Yesterday evening, Monica and I were relaxing after a long day of new years family festivities. We sat lazily on our comfy and familiar couch, she crocheting, me reading. Our bellies had all but digested the traditional Japanese American cuisine we ate earlier. As often happens during these post-digestion lulls, I get hungry and search for snacks. Opening cupboard after cupboard, I was disappointed to find nothing that seemed particularly appetizing for my sugary mood.
After passing on the oatmeal, instant ramen, and year-old Winnie the Pooh sugar cookies, I was beginning to feel desperate. As I stared aimlessly into the open fridge, Monica slumped into the kitchen, still focused on her needles and yarn. She looked up and that familiar uncertain smile spread across her face, as so often happens when I am snacky with little to eat.
“You know we have that cookie Auntie Julie gave us as a thank you present,” she said casually. She unveiled the cakey treat, smothered in half-chocolate half-vanilla, with a dividing line down the center.
I’ve seen this cookie before, I thought as a small memory stirred in my TV-saturated mind. It’s the same cookie Jerry Seinfeld ate and discussed as his solution to the race problem in America. The faint saying of Jerry’s memorable “look to the cookie” popped into my mind…
Jerry: “I love the black-and-white cookie. Two races of flavor living side by side in harmony. It’s a wonderful thing…Nothing mixes together better than chocolate and vanilla.
And yet, somehow, racial harmony eludes us. If people would only look to the cookie all our problems would be solved.”
Elaine: “Your views on race relations are fascinating. You really should do an op-ed piece for the Times.”
Jerry: “Hmm…Look to the cookie, Elaine. Look to the cookie.”
I tore open the wrapper and bit into the cookie, getting an equal mouthful of chocolate and vanilla. As I savored the treat and passed it to Monica, I felt thoroughly nostalgic for this brief reminder of the TV show I so love. Oh Seinfeld, I thought. How many laughs and good memories have we shared together? But the more I pondered on Seinfeld and the episode with the black-and-white cookie, the more I felt uneasy, unsettled.
In Tim Delaney’s Seinology: the Sociology of Seinfeld, he describes this particular scene as Jerry’s attempt to bridge the racial gap through multiculturalism. Multiculturalism, Delaney says, is the sociological perspective that espouses tolerance, equal treatment, and the equal sharing of resources among all peoples/groups within a society. This is a noble dream of fairness and respecting the humanity of all people, but Jerry’s, and by extension Delaney’s arguments fall short. For starters, their views on multiculturalism tend to be Eurocentric, focused on ‘cultural’ pluralism while neglecting the political, economic, and socio-political realms, and promote instead of challenge/change the racial status quo.
Thus was my unease: my love of Seinfeld versus its somewhat shallow treatment of race relations. The more I reflected upon this, the more I realized the true tension I felt.
How does one reconcile the tension between that which they love so much even though it promotes a perspective that can be so counteractive/productive to what said person believes?
In other words, how do I so love a show such as Seinfeld, even though its minute details can promote a somewhat insensitive portrayal of race relations, especially towards people of color? Must it come down to Seinfeld’s humorous portrayal of everyday life and situations versus its subtle promotion of white privilege? Or for another example, must one choose between the awesome imagination and storylines of comic books despite their insensitivity to and objectification of women?
A day after we ate and digested that scrumptious cookie, I am still unsure of the answer to this tension. But, as I reflect more, perhaps this is the brilliance of a show like Seinfeld: through the monotony of everyday life, Seinfeld makes you think. Even though certain topics don’t challenge you to think as deeply as do other topics, you think nonetheless. And when you are encouraged to think about life, you often consider and weigh the perspectives and beliefs at play. And sometimes, as you begin to think, you begin to reconsider, to subvert the dominant narratives, that which is deemed normative. And it is that thinking, that reconsidering, that subverting that can often help change a person. All through the tension caused by a TV show, a discussion, or even, a cookie.
Delaney, T. (2006). Seinology: The sociology of Seinfeld. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
02 Jan 2012