Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It Has Been Scientifically Proven That Seinfeld is Poo

I am not a big fan of Seinfeld. I will not lie. I have always felt the show was a big pile of steaming poo on an otherwise perfectly clean doorstep. The show started in 1989 and ended in 1998, and has basically lived in rerun heaven ever since. In short, I’ve been accidentally stepping into this proverbially pile, whilst flipping through the channels on the boob tube, for almost twenty years. There’s something wrong with that—the way there’s something with wrong with spray on tans or polka dotted fabric.

But let’s get back to the point.

Why do I hate it so?

Well let’s start with the characters. I’ve taken the liberty of “borrowing” some Wikipedia summaries on each of the main character’s traits and story contributions. 

Let’s take a closer look.  

Jerry: Jerry is the show's central character, a stand-up comedian who is often seen as "the voice of reason" amid all the insanity generated by the people in his world. Plot lines often involve Jerry's romantic relationships; he typically finds small, silly reasons to stop dating women; in one episode, he breaks up with a woman because she eats her peas one at a time; in another, it is because, although a beautiful model, she has overly-large "man hands."

 George: George is Jerry's best friend since high school. He is cheap, dishonest, petty and often jealous of others' achievements. He is often portrayed as a loser who is insecure about his capabilities. He frequently complains and lies about his profession, relationship, and almost everything else, which usually creates trouble for him later. He often uses an alias ("Art Vandelay"), when lying or assuming a fake identity.

Kramer: Kramer is Jerry's "wacky neighbor" and friend. His trademarks include his humorous upright pompadour hairstyle, vintage clothing and his energetic sliding bursts through Jerry's apartment door. Elaine refers to him as a 'hipster doofus'. At times, he acts naive, dense, and almost child-like, yet randomly shows astonishing insight into human behavior.

Elaine: Elaine is intelligent and assertive, but superficial. She sometimes has a tendency to be very honest with people, which often gets her into trouble.  She often gets caught up in her boyfriends' habits, her eccentric employers' unusual demands, and the unkindness of total strangers.

What’s to like about these people? Their lives are experiments in human embarrassment. Not a single one of the show’s episodes could exist if the characters simply yielded to their more contentious, honest, compassionate selves.   Instead they live the most contrived and petty existences ever created for human entertainment. In short, they aggravate the hell out of me.

Now that I’ve explained my feelings, let the science be ushered into the argument. 

Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize winning film critic, recently wrote in an online article the following:

Studies have indicated that Elevation, [a term used to describe elevated levels of emotional and intellectual stimulation and its consequential neural chemical releases], is triggered by the stimulus of our vagus nerve, described by Wikipedia as the only nerve that starts in the brainstem and extends down below the head, to the neck, chest and abdomen, where it contributes to the innervations of the viscera. It must be involved in what we call "visceral feelings," defined as "relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect."

The vagus nerve would certainly account for what I feel, which is as much physical as mental. For years, when asked "how do you know a movie is great?" I've had the same reply: I feel a tingling in my spine. People look at me blankly. I explain that I feel an actual physical sensation that does not depend on the abstract quality of the movie, but on--well, my visceral feelings.

Yoffe writes: "In his forthcoming book Born To Be Good, Keltner writes that he believes when we experience transcendence, it stimulates our vagus nerve, causing 'a feeling of spreading, liquid warmth in the chest and a lump in the throat'." Yes, that's what I feel. Does it sound familiar to you? Jonathan Haidt devised a fascinating study at the University of Virginia, described by Yoffe:

Since it's tricky to study the vagus nerve, [Haidt] and a psychology student conceived of a way to look at it indirectly. The vagus nerve works with oxytocin, the hormone of connection. Since oxytocin is released during breast-feeding, he and the student brought in 42 lactating women and had them watch either an inspiring clip from The Oprah Winfrey Show about a gang member saved from a life of violence by a teacher or an amusing bit from a Jerry Seinfeld routine.

About half the Oprah-watching mothers either leaked milk into nursing pads or nursed their babies following the viewing; none of the Seinfeld watchers felt enough breast dilation to wet a pad, and fewer than 15 percent of them nursed.

What does all of that mean, anyway? Well, it means that something I have always known has finally been scientifically proven. Seinfeld is Poo.

1 comment:

Marissa and Scott Bunker said...

Wow!! That was a very well thought out dissertation on Seinfeld. Thank you for writing what I've always deep down known, thanks to my vagus nerve.