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November 26, 2010 12:10 PM   Subscribe

The Economics of Seinfeld strives to illustrate basic economic concepts using scenes from the famous sitcom. "Seinfeld ran for nine seasons on NBC and became famous as a “show about nothing". It is the simplicity of Seinfeld that makes it so appropriate for use in economics courses."

The site itself doesn't host clips, unfortunately, but does provide a summary of each episode and how the economic concept applies, and information on where to find the specific clip in the episode.
posted by Phire (40 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
What would really be useful from my standpoint is how much opportunity cost I have incurred from watching re-runs of Seinfeld while half asleep on the couch.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:25 PM on November 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


The Chaperone was my favourite episode of seinfeld, ... no problem with this boss :)) lol
posted by mel001 at 12:27 PM on November 26, 2010


Signaling is huge (both as a general concept and as it applies to Seinfeld). I'm surprised they didn't have even more episodes for this tag.

However, I'm not seeing how George hiding from his girlfriend to keep her from breaking up with him (The Susie) is an example of signaling. I wish they'd give more explanation for some of the entries.
posted by John Cohen at 12:34 PM on November 26, 2010


“Pop Culture Economics"

grumpyfilter: a little piece of me mourns the state of education
posted by victors at 12:51 PM on November 26, 2010


The site itself doesn't host clips, unfortunately

The thing about Seinfeld is, you don't need clips. Nobody needs to see a clip in order to go, "Oh, yeah, THAT episode."
posted by Gator at 12:55 PM on November 26, 2010


Unhip Hipness: Teaching Undergraduates with Old Pop Culture that You Liked, But They've Never Seen and Don't Care About.

(Tentative book title?)
posted by dgaicun at 1:03 PM on November 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


Nobody needs to see a clip in order to go, "Oh, yeah, THAT episode."

Except me, then. I don't think I've seen even one episode all the way through. I may have seen parts of a couple here and there by chance (at a friend's house? at a pub?) because I know what the main characters look like, but that's about it.
posted by pracowity at 1:12 PM on November 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


I always hated the description of seinfeld as a "show about nothing". It's a show about a comedian and his wacky friends. I don't see how it's about nothing anymore than Friends or Mad About You was a show about nothing.
posted by heathkit at 1:20 PM on November 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


What, no Risk Management tag?
posted by Sys Rq at 1:21 PM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


(See also.)

(See also also.)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:25 PM on November 26, 2010


I always hated the description of seinfeld as a "show about nothing".

Yeah, but they called it a "show about nothing." It was part of the shtick. It's not as if they didn't encourage the appellation.
posted by blucevalo at 1:30 PM on November 26, 2010


It was the opposite of a show about nothing; it was a show about anything.
posted by John Cohen at 1:34 PM on November 26, 2010



I always hated the description of seinfeld as a "show about nothing". It's a show about a comedian and his wacky brittle, unlikable, sociopath friends.
posted by The Whelk at 1:42 PM on November 26, 2010 [11 favorites]


You weren't supposed to like them. You were supposed to secretly, shamefully identify with them. And the fact that they were brittle, unlikable sociopaths just makes them even more suited for use demonstrating the principles of economics, which are based on the axiom that all humans are brittle, unlikable sociopaths. No hugging, no learning — that's homo economicus right there. If it'll make him fifty cents more, Jimmy's gonna get you.

In summary: Economics, the discipline about nothing.
posted by No-sword at 2:04 PM on November 26, 2010 [27 favorites]


The whole "show about nothing" was about making the "high concept" of the show be that it didn't have one, at a time when sitcoms were all "it's about a family with 8 kids" or "it's about a guy and his wacky foreign cousin" or "it's about hippy parents with an arch-conservative son" or what have you. Friends and Mad About You and all came later once Seinfeld set the stage for them.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:17 PM on November 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


Economics, the discipline about nothing..

Further confirming my theory that economics is to the left as climate science is to the right.

People have llong since moved on from the assumption that people are 100% rational and only ever maximize their own well-being, but that isn't stopping you from clinging to that mischaracterization.
posted by ripley_ at 2:27 PM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


there is currently an all day seinfeld marathon on tbs. just sayin.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:30 PM on November 26, 2010


It's a show about a comedian and his wacky brittle, unlikable, sociopath friends.

Well, to be fair, they were all brittle, unlikable, and sociopathic -- it wasn't as if Seinfeld was the "normal" one. It wasn't like "The Andy Griffith Show" where the sheriff was the one sane person in town and everybody else was a bunch of lunatics.
posted by blucevalo at 2:36 PM on November 26, 2010


bluevalo, the icky feeling I got from Seinfield was that assumption, actually. "Oh aren't I just the only smug sane person around these nerds?"

