Friday, July 27, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 6, Episode 1 - The Chaperone

“The Chaperone”

First Script Read:  August 11, 1994
Filmed: Wednesday, August 17, 1994
Aired: September 22, 1994
Nielsen rating: 21.9
Audience share: 3
Directed: Andy Ackerman (first episode as full time director)
Writers: Larry David, Bill Masters (also co-wrote season 3’s “The Alternate Side” and season 4’s “The Movie”), and Bob Shaw (also co-wrote season 3’s “The Tape” and served as program consultant in 1992-93)

This episode has one of the more underrated Seinfeld lines. Actually its a word that Kramer uses after Jerry gets him to serve as pageant-mandated chaperone for his date with Miss Rhode Island:
JERRY: Listen. Tonight, after we finish eating you make like you got something else to do and just recede into the night if you know what I mean.
KRAMER: No way!
JERRY: What?
KRAMER: Look, if you think I'm just going to step aside and do nothing while you defile this woman, you're crazy.
JERRY: I'm not going to "defile" her!
KRAMER: That's right, because I'm going to see it doesn't happen. Look, Jerry, these girls are Miss America contestants. It's every little girl's dream. And I'm not going to let you trample that dream and make a mockery of everything the pageant stands for.
KRAMER: Aaah! No buts! Those are my rules.
JERRY: But wait a minute...
KRAMER: Now, if you want to go out and have some good, wholesome fun with a nice girl, I'd be glad to help you out. If you're looking for something more than that you've got the wrong guy, buddy!

I love the absurdity of Kramer's use of "defile." I've found some comedy success in borrowing Kramer's use of "defile," either as it is intended here or like so: "Dude. I wish I could wait until I get home, but I'm going to have to defile your bathroom. Sorry. You got any scented candles in there or anything?"

Part of the comedy of Kramer's use here is his unexpected knowledge and respect for the Miss America pageant, but it also suggests a distaste for Jerry's promiscuous lifestyle. Frankly, Jerry goes through a lot of partners. The whole quartet does; the DVD's "Notes about Nothing" feature keeps a count on everyone's girlfriends/boyfriends, and I suspect the final combined tally will be in the triple digits by the time all nine seasons have run their course.

I think the promiscuity portrayed on the show influenced American sensibilities about sex in the 1990s. I'm not saying impressionable young people decided whether or not to have sex because of the behavior of Jerry's character. Sociologists could probably compare people who watched Seinfeld in their teenage years with people who did not and come up with some interesting conclusions, but I'm always skeptical of claims of a direct link. There are complex and multifaceted reasons why a teenager has sex or, much more seriously, commits a violent act. I'm suggesting something broader, deeper, and less easily observed. Seinfeld reflects the way Americans thought about sex in the 1990s, but the show also influenced Americans' thinking. It's a two-way street, and when the bus rolling down the airwaves is as big and as culturally significant and as popular as Seinfeld, the traffic on that street is important to consider.

Jerry's sexual behavior, as well as that of his friends, is largely presented as normal and acceptable behavior. Jerry, of course, takes great pains to be a normal person according to the expectations of society. Occasionally he, Elaine, and George give each other grief for the rapidity with which they go through significant others, but the context of the show presents such comments as more a critique of their personal quirks and neuroses rather than a comment on the quantity of sexual partners they have.

Kramer's "defile" comment is funny because it is so unexpected. As the episode unfolds he successfully runs interference on Jerry's attempts to bed or even kiss Miss Rhode Island. Kramer's efforts are presented not as noble but as comical and ridiculous. Normally, Kramer would be the last one to intentionally stand between Jerry and a sexual conquest. In this case his loyalty to the tradition of the Miss America pageant trumps his friendship to Jerry.

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