July 23, 2007

Seinfeld as the natural successor to dialectical materialism

It's my blog, and sometimes the urge to bloog (TM pending) can be irresistible. Writing about Larry David yesterday reminded me that while I don't have access to White House insiders, I probably know as much about Seinfeld as any man living, even including its creators, who are hobbled by their own lack of objectivity. And with Bush's popularity at 25% (new poll today), and with the Congress recalcitrant but ineffective, nothing much new can happen in American politics unless and until (a) Bush & Co. stage a coup, following a terrorist strike (real or contrived), using one of a number of "Continuation of Government" Executive Orders which they've been issuing at a disturbing rate lately, or (b) some cataclysmic event occurs in Iraq which fundamentally alters the picture there. The latter seems unlikely, the former about 50/50.

But back to blooging. Karl Marx's reputation suffers from the cruel perversion of his social theories at the hands of Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. That's actually a shame, although if you read Sigmund Freud's last two major works (Civilization and Its Discontents and The Future of an Illusion), you will note that the Viennese wizard was under no illusions about the ultimate fate of Karl's pie-in-the-sky ideas. They were doomed to fail, because humans just are not like that. At the mass level, they don't share. They don't give up what's theirs so the unknown and unseen can prosper, or at least survive. Humans, as Orwell showed in Animal Farm, are pigs, only without the ameliorating sense of humor. So what is the antidote to the necessary barbarities of pure capitalism? An enlightened government which constrains and softens it. So that, as in 21st Century America, when government is denigrated and free capitalism is allowed to run amok, society turns harsh and oppressive. Don't Bush & Co. see this? Do they really believe all this shit about the beneficial action of the "free market?" The answer comes in two parts: (1) Yes, they see it. And (2) they don't care.

I contend that one finds one's modern social theories where they are most effectively presented, regardless of the medium, and that the precursor to American narcissism can be found in the 9 seasons of Seinfeld, the brainchild of Respondent (in David vs. David) Larry David and his co-creator, Jerry Seinfeld. There are reasons that this sitcom occupies a unique niche in the annals of television. There was never anything like it before and nothing will quite ever match it again. Don't bore me with comparisons to The Sopranos or to Friends, which was, after all, simply a derivative for dumb people. No, Seinfeld was the genuine article. It presented American society in that period which Francis Fukuyama described as The End of History (his seminal work written before he succumbed to neoconservativism and became known on liberal blogs as Fukyomama). Francis (noted social theorist at Johns-Hopkins) correctly descried in the flow of history the complete abdication of Marxism, yielding pride of place to what Marx called Das Kapital, and the negation of the idea that the class struggle through dialectical materialism was going to produce a workers' paradise as just so much woolgathering nonsense. Not a bad sentence, huh? That's blooging for you.

So America during the Nineties, during the Seinfeld era, slipped irrevocably into the postmodern, post-ethical, post-moral, post-religious, post-post era of...being about nothing. America itself became about nothing. It's why it looks the way it does now. Laugh if you will. Indeed, that's the whole idea. Jerry, George, Elaine & Kramer. No spouses, no careers to speak of, no intellectual content, no sincere emotions, no caring, no children -- the whole animating idea behind their lives was to seek amusement and diversion, using other people primarily for this purpose. Their ideational content, as expressed in dialogue, was derived solely from pop culture, mainly old television series and comic books. Deep emotions were to be avoided at all costs, as maudlin and bummer-producing. The Bushian government is simply the dark side of what such emotional attitudes look like when played out on the stage of national policy, a culture of profound, even determined, superficiality. The religious backlash is simply a reaction to this inexorable cultural movement. It will not succeed.

These cultural attitudes explain why Hurricane Katrina's chief characteristic was simply its news value. In general, no one really cared what was happening. Certainly not Bush's government. For most Americans, 9-11 is a series of images, of the World Trade Center collapsing under its own weight. The main anxiety was, and is: what effect will an attack like this have on the stock market? Are people going to overreact?

Were it not for these macro-nugatories, the Seinfeld lifestyle would have much to commend it. Life can indeed be joyous when the lightness is almost unbearable. Unfortunately, humans have never been very good at noting that point when something becomes too much of a good thing. They're apt to carry it right over the brink, as I think we'll discover in the next decade or so.

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