I blame his face.
posted by The Whelk at 2:40 PM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


grumpyfilter: a little piece of me mourns the state of education

Yes, because, you know, the only way you can ever REALLY learn anything is by going into the ivory tower of Pure Knowledge That Doesn't Apply To The Real World, and the instant you start responding to kids going "wtf do I need to know this for, when will I ever use this?" by explaining "well, actually, there are plenty of times that this applies - for instance, Pop Culture Reference and Things Which Happen IRL And You've Experienced and Stuff You've Seen In The Media all use these things we're teaching!" then you're a Bad Educator Who Is Ruining The Youth Of Today, Y'all Get Off My Lawn.
posted by titus n. owl at 3:02 PM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


grumpyfilter: a little piece of me mourns the state of education

I always lamented the opposite in school - that, despite it being the 80s/90s we had textbooks and films filled with horribly antiquated illustrations, narratives and examples that I simply couldn't relate to at all. And, American content that didn't make a lot of sense.

"Hey kids! An easy way to remember what 100 meters looks like is to think of it in terms of 1.7 Cadillac Fleetwoods".

Interesting that the first thing that came to mind is there's probably no school-aged kids these days who saw Seinfeld episodes when they originally aired.
posted by jimmythefish at 3:20 PM on November 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


nathancaswell: "there is currently always an all day seinfeld marathon on called tbs."

Fixed that for you.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 3:35 PM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


you're a Bad Educator Who Is Ruining The Youth Of Today, Y'all Get Off My Lawn

Heh. I'm pretty sure there's some between this and and a class devoted to sitcom analogies. But your rant was great. I must have missed that day in Shoot-first-ask-for-clarification-later 101.
posted by victors at 3:44 PM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


My apologies, Rusty. Tell you what: I'll stop making fun of discredited economic theories when the political discourse that affects my life stops taking them seriously.
posted by No-sword at 4:13 PM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can't be the only person who thinks Seinfeld makes so much more sense now that I've seen Curb Your Enthusiasm.
posted by Brainy at 4:28 PM on November 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


I think that Larry David wanted viewers not to like the main characters on Seinfeld. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way. He either wound up making the characters too sympathetic, or Jerry Seinfeld just couldn't act. People liked Jerry. I disagree with the person above who said they were all unlikeable. People I knew liked Jerry. He was sort of the sane one among the crazy people.

That is how workplace sitcoms tended to be (and Seinfeld was much more like a workplace sitcom than it was like a family sitcom) at that time. Hawkeye and the Crazies (MASH), Travis and the Crazies (WKRP), Judd Hirsch and the Crazies (Taxi), Sam Malone and the Crazies (Cheers), etc.

Larry David left the show and it ran for two more seasons. When Larry decided to come back and write the series finale, he wanted to make it clear what this show was supposed to be about. These were supposed to be selfish, unlikeable characters. Larry came back and wrote a finale that left no doubt how terrible they all were. It was how he had envisioned the show. They had drifted so far from his original intent that people found the finale to be rather jarring. People did not view these people the way Larry David wanted them to. As such, people were very disappointed with the finale.

I think Larry David wanted to try again at what he was after -- a show about a person or people who were outrageously selfish and unlikeable. This time, he wouldn't make the same mistake about allowing the lead to become too sympathetic to the audience. He decided to play the lead himself, thus assuring that the character would never become too likable. Curb Your Enthusiasm is very much just Seinfeld, but with extra effort put into making the lead character a jerk. Somehow Jerry (and maybe his friends) had become seen as heroes on Seinfeld. That was never how it was supposed to be.

A good example of this is the episode that features the line "not that there's anything wrong with that." The line is used in the episode to show what an idiot homophobe Jerry himself is and that he is so out of touch and insensitive to gay people that he he has to assure them there is nothing wrong with being gay. It is the gay equivalent of saying "I have friends who are black" when trying to demonstrate you are not racist. The line on Seinfeld is there to make fun of Jerry to show how clueless and possibly homophobic he is. But because of the audience's preconceived notions about Jerry and the acting of Seinfeld himself, the line wound up being seen as mocking the political correctness of the time and winking at the audience by saying, "See? You have to say this about gay people or they will get mad." It is why people continue to use the expression in their conversations. They interpret it to be mocking political correctness when it was actually intended to be ridiculing the speaker of the line for his ignorance, insecurity, and homophobia.

