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Seinfeld Episodes Wax Philosophical

More than just a hit comedy sitcom, Seinfeld episodes were filled with existential philosophies and human behavioral insight.

By Claire EvansPublished 8 years ago 20 min read

Seinfeld, the defining 30-minute sitcom that dominated the entire decade of 1990s entertainment, was the brainchild of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David. For over a quarter of century, many viewers remain consumed and entertained by this masterpiece of television production. More than just a comedy, the show reflected a new found appreciation for philosophical musings and existentialism. The characters have become pop culture icons immortalized with bobble heads and Funko Vinyl Idol action figure. For some, Jerry Seinfeld was a spiritual guide preaching through observational humor. For others, it was a sociological study of religious stereotypes and codecs. For a small group of existential intellectual highbrows it was an academic study characterizing the philosophical and anthropological identity of the 1990s. This small group of Ivory Tower Mensa Members live in their Upper East Side Manhattan apartments with their German made cars parked below in the garage, looking over the park at what appears to be a different species populating the Upper West Side. These New York west siders are best kept to their 60 square block enclave. When they stray beyond their territory to the Garden State Mall in Paramus, NJ, they enter the Twilight Zone. "The Parking Garage" is perhaps one the of the top Seinfeld episodes ever. Jerry Seinfeld, Elaine Benes, George Costanza, and Cosmo Kramer find themselves in a deep existential dilemma – one of the many.

In the J.G. Ballard story, "Report on An Unidentified Space Station," a crew of travelers discover what appears to be an abandoned space station hanging in the void. The station is small, too insignificant to appear on their charts, and has an unusually strong gravitational mass. Their own ship being kaput, they decide to board the station and explore.

They set out across the central passenger concourse which separates the two hemispheres of the station, and quickly discover that it leads to a far vaster expanse of lounges and promenades. There is no life to be seen. Thousands of empty chairs line the concourses. The travelers surmise this station must have once been a popular transit facility, hosting interstellar passengers alighting on their way to other corners of the cosmos.

As the travelers continue their survey, however, they find that this next concourse is connected to far greater concourses still. Members of the crew, dispatched to explore different floors, never return. They begin to throw furniture down the elevator shafts – but no sound bounces back. They file surveys, each entry reassessing the estimated size of the space station by an order of magnitude. "Our voices echo away into a bottomless pit," they report. As they soldier on, coming across only a monotonous landscape of elevators and terminals, they begin to lose hope. "Is the entire universe," they ask, "no more than an infinitely vast space terminal?"

By the end of the story, the travelers have discovered that the station is—at least effectively—infinite. They are long since lost, and they will never reach its end. In time, not only do they come to accept the station's improbable existence, but understand that the entire universe lies, in fact, within the many "vast lacunae set in its endlessly curving walls." The journey becomes a pilgrimage:

The station is coeval with the cosmos, and constitutes the cosmos. Our duty is to travel across it on a journey whose departure point we have already begun to forget, and whoses destination is the station itself, every floor and concourse within it.So we move on, sustained by our faith in the station, aware that every step we take thereby allows us to reach a small part of that destination. By its existence the station sustains us, and gives our lives their only meaning. We are so glad that in return we have begun to worship the station.

The Parking Garage - Season 3 Episode 6

The writer China Miéville referred to this science fiction trope, and particularly J.G. Ballard's uncanny aptitude for it, as the "pornography of infinity." Miéville posits a lineage for "Report on An Unidentified Space Station" which includes H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, and Olaf Stapledon, writers who have counterposed "the vasty deeps of the universe, the interplanetary sublime, with a specklike human subjectivity to produce a by-now rather well-worn satori of unconvincing humility." I would argue, rather, that if the tradition has origins anywhere, it can be more groovily traced back to Jorge Luis Borges, with his infinite libraries and maps-becoming-territory. But I digress.

I found myself, last night, watching an episode of Seinfeld called "The Parking Garage." It's one of the series' elusive "bottle episodes," which, like the show's canonical The Chinese Restaurant, transpire entirely in one confined space. In this case, the bottle is the parking garage of a New Jersey mall.

"Getting lost in a parking garage" is a predictable shtick in the observational humor of 90s pop culture. And yet, Seinfeld being what it is, "The Parking Garage" directed by Tom Cherones, is weirdly and specifically existential. Elaine carries a bag of goldfish which slowly die over the course of the hours wasted aimlessly searching for Kramer's parked car over the identical levels of the structure, which blooms into a disproportionate vastness as they wander. The elevators all look the same. At one point, having mysteriously lost Jerry to a lower level of the garage, George exclaims, with a keening exasperation which verges on the desperate, "it's like a science fiction story!"

