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] Commitment RF|
Automobile as self. Automobile as extension of self. These are just a few ideas that this week's episode calls to mind in Seinfeld Ethnography. Since at least the 1920s, a major thread in advertising and popular culture has been "a man and his car." I have emphasized, for a reason, the highly gendered nature of this image. I make a point of it because it seemed (when I was growing up; it is different now, I think) that I was one of the few young men who just wasn't very interested in cars, except to get from place-to-place.
This would be a kind of four-wheel sacrilege for generations born before 1960. In the old days, it was "women" who were thought to lack interest in cars. "Men" loved cars...and baseball. If you are a younger reader of Round and Square, you may think I exaggerate. Talk to your elders...or study some American cultural history—or rummage around in the attic. Seriously. I say that not to be rude, but rather to point out how much the world has changed in some of these respects. I remember finding, in my grandparents' home, a little volume (from the late-1940s) entitled A Wife's Guide to Baseball. The introduction explained that women would never be especially close to their husbands or sons if they could not understand baseball. The message was that they needed to adapt. This raised my "feminist hackles" even as a child.
All of this is different today, of course, and there is no distinction at all between men and women when it comes to cars and sports, right? Right?
The only thing I find fascinating and different about today is that all of these themes cut across and through gender lines. We have men who don't care much about cars (Jerry, moi), women who care passionately about them (Danica Patrick is only one example), and all sorts of gradations from there. There are men who don't know the difference between a shortstop and a rest stop, and women who can rattle off Derek Jeter's career fielding percentage.
All of this leads me to motor oil and gendered confusion. You see, Jerry just isn't that into his car, and it shows. Depending on how into your car you are, you may recognize just a little bit of yourself in either Jerry ("how much money is this going to cost me?") or someone you know from Everybody Loves Raymond ("I don't understand you").
The washer fluid is not fine!
|[c] Social energy RF|
Yup, you betcha.
Let's do some reading that will stifle a little of the joy of thinking about television comedy segments. Let's break the fun (as we do every week on Argonauts) with dry, academic discourse! Remember, as always, that the theoretical readings are meant to be juxtaposed with—or even read against the grain of—the Seinfeld clip. Georg Simmel and George Herbert Mead play upon various aspects of individuality. Paul Ricoeur helps us to think about conceptual challenges in dealing with earlier historical periods (such as times when "man" and "car" were intertwined, and women "didn't understand" baseball).
All three have ways of leading us toward new questions about individuality, relationships, and...motor oil.
Conflict in Intimate Relations
The inverse phenomenon shows the same form: the deepest hatred grows out of broken love. Here, however, not only the sense of discrimination is decisive but also the denial of one's own past—a denial involved in such a change of feeling. To have to recognize that a deep love—and not only a sexual love—was an error, a failure of intuition (Instinkt), so compromises us before ourselves, so splits the security and unity of our self-conception, that we unavoidably make the object of this intolerable feeling pay for it. We cover our secret awareness of our own responsibility for it by hatred which makes it easy for us to pass all responsibility on to the other.
George Herbert Mead
The Fusion of the "I" and the "Me" in Social Activities
|[e] Mead by Cook|
It is a different and perhaps higher attitude of identification that comes from working with others in a certain situation. There is, of course, still a sense of control; after all, what one does is determined by what other persons are doing; one has to be keenly aware of the positions of all the others; he knows what the others are going to do. But he has to be constantly awake to the way in which other people are responding in order to do his part in the team work. That situation has its delight, but it is not a situation in which one simply throws himself, so to speak, into the stream where he can get a sense of abandonment. That experience belongs to the religious or patriotic situation. Team work carries, however, a content which the other does not carry. The religious situation is abstract as far as the content is concerned. How one is to help others is a very complicated undertaking. One who undertakes to be a universal help to others is apt to find himself a universal nuisance. There is no more distressing person to have about than one who is constantly seeking to assist everybody else...The sense of team work is found where all are working toward a common end and everyone has a sense of the common end interpenetrating the particular function which he is carrying on.
The Historian's Craft and the Objectivity of History
We should be grateful to Marc Bloch for initially using the word "analysis," instead of "synthesis," to designate the historian's activity of trying to explain. He is ever so right in maintaining that the historian's task is not to restore things "such as they happened." For history's ambition is not to bring the past back to life but to recompose and reconstruct, that is to say, to compose and construct a retrospective sequence...
Understanding is therefore not the opposition of explanation; on the contrary, it is its complement and counterpart. It bears the mark of the analysis or the analyses which made it possible. And it retains this mark to the end; the consciousness of an era, which the historian tries to reconstruct within his most far-reaching synthesis, is nourished by all the interactions and varied relations he has won through analysis. The full historical fact, the "integral past," is properly an Idea in the Kantian sense, that is to say, the never attained limit of an ever more extensive and complex effort to integrate. The notion of the "integral past" is the regulative idea of that effort...
No "master conception," moreover can encompass the whole of history. An epoch is still a product of analysis. History will never propose to our understanding anything more than "total parts" (in the words of Leibniz), that is, "analytic synthesis" (which is a bold expression from Kant's "Transcendental Deduction"). And so history is thoroughly faithful to its etymology: it is a "research," [historia]. It is not an anxious interrogation on our discouraging historicity, on our way to living and sliding along in time, but rather a reply to this "historical" condition—a reply through the choice of history, through the choice of a certain knowledge, of a will to understand rationally, to build what Fustel de Coulanges called the "science of human societies" and what March Bloch has called a "rational enterprise of analysis."
 Georg Simmel, On Individuality and Social Forms (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 92-93
 George Herbert Mead, Mind, Self, and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934), 275-276
 Paul Ricoeur, History and Truth (Evanston IL: Northwestern University Press, 1965), 22-25.
Mead, George Herbert. Mind, Self, and Society [Edited by Charles W. Morris]. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934.
Ricoeur, Paul. History and Truth [Translated by Charles A. Kelby]. Evanston IL: Northwestern University Press, 1965.
Simmel, Georg. On Individuality and Social Forms [Edited by Donald L. Levine]. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971.
Where's that? Petula Clark, George, and Jerry team up to explore memory, commerce, and geography on Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.