The 1990s sitcom Seinfeld was loudly proclaimed to be the show about “nothing”. The very term “nothing” is somewhat paradoxical. Nothing denotes the complete absence of an essence or form. Technically it is herculean task to fixate any concept around the word. Logically some attribute is bound to invalidate the notion of complete absence of any form or detail. Hence, why the show really wasn’t about nothing. It was really an unapologetic slice-of-life comedy. Focused on four 30-something NYC residents and their day to day lives. Lives typically punctuated by social faux pas and outlandish situations. Generally spurred by their own errors or impulses. It the television program doesn’t fixate on nothing. It merely lacks an overt, cohesive and reoccurring theme. In contrast to the modern fables portrayed in a sappy coming-of-age drama.
At first glance, it would appear the odds of obtaining any profound philosophical insights from Seinfeld would be unlikely. However, some philosophers would disagree. Back in 2000, William Irwin edited a collection of essays drawing philosophical themes from the sitcom. To think philosophical insights from a show where the characters quibble over breakfast cereals and superheroes. Seinfeld and Philosophy is a brilliant attempt to infer the unthinkable from the show about “nothing”. The unthinkable being is logical and moral parables.
Out of the four main characters of Seinfeld Cosmo Kramer is certainly noteworthy. A slender and cloddish man with a mop of wild hair upon his. His rangy frame often silhouetted by a thick hazy of smoke from a burning Cuban cigar. Frequently barging into Jerry’s apartment and rifling through his refrigerator for food. He never holds a steady job. Often is hopping from one fleeting interest to the next. Whether it be some harebrained business scheme or new absurd fixation. For example, in season nine when Kramer discovers the furniture from the old Merv Griffin Show in a dumpsters. He then decides to assemble the set in his own apartment and pose as if he was a late-night talk show host. Kramer mirrors Peter Pan. Stuck in a perpetual state of adolescences. He is fickle with is commitments and interests. Making his life a revolving-door of collective fads. Giving some credence to Elaine one time insulting Kramer by calling him a “hipster doofus“.Yes kids, this episode did predate the American Spirits smoking, fake glasses wearing, Pabst Blue Ribbon drinking hipsters of the 2000’s.
How could any sizable moral lesson ever be derived from a character that lives such a shallow life? Philosopher William Irvin found some insights in Kramer’s disregard for commitment. Detailed in his essay Kramer and Kierkegaard: Stages on Life’s Way. Where Irvin parallels Kramer’s life to that of the Aesthetic Stage of Life. In terms of stages of moral development that would appear to be Kierkegaard’s most rudimentary stage. It is important to note that this starts with and ends with despair. Is distinguished by a flight from boredom. Fully illustrated by Kramer’s ever-changing agenda. Spirited, but short-lived enthusiasm. Such as the time Kramer pitched his idea of a cologne that smells like the beach or a pizzeria where you can “bake your own pie” (Irvin, 2000). This only dovetails to possessing a lack of commitment another defining feature of this stage. Exemplified by Kramer referring marriage has a man-made “prison” (Irvin, 2000) Clearly illustrating his distaste for committed romantic relationships.
Cosmo Kramer operates as a moral allegory of what not to be. Unprincipled and pleasure seeking. To characteristics of hedonism that run contrary personal responsibility. One of the conceptual cornerstones of Existential philosophy. The philosophical movement Kierkegaard was a pioneer of. Can an individual float through life as a middle-aged or even elderly “hipster doofus”? Constantly raiding your neighbor’s refrigerator. Hatching various get-rich-quick schemes that invariably fail with in a short duration of time. Finding novel oddball hobbies to occupy your decades of scant employment. It is no wonder many of these interests fade fast. There isn’t any substance to them. They are merely temporary distractions for a man lacking conviction. If Kramer was truly committed to any of his business ventures he would abort them within a matter of days. He would fight for his business to success. He isn’t the type to want to exert such effort on what is difficult. Kramer would rather feed the perpetual cycle of fleeting interests and wavering commitment. Making him a prime example of what we should avoid being in real life.