The more I reflect on "The Parking Garage," the more it evokes a specifically Ballardian nightmare: The pornography of infinity, somehow contained within a New Jersey mall.

"The Parking Garage" was shot, like almost every episode of Seinfeld, on the same Studio City soundstage that normally contained Jerry's apartment. The set was small, but the garage was meant to appear infinite, and so each shot in the episode was a different angle on the same set. It was the first Seinfeld episode shot without a studio audience. The production employed mirrors, lined around the perimeters of the soundstage, to give the illusion of space. In some scenes, the mirrors bend and distort the concrete pillars of the garage, creating pockets of the surreal. Eagle-eyed Internet Seinfeld fanatics have taken the episode apart, finding M.C. Escher-esque continuity errors: cameras reflected in parked cars, and even the cast itself accidentally reflected twice in the same shot. It's enough to conjure a quantum (or Bizarro) Seinfeld universe to mind, one where the characters are still refracted in mirrors, trapped in this concrete prison for all eternity.

Indeed, the more I reflect on The Parking Garage, the more it evokes a specifically Ballardian nightmare: this so-called pornography of infinity, contained within a New Jersey mall. Like the Unidentified Space Station, which conceals, from the outside, its magnificent vastness, The Parking Garage becomes its own world, a replacement—literally, since they broke the apartment set down to build the mirror-garage—for the comfortable parameters of Jerry Seinfeld's ordinary world. It seems to have its own mores; Elaine, desperately seeking a stranger to drive them around the lot and help find the car, only comes into contact with indifference and aggression. No one will help, because on some level no one here is real.

Ballard was a writer acutely cued to his own personal obsessions: time, urbanity, our inherent psychosexual affinity for technology and destruction. One of his most significant tics was the conflation of certain spaces with the entire universe. For example, his novel Concrete Island takes place entirely in a highway median; High-Riseis a Lord of the Flies isolated to a single apartment building; in "The Enormous Space," a man's refusal to leave his suburban house becomes a psychosis in which the house seems to contain all of reality. Ballard thought of his obsessions as “extreme metaphors waiting to be born,” and understood his private vocabulary of symbols as the iceberg tip of his subconscious. Anyway, keyed as we all are to our ownobsessions, we’re each prone to reading Ballard (and Seinfeld) differently.

As much as I love Larry David, I doubt that his script for this episode is a knowing riff on anything in J.G. Ballard's canon. Regardless, "The Parking Garage" calls forth the precise cocktail of anxieties Ballard traded in: repetitive and abandoned landscapes, pathological detachment from other people, and an alienation from architecture and cities so vertiginous that it becomes impossible to distinguish from transcendence. This may be a testament to Ballard's penetrating insight—"we are all post-Ballard now," Mieville writes—or it may be the natural evolution of our relationship to the modern world; where, in the 60s, being trapped in a high-rise, featureless concourse, or concrete island may have articulated a societal unease about the isolating effects of urban development, by the 1990s the whole thing was just funny.

J.G. Ballard was one of a handful of science-fiction writers in the 1960s' New Wave who argued that the future of fiction lies not outward, but inward. While the other New Wavers ported the psychosymbiotic mystery of the LSD experience into their tales of “inner space,” Ballard’s work isn’t druggy at all. Instead, it's a mirror wrapped around the mundanity of modern existence, reflecting and refracting and otherwise jumbling the everyday into something not altogether unfamiliar to the Seinfeld universe: a Show About Nothing.

Seinfeld ran for nine years from 1989 to 1998 on NBC. Set mostly in an apartment building in Manhattan and surrounding tri-state locations but actually filmed in LA, the show explored life's amusing quirks from dating rituals to physical disabilities. From taboo topics to hilarious vices Seinfeld dared to go where no sitcom had gone before.

The Deal - Season 2 - Episode 13

Seinfeld's episode of "The Deal" directed by Tom Cherones, is an influential and vastly relatable episode in the sitcom of Jerry Seinfeld and his 3 friends who have different ideologies on life and love. They demonstrates how cultural norms for dating and relationships are run by a set guideline, rules to be followed, the idea of having to set terms and limiting any sort of human connection based on being judged or to avoid negative situations. Seinfeld is known to be "a show about nothing" that at the same time sheds light onto everyday life situations; how humans' thinking process is controlled by our societies pressures create limitations on human connections and interactions.

