In honor of the publication of his first book (Situations Matter), Sam Sommers presents his Top 7 List of Lessons about Human Nature offered by Seinfeld:
7. The Ubiquity of Social Norms. Seinfeld was a show about norms, not nothing. At its minutiae-focused best, the series was a 22-minute weekly discourse on the unwritten rules that guide social interaction: After how many dates are you obligated to break off a relationship in person? Which calls are too important to be made via cell phone? What's the appropriate way to dip a chip? And so on. …
6. We're Not Really Colorblind. … Much like the audience laughter after George spends an entire episode trying to prove to his African-American boss that he has Black friends, but then has the gall to tell someone else, “I don't see people in terms of color.” While Seinfeld admittedly focused for the most part on the mundane musings of upper/middle-class Whites, when it did touch on issues related to race and ethnicity, it could be unsparing in its portrayal of this demographic's misguided and embarrassing efforts to handle diverse settings.
5. We're Not Always Too Helpful, Either. … From George knocking down a grandmother in a walker to escape a house fire to Kramer, Jerry, and Elaine trying to force-feed crackers to a man who has passed out, the show's characters repeatedly epitomize humanity's ability to perform below expectation just when the stakes are the highest. While the series finale was panned by many, it was quite fitting that the last plotline of the show would hinge on the quartet's brazen indifference to a carjacking, once again focusing on the darker side of human nature.
4. Our Need to Know Why. … Much of the appeal of Seinfeld was that, each week, its characters shared our chronic need to ask why? In fact, they often took this curiosity about the human condition to an extreme, derailing conversations and ruining relationships in the name of getting to the bottom of the mundane social mysteries in their midst. As when Jerry spends an entire episode racking his brain trying to figure out why his otherwise dessert-receptive girlfriend, Audrey, wouldn't so much as sample the best apple pie in town on their previous date. Of course, as he learns first (ahem) hand, sometimes such questions are better left unanswered
3. Love can be More Mundane than Sublime. … Yes, the show's take on intimate relationships was cynical. But it also managed to capture the truism that mundane aspects of daily circumstance play a much greater role in attraction than we give them credit for. Like similarity (Jerry falls for a female version of himself). And familiarity (George grows on a date like an annoying commercial jingle). And the allure of forbidden love (George pretends to be the “bad boy”). Romantic? No. Faithful to the context-dependence of real-life attraction? Yeah, pretty much.
2. Who You are Shapes Who I am. … Seinfeld got this. A self-help show it most certainly was not, and it managed to convey the idea that we see ourselves differently when we're with different people. For evidence, look no further than George's famous “worlds colliding” monologue, in which he cites the different person he feels himself to be when with his buddies versus with his girlfriend.
1. Situations Matter. Simply put, time and time again, Seinfeld captured the conclusion that human nature is context-dependent. That how we think, feel, and act-indeed, who we are as people-varies by situation. And then it proceeded to squeeze every last bit of analysis and humor out of those situations.