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.
"You didn't call 'no interference'..."
What does that even mean? The give-and-take right after the coin hits the "obstruction" is priceless. Notice that George checks the result before calling out its unfairness. If you have even been on either side of such a debate, I suspect that you will agree that it is not only George ever to take the low road in these matters. Lofty and admirable behavior, it is not.
So, how do the hands of justice, fate, and contingency merge with testosterone, anxiety, and uncertainty? The episode is another classic view of just how deeply Seinfeld goes into the oddities of the everyday. Have you ever noticed that men tend to do these kinds of things a little more often than women (the contests of chance mixed with skill and the arguing)? Why? I am not sure that the answer is as easy as some interpreters of gendered behavior might think. Have you ever noticed that a certain kind of loser (I use the term in the widest sense) is overcome with recriminations and self-loathing after the fact? Why?
The only thing missing is twenty minutes of analysis over coffee. Of course, that would be impossible in this case, even on Seinfeld, because George and Jerry take the "fairness" of the oracle (such as it is) quite seriously, expressing doubt only the way that it plays out in its particulars. Having read a great deal of material over the years about divination, I am struck by the similarity of assumptions taken by primitives such as Jerry and George, on the one hand, and thinkers such as the Azande (see below), on the other.
In future posts, we might look more deeply into the "rhetorics of fate and future" that intersect with plain ol' living in countless ways. For now, though, let's just think about the very social nature of winning and losing (and of being a "winner" and a "loser").
Luck and Ethics
Richard J. Smith
The Ways of Wind and Water
Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande
Indeed, as a rule Azande do not ask questions to which answers are easily tested by experience and they ask only those questions which embrace contingencies. The answers either cannot be tested, or if proved by subsequent events to be erroneous permit an explanation of the error. In the last resort errors can always be explained by attributing them to mystical interference. But there is no need to suppose that the Zande is conscious of an evasion of clear issues. In restricting his questions to certain well-known types he is conforming to tradition. It does not occur to him to text the oracle experimentally unless he has grave suspicions about a particular packet of [oracle] poison.
 Martha Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 3-4.
 Richard J. Smith, Fortune-Tellers and Philosophers: Divination in Traditional Chinese Society (Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1991), 131.
 E.E. Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande [Abridged by Evan Giles] (London: Oxford University Press, 1976), 160-161.
Evans-Pritchard, E.E. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande [Abridged by Eva Giles]. London: Oxford University Press, 1976.
Nussbaum, Martha. The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Smith, Richard J. Fortune-Tellers and Philosophers: Divination in Traditional Chinese Society. Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1991.