The philosophy of love and lust is one that has been pondered for quite some time. Seinfeld demonstrates in their last episode of the season that it is in fact not possible to both be friends with someone and also be sexually active with them separately without problems occurring. One attempt at pulling this off were the rules that Jerry and Elaine set to try to achieve having both "this", their current strong friendship and also having "that", the sexual part of their relationship in the bedroom. Their rules that they set in place and agreed upon are: No calls the following day, spending the night is optional (no reason sex and sleeping should be associated together), kiss goodnight is bourgeois thus not needed. The views on having 'friends with benefits' has evolved a great deal since Seinfeld but since the beginning of time we as human want to have and eat our cake too. If there is chemistry with people in the form of a friendship over time there becomes a sense of trust between people, sometimes ending with that trust leading to sex which can often times complicate both aspects of the relationship. With Jerry and Elaine, their 'benefit aspect of their relationship was displayed for their friends to comment and reflect on such as Kramer coming in for the morning paper and Elaine choosing to show her self, clearly after spending the night in the way she was dressed with Jerry's dress shirt from the previous night.

There is the topic of sex in our daily lives from media, human instinct, technology, attractive people in public as a reminder of desires. Society gives the illusion of love such a desirable and great achievement where in reality Love is a being best friends with someone and being able to have sex with them, opening each others soul, body and mind. The way in which significant others and dating is represented in Seinfeld is almost as if any relationship can have one negative aspect that could ruin the whole connection with that person. As a society we love to gossip and hear about certain moments in vivid detail to attempt to live that situation as much as possible with imagery and the 'dirty details'. The way in which Jerry ended up telling George, his best friend, about the happenings between him and Elaine was while they were casually having lunch at the coffee shop together. He brought up the topic followed by stating that he can't give details, almost as if he wanted to be asked every last details. He and Elaine were flipping around the TV and got to the 'naked channel', followed by this was the topic of conversation of "what if we had sex" between the two friends. Hearing this news of the recent sexual connection and agreement by his two good friends he was excited to hear all about it. George disagrees to Jerry's comment that we are "getting too mature for details". Humans see casual sex to be related with casual conversation and this demeans the friendship and physical connection between both people. By creating labels between people we essentially create a divide and restrict the relationship from reaching full growing potential. The concept of Kiss & Tell is something that Seinfeld thrives upon and sharing every detail between this group of close knit friends.

We think that there is a relationship on how much money we spend on something we give someone we care about and how much we care about them in relation to how much we spend while showing this. A substantial portion of the agreement between the two that affected how the two of them should conduct themselves while in the new terms of their relationship. This goes to show how once sex is introduced into the equation we as humans conduct ourselves in a different manor. When Jerry needed to buy a gift for Elaine's birthday he found himself in a moral predicament while he was also buying a gift for a friend, but because they were also having sex together he had to eliminate any gift ideas that may enter a sort of grey area in their set boundaries. He decided that giving her cash was the most neutral and safe situation, where as if he was not also in a physical relationship together he would have put more thought into the gift. He gave her $181 in cash, because of this George gave her half of that amount in cash because he was told to give anything of half the value of what Jerry got her. This made him have a neutral and thoughtless gift by association to Jerry. Kramer had got her the bench that she really wanted and this made both Jerry's and Georges relationship with their friend Elaine seem irrelevant and as common as cash. Even the card that Jerry had given her was generic and called her a "Pal", which questions and puts a restriction on even the label set between relationships in our society. Society has implemented an unwritten set of rules that people must follow to seem acceptable when dating or having sex with someone, the fact that these things have become a part of our daily lives and most don't even notice it is sad.

When the basis of a show is to everyday interactions and problems that occur between people, it is easy to relate these aspects into how the majority of people think and see love. If Seinfeld is really a show about nothing, our mundane and routine lives are really 'nothing', it is what we make of it, although for some reason we limit ourselves to what our personal NOTHING can be to us. In a world that is so judgmental and other people's opinions affects our decisions and ideologies about love and life. In this season finale episode of Seinfeld, it was demonstrated that even though many have tried, keeping a friendship and sexual relationship between existing friends is near impossible because of the taboo to the act of sex and views enforced by society of what a relationship can and cannot entail.