Of course, if Jerry had been hated as much as Larry David intended, Seinfeld probably would not have become nearly the hit that it did. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
posted by flarbuse at 5:39 PM on November 26, 2010 [30 favorites]


a class devoted to sitcom analogies
I read it as being intended a class devoted to economics which uses sitcom analogies to make its point easily relatable for its students, but hey, whatever floats your boat, cap'n.
posted by titus n. owl at 6:15 PM on November 26, 2010


I read it as being intended a class devoted to economics which uses sitcom analogies to make its point easily relatable for its students, but hey, whatever floats your boat, cap'n.

Um, ok, a class devoted to using the tools of sitcom analogies to deliver the goods.

I am, gratefully, not involved in what must be the horrendously difficult task of educating but, anecdotally anyway, in my anemically short academic career and the more accomplished ones of my sons, the most successful teachers do not rely on what I would classify as a gimmick to get the kids' attention. Instead they inspire the students by being passionate about the subject matter and even more passionate about teaching it and having the personal presentation skills to make it work. I have heard of many cases of kids going to the extreme of changing their major to something they never would have considered simply because one great teacher's lectures, typically a very charismatic person, inspired them to do so. I have never heard anything like that about a class that relied on sitcoms or (in my day) Dylan or Beatle records. Kids flocked to those classes because it was assumed the grading would be easier (and typically, perhaps coincidentally, it was) but it didn't have the same impact of a professor that knew how to use the sound of their voice and the interaction with students to kick ass on a lecture.

I don't even know how you measure what I'm talking about, but if there is survey data that proves this is off the mark then groovy, power to 'em.
posted by victors at 7:15 PM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


'Looking for Mushrooms'
posted by clavdivs at 7:59 PM on November 26, 2010


Obviously the teachers you talk about are The Good Ones. That doesn't mean that using analogies to get a point across is BAD. I mean, I, personally, in my own real actual life and education, fucking hate math. I sit down in a math lecture, and I read the chalkboard, and I read the textbook, and I take notes, and the numbers bore me and I do not understand them. I "don't get" math.

However, you put me in a physics class, and the exact same equations I was saying I didn't understand in math class make PERFECT SENSE because they're being used to DO SOMETHING and MEAN SOMETHING to which I can relate. Did I change my major to math because of that? No, and I don't think that's really a necessary thing to do. I still don't enjoy pure math, I still feel like I don't "get" numbers if they're just numbers, but you give me a reason to use those numbers and a way to make the numbers make sense to my life, and I can actually do the math. Which is, quite frankly, all that's really necessary to my life as a non-maths-major person who will never be a maths major and shit.

I don't think you're right to be sighing over the state of education because someone came up with a way to teach people who feel about economics the same way I do about numbers, essentially.
posted by titus n. owl at 8:52 PM on November 26, 2010


brittle, unlikable sociopaths. ... You were supposed to secretly, shamefully identify with them.

Secretly shamefully? I was just glad to see myself represented.
posted by scratch at 9:13 PM on November 26, 2010


People liked Jerry. I disagree with the person above who said they were all unlikeable. People I knew liked Jerry. He was sort of the sane one among the crazy people.

I didn't like Jerry -- he was the one character who always seemed like he should have known better. He *knew* that he was an asshole, and that always bothered me.

That said, unlike Curb Your Enthusiasm, I never found any of the Seinfeld characters to be profoundly unlikeable. Their flaws were believable, and stretched just far enough for comedic effect, but not far enough for you to actually hate them. The few instances where the characters were genuinely despicable (any plot involving George's fiance) were stretched so far as to be absurd and unbelievable, and therefore funny again.

I think this is related to why I've never quite been able to stomach The Office. Dwight's funny, but unbelievable, whereas Michael Scott is hatable, but also profoundly believable. I could actually envision many of those plots playing out in the real world. It's even more sociopathic than the usual comedy routine.
posted by schmod at 10:53 PM on November 26, 2010


grumpyfilter: a little piece of me mourns the state of education

Economists are expected to observe and model human behavior.

Screenwriters (especially in the comedy genre) are expected to observe, and then mimic the nuances of human behavior in a way that is unexpected, but still resonates with an audience.

Weirdly, this "mashup" works quite well.
posted by schmod at 10:55 PM on November 26, 2010


Economists are expected to observe and model human behavior.

Screenwriters (especially in the comedy genre) are expected to observe, and then mimic the nuances of human behavior in a way that is unexpected, but still resonates with an audience.


