Wednesday, 1 August 2012

On Seinfeld

There are lots of things one could say about Seinfeld, but I want to pick up on my thoughts on the Treaty of Utrecht and pigeon-holing.

There was an episode in which Jerry was very upset that a girl he had just begun dating wore the same outfit on the first two dates.  He and George developed elaborate theories to account for this (perhaps the laundry cycles had just worked out a certain way, etc.), all in the hopes of proving her normal, so that she wouldn’t have to be discarded as a weird Woman Who Always Wears the Same Outfit.

In fact, Jerry usually found something weird about the women he dated, the point being to escape commitment.  But here I am more interested in his drive to pigeon-hole, to deduce from some tiny piece of information something essential about another human being.  Or not just something essential, but the very essence.

How we must yearn to be able to know others, and know them quickly.  So we take one characteristic for the whole, as if the world was some giant synecdoche.  Or is it metonymy?  I always get those two mixed up.  In any case, as if one thing could stand for everything about some person – or city, in the case of Utrecht.

I once knew someone who, ironically, used to criticize essentialism; that is, he took the post-modernist approach of denying one can know the essence of anything.  That was in theory.  In practice, he was one to say of me after he’d known me a short while, Oh, he’s the one who wears brown (because I’d worn a brown outfit one day).

This struck me as painfully reductionist.  I was not just The Person Who Wears Brown.  (In any case, I more commonly wore blue, and was only wearing brown because someone else had once reproached me for always wearing blue.  It’s like the fable about crossing a stream with a mule; if you try to please everyone … but I digress.)

So we don’t like to be reduced, but how much we like reducing.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your last statement wholeheartedly. We often develop shortcuts that characterize people based on very little information. If a person is generally honest but tells a lie from time to time we are prone to reduce them to a liar, if a person is good at a sport, they are an athlete. It appears as if our consciousness has little room for complexity, even someone as broadly talented as DaVinci is merely labeled "an inventor".