the night. The danger of love, for society, is not that we might be led to make love with an unsuitable person (that happens, but rarely), but rather that we might fall in love with someone so deeply that it seems the other person alone is sufficient and we do not need the rest of society. Indeed, the Jelgobe make fun of a man who obviously loves his wife, and jealousy is severely criticized. Their reasoning on this subject is a bit different from what I have just presented. For them, jealousy, in the first place, is an antisocial emotion, since a beautiful woman is beautiful for everyone and should somehow be shared with others. That does not mean a man should allow others to sleep with his wife, but only that he is wrong to take offense at the feelings she arouses in them. As for the man who appears to be in love with his wife, whether he is jealous or not, people make fun of him for the same reason that they make fun of someone who breaks wind: he shows a lack of self-control and risks, thereby, being accused of being weaker than his wife.
The Elementary Structures of Kinship
 Paul Riesman, Freedom in Fulani Social Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 211-212.
 Marcel Granet, The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated by Maurice Freedman] (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 44.
 Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship [Revised translation by James Harle Bell and John Richard von Sturmer] (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), 478-479. Italics mine.
Granet, Marcel. The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated by Maurice Freedman]. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. The Elementary Structures of Kinship [Revised translation by James Harle Bell and John Richard von Sturmer]. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969.
Riesman, Paul. Freedom in Fulani Social Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.
A Snickers(TM) bar. A knife and fork. And social learning. Stay tuned.