Bubble Boy - Season 4 - Episode 7

In Seinfeld's episode of "The Bubble Boy" written by Larry David, Jerry promised to visit a "Bubble Boy" with an illness on the weekend they were going to George's girlfriend Susan's cabin with everyone. How technology is like an invisible bubble we limit our human connection and use it to filter who we interact with is a stressed upon topic in Seinfeld. We have a blind eye to the mental illness and physical disabilities in our society because of what appears to be the norm in society. A simple game of "Trivial Pursuit" finished with George getting in a physical altercation with a kid who has a contagious virus, which makes him have to live in a plastic bubble, especially having this done on his birthday. While all this was happening and Jerry and Elaine were at a nearby restaurant unable to find the birthday boys house because they didn't have the directions and Kramer had went to the cabin without anyones permission and the episode ended by Kramer unknowingly burning down Susan's cabin with one of her fathers own cigars which George had re-gifted to Kramer. The term re-gifted was in fact made popular by this 90's sitcom Seinfeld and refers to giving a gift that one has received to somebody else.

In the beginning skit of the episode Jerry does a comedy skit about how people communicate by telephone and prefer to get the answering machine rather than speak to someone directly. He refers to how two people hate each other but the answering machine keeps the marginal relationship alive. We would rather speak to a recording machine than actually interact with another human. This goes to show how we think that the quicker the interaction with someone we don't like is over the easier it will be. Our society is getting divided by the comfort of technology. When it should be used to connect people it is really being used to divide and isolate. The answering machine is also a symbolic topic because while Jerry has a date over whom has a rather annoying laugh and plays his answering machine, George had left a message that made fun of her laugh in a hurtful way. This lead for them to break up because of this and there was no way Jerry could smooth things over. The philosophy that we will only speak of the truth depending on who will be listening to it, bending and shaping the truth to be something that it isn't.

The term "bubble boy" that is given to the ill child who's dad wanted Jerry to visit is a dehumanizing way to refer to someone with such a rare disease by his own father. His name is not relevant. The virus is not applicable. It's the plastic bubble he is closed off in that defines who he is. There are many people who put a label on a person and the one negative aspect or characteristic is the focus of that label instead of who they are as a person before what their disability is. There was a need to give attention to someone who is must live in a bubble, separated from the real world because of this handicap and no one really considers that it is everyone that lives in a bubble, trying to ignore anything that we don't like in our cruel world. George tells his girlfriend Susan that he does not want to enter to see the "The Bubble Boy" because he does not do well in these types of situations, this was proven later when he ended up having a fight over a misprint on an answer of "Trivial Pursuit". Being different in any type of way is a disadvantage because people see it as abnormal therefor must be negative and not a hurdle that can be overcome. The "Bubble Boy" was in fact very rude and disrespectful to both his parents, George and his girlfriend whom the boy had asked to take off her shirt when hey were first introduced. Do we as a society let people with disabilities have certain rights that we would not let slide for someone without them because of their disability? Seinfeld demonstrates that even though the treatment is special to someone with special needs, it is not always the right kind of treatment.

When speaking about mental illness and also physical disadvantages Kramer is a key character in demonstrating the uniqueness in peoples characters that differ them from the steady line of what it is to be normal in public or in general. Kramer seems to be not all there, but really he is one of the more real characters in the show. He often tries to be of some help to anyone, friendly and also tried to help his friends do the same but may fall short in some instances. He is rather indifferent and does not stress the small things in life, which is probably how we should all be in this day and age. The reason that some characters and viewers do not like the rather obscene characteristics of Cosmo Kramer is that he is very honest and blunt as well. He does not see the bad in people or situations therefor comments and acts on them as if we live in a perfect world. Kramer burning the cabin down with one of his cigars show how sporadic and improvised his personality is. His attention can be taken away for an instant, leading to a catastrophe, just like those actions of a child almost.

The way in which everyone in this episode, including the father of "The Bubble Boy" see this illness as such a big disadvantage but really the kid didn't even get a proper birthday, is always referred to as his disability or his medical precaution of being placed in a bubble. The question we should raise is, is the world trying to stay clear of his virus or is he trying to stay away from the virus in which is this world? Wether it be a physical condition, mental problem or just something that is different about someone, Seinfeld shows that anything different about someone is really just material to be able to make fun of them or a joke on their disadvantages. Nothing was off the table when it came to Seinfeld. Not physical disabilities or even the hypocrisy of America's favorite holiday, Christmas.