I know you're being general for brevity's sake but I'd like to hear more about the first part since I've recently been studying what screenwriters, as a specialization of story telling, are up to. You've couched things in such broad terms that I could connect just about any two disciplines remotely related to humans using similar, seemingly overlapping generalizations.

I can tell you that storytelling/screenwriting, especially what is sold to studios and network, tend to be about internal struggles of a protagonist when faced with a choice, typically from two really bad options - hence in an episode where seemingly "nothing" happens, really what they mean is that nothing external, i.e. action, but the characters all have some goal (like being seated at a Chinese restaurant) and some obstacle (like a hostile staff) that heightens the internal struggle.

I only bring this up to point out that screenwriting works from a surprisingly limited framework. This is analogous to Western music which is limited to 12 tones total, only 7 of which are used in a scale. One of those limitations is to portray an individual's behavior. Economics, I would think, would be more interested in the group dynamic (no?) which is a whole other area of behavioral science. Maybe it's not typical, but in my limited exposure to economics in books like Black Swan and Freakonomics I see the scope as pretty large and resulting in group-think statistical analysis.

If I'm missing some really deep overlap here then maybe there's more of a rationale than sex appeal - but if it's too far of a stretch then I wonder why basing a course of those books I mention (Black Swan and Freakonomics) couldn't be sexy enough - with the right instructor.
posted by victors at 1:07 AM on November 27, 2010


Weirdly, this "mashup" works quite well.

Thematically, yes. As an effective tool to educate people? I don't think so. Reading their content, it seems to me like the examples are good reflections of the behavior, but don't actually inform people as to how they work. You don't really get any better idea of the dangers of rent control from watching that clip.

Especially when you consider that today's college freshman was 3 when Seinfeld went off the air.
posted by gjc at 6:05 AM on November 27, 2010


I found it to be a show about unbearable whiners. Larry David succeeded with me, I found every one of those characters unappealing and often wanted to hit them with a stick crying "NO FUCKING WHINING!"

But I'm one of those people who find Larry David and everything he creates/is involved with, his entire sensibility, to be this swirling hole of depressing negativity that I don't want.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:44 AM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Especially when you consider that today's college freshman was 3 when Seinfeld went off the air.

If they skipped several grades and went to college at age 14.
posted by John Cohen at 7:46 AM on November 27, 2010


I took one of these kind of courses in the final year of my undergraduate.

It cost me dearly.

I ended up missing out on the opportunity for graduate school grants worth about 45K.
I got bumped of the dean's honour roll for the first time in 4 years (8 semesters).

Why?

Because the course was complete utter bullshit with a sociology teacher making us do video editing of a MASH episode and read Carlos Castenada to teach us media literacy. Not that he taught us to critically read Castenada nor did he mention that he was giant epic fraud. I called him on it and he marked me down severely for being too critical. Showing him the university handbook section with the critical thinking objective highlighted probably didn't help.

Lowest mark I ever got in University.

Don't take bird courses unless you are a bird brain.

I did however learn an important lesson about discounting and distrusting charisma and popularity that has probably served me better than the lost money or academic props ever would have.
posted by srboisvert at 7:57 AM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I did however learn an important lesson about discounting and distrusting charisma and popularity that has probably served me better than the lost money or academic props ever would have

you say charisma like it's a bad thing.

but seriously, of course, if charisma is used as a shallow gimmick then, yea, it sucks. The charisma I was talking about was being used for good - connecting students with the actual subject matter in an inspirational way.
posted by victors at 8:38 AM on November 27, 2010


I taught an introductory psychology class last fall, and my students loved when I played them clips from movies and TV shows to illustrate the concepts we were learning. Even though I thought I was maybe leaning a little too pop-culture-heavy at times, anytime I took informal class feedback, the most common response was "more video clips!" I think it's just a matter of personal teaching style and making sure that the references you make don't require so much backstory as to make people who aren't familiar with the source material feel confused.

That being said, I once borrowed a powerpoint of a Jeopardy-style review game from another instructor, and it happened that one of the questions was about somebody named Elaine dancing. The instructor had also included a link to a YT clip of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine dances, which has always been one of my favorite Seinfeld moments. In my first class (mostly freshmen), when I played the clip, I got a bunch of blank stares. In my second class (a lot more upperclassmen), as soon as I read the question, everyone started shouting "Play the video!" and then laughed hysterically. I remember thinking how weird it was that there was such a different reaction to Seinfeld for these groups of students who were only a couple of years apart. So, in answer to the question of whether Seinfeld is still relevant to college undergrads, I'd say it will be for about 6 more months.
posted by rebel_rebel at 11:17 AM on November 27, 2010


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