Monday, May 21, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 4, Episode 13 - The Pick

“The Pick”

First Script Read: Friday, November 13, 1992
Filmed: Tuesday, November 17, 1992
Aired: 9:00 pm, December 16, 1992
Nielsen rating: 12.5
Audience share: 19
Directed: Tom Cherones
Writer: Larry David and Marc Jaffe (Also co-wrote season three’s “The Limo” with Larry Charles and “The Bookstore” from the final season.)

Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld are both Jewish, and the comedy style of Seinfeld has been described as Jewish. When American comedy is described as "New York-centric," as Seinfeld was (fairly) labeled, the subtext is often that it is "Jewish." The vice versa is also true. This isn't a completely problematic stereotype, as New York has been a center of American popular culture for two hundred years, and for at least half of that period Jews have been disproportionately successful as entertainers, particularly, though not exclusively, in comedy. Certainly Seinfeld, as well as much of the bodies of work created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, is influenced either explicitly or indirectly by entertainers from Woody Allen to the Marx Brothers to Mel Brooks, and so on.

Unlike Woody Allen's film persona, Jerry Seinfeld's character's Jewishness is understated. It is barely a part of his identity, and not a guiding system for his behavior at all. (It comes up most notably in season eight's "The Yada Yada" when he accuses dentist Dr. Whatley of converting to Judaism for the jokes. Significantly, Jerry is not offended as a Jew, but as a comedian.) George, based on Larry David, might also be expected to be Jewish. Jason Alexander says he initially played George as an impression of Woody Allen before coming to understand the character through the real Larry David. However, George is never specifically identified as Jewish, and he was almost certainly not raised Jewish. Season nine's "The Strike" reveals George's father's created religious holiday, Festivus. George's father's family is from Tuscany, Italy, which would most likely make their family background Catholic. As for Kramer, who knows? His non-conformist, anti-establishment positions would make an anti-religious worldview unsurprising.

Elaine is not Jewish, either by religious choice or ethnic heritage. Like the other characters, religion plays no discernible part in either her self-identity or her moral code. She does date at least two Christians whom are seen as substantially more religious than her. There is David Puddy, who has a "Jesus fish" on his car and listens to a Christian radio station (as revealed in season nine's "The Burning"), and Fred, her boyfriend in this episode:

JERRY: What are you doing [tonight]?
ELAINE: Date with Fred.
JERRY: The religious guy?
ELAINE: He's not THAT religious.
JERRY: Let us pray.

There are other clues in this episode that hint at Elaine's religious upbringing. With Kramer's photographic assistance, Elaine sends out Christmas cards. After discovering her that her nipple is showing in the Christmas card photo, she frantically rattles off a list of people that now have an inadvertently intimate photo of her breast. Besides not-THAT-religious Fred, there is Sister Mary Catherine and Father Chelios. So it's a safe bet Elaine was raised Catholic, although by "The Burning" she has ceased believing in hell, if she ever did before.

She is also willing to do charity work through a church, although in this case it seems likely to have been arranged by not-THAT-religious Fred:

ELAINE: Anyway so Fred and I are going to do some volunteer work for that church on Amsterdam.
JERRY: Oh, volunteer work! See that's what I like about the holiday season. That's the true spirit of Christmas. People being helped by people other than me. That makes me feel good inside.

Jerry, George, and Elaine are all concerned about how the world sees them. However, this other-directedness manifests itself in different ways for each character. Jerry and George are uninterested in doing any substantial charity work unless they would get some tangible benefit (i.e. sex) from the act. For example, Jerry donated to the Krakatoa volcano relief fund to impress Elaine when they were dating (see "The Truth"). The closest Jerry comes to selfless aid for another human being is his ultimately failed attempts to help Baboo, the Pakistani restauranteur ("The Cafe" and "The Visa," two episodes after this one). Certainly Elaine is coaxed by her boyfriend, not-THAT-religious Fred, but her attitude about service reflects the ego-feeding pride she takes in her action. It is fair to say Elaine is more concerned than Jerry and George with what charity work does for the way others perceive her.

Jerry's attitude towards Elaine's charity work reflects Seinfeld's general cynicism. Jerry recognizes that there are disadvantaged people in the world worthy of receiving aid, but he is most satisfied when he knows someone else is bothering to do the legwork. His conscience isn't completely clean, but it is assuaged enough for him to stay focused on his own desires.

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