Monday, May 14, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 4, Episode 9 - The Opera

“The Opera”

First Script Read: September 30, 1992
Filmed: Tuesday, October 6, 1992
Aired: 9:00 pm, Wednesday, November 4, 1992
Nielsen rating: 12
Audience share: 18
Directed: Tom Cherones
Writer: Larry Charles

Jerry Seinfeld, both the real person and the television character, is unimpressed by highbrow distinctions in culture. Jerry's running joke of referring to George as "Biff" from Death of a Salesman is an outlier among three-and-a-half seasons of cultural references. The show is more likely to allude to The 3 Stooges, Superman, or Dragnet than Shakespeare or Beethoven. However, the show is set in New York City, and high art inevitably intersects with these characters' lives. When it does, it is Jerry who voices the show's position, offering an anti-elitist, unimpressed, sly quip that undercuts the presumed gravity of a piano recital or an opera performance. He doesn't buy it.

KRAMER: So, what do you think?
JERRY: About what?
KRAMER: About the opera.
JERRY: Nah, I don't want to go.
KRAMER: You gotta go!
JERRY: I-I-I don't like the opera. What are they singing for? Who sings? You got something to say, say it!
KRAMER: Jerry, you don't understand. That’s the way they talk in Italy. They sing to one another. [SINGS MADE-UP MALE & FEMALE PARTS OF OPERA SONG]
JERRY: All right, all right.
KRAMER: That’s the way it was, you know. You listen to the language. It’s got that sing-songy quality. It’s the language Jerry. The language
JERRY: So why don't they talk like that now?
KRAMER: Well it’s, uh, well it’s too hard to keep up, you know. They were tired.

Jerry is dismissive of opera, but Kramer's attempted explanation of the opera further undermines it's importance. Called on to explain opera, the supposed opera lover Kramer can't precisely articulate its nature. He tries to explain it, and he might even think he is right, but ultimately, like so many people who claim to understand such high art but don't really, Kramer's description falls flat. Jerry's indifference to the opera is upheld.

Elaine, as other-directed as Jerry and George, pursues high art because she thinks it will improve her image. Jerry, who doesn't discover that Elaine is dating Crazy Joe Davola until the final act of the show, teases her for her boyfriend's cultural literacy, but Elaine uses it as a bragging point:

JERRY: So I finally get to meet your pal Joey.
ELAINE: It's killing you isn’t it?
JERRY: Yeah. So Joey’s a great lover of the opera
ELAINE: Listen, I got news for you. It’s nice to be involved with somebody who’s interested in something other than Nick at Night.

The scene cuts to Crazy Joe Davola looking crazy as he does bench presses while listening to a recording of Pagliacci. According to Seinfeld, just because someone understands and appreciates the depth of high art does not make them a superior being. In this case, it is a sign of insanity.

The attitude imbedded in Seinfeld reflects the ambivalence towards traditional cultural hierarchies typical of post-modern culture. The attitude of the show's central character is captured with another cultural reference:

ELAINE: We’re going to miss the overture.
JERRY: [SINGING AND DANCING] Overture, curtains, lights! This is it! We'll hit the heights! Oh what heights we'll hit! On with the show this is it!
ELAINE: You know, it is so sad. All your knowledge of high culture comes from Bugs Bunny cartoons.

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