The Strike - Season 9 - Episode 10

Seinfeld's episode of "The Strike" directed by Andy Ackerman, was famous for Frank's (George's father) made up holiday called 'Festivus' to get away from the commercial and religious aspects of Christmas and is celebrated on December 23rd. During Festivus, the traditional Christmas tree is replaced by an aluminum pole. The simplicity of a pole with no decorations makes a direct contrast to materialism used in Seinfeld and all holidays around the world. We associate holidays around gift, money, and a time of giving. When the show is about 'nothing', we can can't help to think that holidays are also nothing. Why should Festivus be any more special than another holiday or is the whole point that it isn't special and just a hallmark holiday for those who chose to believe in whichever story.

The second part of this holiday is the "Airing of Grievances" which is how you tell everyone how much they have disappointed you in the past year, followed by Festivus dinner. The last part of Festivus includes "Feats of Strength", which is a custom that the head of the household must be physically pinned in a fight between them and another Festivus participant. This episode of Seinfeld makes several points to how people value money and things of monetary value more than experiences, happiness, family and friends. Families come together during holidays to show their love for one another and get gifts to demonstrate this also. If there were not gifts, no fancy dinners or themed parties how many people would still celebrate a holiday. The fact that Frank's holiday is looked at as crazy is ironic because there are people who don't believe in religion and the holidays associated with them just as crazy and made up as Festivus.

While opening his mail at the coffee shop, George gets a Christmas gift of a donation made in his name to a charity. He is outraged at this and the concept that someone else gets a gift that he deserved. The way the holidays are perceived by people that we are being thankful for what we have in our lives by adding more materialistic or things of monetary value is absurd. The act of giving is done in a selfish manor which defeats the purpose and thought behind it. George gets an idea to make up a charity and give cards to all his coworkers stating he had donated money to the Human Fund, the charities slogan read: "money for people". Realistically all money is for people, it is also created by people. Charities are type of business and George saw the potential in this but with this greed he also got caught when his boss gave him a check for twenty thousand dollars made out to the Human Fund. When he gets caught he invites his boss to Festivus dinner to show that the reason why he gave 'fake' christmas gifts was because they are not in line with his personal beliefs. George is the perfect example of how holidays are not only commercial but for someone who is as cheap as him, it is a burden. No matter what time of the year you should be happy if a charity receives donations, but then we would have to consider if Seinfeld was trying to demonstrate that all charities are really a business and business's cant survive without a need for them.

It was also in this episode that Seinfeld revealed why Kramer had not had a job for the last 12 years was because he was on strike from H&H Bagels ended so he went back to work. No one else had come back from the strike besides Kramer. Seinfeld incorporated this story line the entire series until this point. He had got hired back at the shop just for the holidays, this also shows how holidays are a business because business rises and sales increase during these times no matter what line of work you are in. Kramer does not even care that he is working for minimum wage at the bagel shop in current times because he is proud to be working. As he stated to Jerry, the reason why he hid the fact he wasn't working for this long was because he was embarrassed. Kramer is the person that gives the least value to materialistic things or the thought of always needing to have money to be happy and do things that bring joy to others.

The ideology that money and holidays go together is one our society won't seem to let go because of religion and media influence of what a holiday is. Seinfeld is a show that revolves around nothing but ordinary lives of people and their relationship with each other and the world. None of the characters are very religious even though they may be from different religions, celebrate different holidays or even made up ones like Festivus, not to say they all aren't just that, made up. Holidays are what we make them to be, Frank is not crazy for having wanting to celebrate something he believes in rather than what he was told to believe in. It is for this reason that Kramer took so much interest in Festivus.

Although Kramer succumbs to the allure of Festivus almost to the end, eventually he sees Frank's holiday as quite crazy. A brief moment of lucidity by the craziest character on the show. Kramer's question begs, aren't all holidays crazy when we really think about it? Isn't life filled with crazy things? Seinfeld loved pointing them out and we loved listening. The sitcom remains a timeless favorite of the late 20th century, and a philosophical favorite amongst the intellectual elite of television history.

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About the Creator

Claire Evans

Claire L. Evans is the lead singer of the pop duo YACHT. She lives in Los Angeles.

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    Claire EvansWritten by Claire Evans

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