If Seinfeld Can, Why Can’t I?

by Janis Patterson

While The Husband loved the TV show Seinfeld and still occasionally watches DVDs of it, I found it stultifyingly boring and even more uninteresting. It was heralded as a show about nothing, and as far as I am concerned it definitely succeeded. However, it was undeniably popular. (Does that say something about me, or about everyone else?) I much prefer shows in which the actors are attractive, shows in which there is something going on – explosions, genuine humor, dead bodies, passionate kisses on a sunset beach… something!

Still, I have to admit that the show did something right to be so popular and on the air for so long, so I’ve decided to explore its particular trope and find out what made it so successful. Except I can’t find what it is. All I can find is that it is regarded as a show about nothing. (Perhaps a metaphor for the supposed emptiness of modern urban life?)

Okay, I can run with that. Most of our lives are filled with nothing. Oh, we’re busy all the time, usually with things that seem important at the time but have little cosmic impact. Things like deciding what to serve for dinner tonight. (Always a biggie for me, as The Husband is a very picky eater and I am a rather indifferent cook.) Shopping for same. Making lunches in the morning. Laundry – what gets tumble dried and what gets line dried and if any of it gets bleach. Deciding if I really want that cute pair of shoes we saw at the mall. Trying to switch the appointment for a much-needed oil change because that’s the only day I can take an elderly neighbor to a much-more needed dental appointment.

See? All important at that minute, all demanding your immediate attention, but in the grand scheme of things generally dismissed as the minutiae of life. Six months – heck, six weeks – afterward, are you going to remember if you had that oil change on Wednesday or Friday, or if those shoes were the red ones or the blue ones?

So what does this digression have to do with murder? Because everything in a murder is important. How many times does the detective (professional or amateur) bring the miscreant to justice by reason of a single fact uttered some time before? Jessica Fletcher was a master of this – a throwaway line uttered perhaps days ago in the storyline, perhaps at the very beginning of the show, and she remembers it. Worse, I can’t remember it at all. Of course, now that I write mysteries my ‘sleuth’ instinct is honed to dangerous acuity, watching every line and usually being able to figure out what is a clue. That, however, is a reader/viewer trick, trained by far too many hours spent absorbing other people’s stories.

Real detectives, however, don’t have that luxury. They can’t automatically know that the fact so-and-so wore red shoes on Tuesday is important. They have to give every bit of information weight. They don’t have editors and beta readers and directors and cinematographers giving focus to every necessary nuance. I think that’s the main reason most real-life cases are not wound up in 20 chapters or 47 minutes. There is too much everything to deal with and that unfortunately translates to nothing to deal with.

So – I am getting too close to saying something instead of sticking with my intended policy of blogging today on nothing. That’s perhaps fortunate, as I have nothing else to say on nothing.

Stay warm this during this cold winter, write well, read widely and don’t get overwhelmed by nothing.

8 thoughts on “If Seinfeld Can, Why Can’t I?

  1. I write a personal blog and always feel a tad embarrassed that it’s about nothing but me, but then again the daily doings are what our lives are made of and maybe they’re more important than we realize, and we only see this from a distance.

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  2. Your comment about every detail being given weight in a mystery is right on target. We (readers) don’t know which detail is important until the end. We’ve been binge-watching Bones. Knowing the endings of over-arching story lines makes you aware of those tiny details missed first time around. So, out of a whole post on nothing, I did capture a nugget. 🙂

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  3. Seinfled was never a favorite of mine for similar reasons to yours. Writing suspense is very hard. I’ve tried my hand at it a few times, and it bears repeating that It’s REALLY hard. I especially like suspense that has an ease to it, where the hints, etc. are so simple that it’s clever. I’m NOT good at this, but I will keep trying! Enjoyed the post.

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  4. I LOVE Seinfeld. It was about nothing, but I thought it was hilarious. I am quite fond of murder myself, but i also love comedy. 🙂 Enjoyed the post. It wasn’t really about nothing after all. 😀 Writing suspense is tricky. You have to know enough about how real detective work works, but you also have to take some creative license and still strive to maintain accuracy.

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  5. I never warmed up to Seinfeld either, though my husband loved it. Nothing happened to the characters–they remained shallow and inane week after week. I never learned anything from watching that show.

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    1. I meant to add that the final show, where all the characters end up in a jail cell together, did suggest an allusion to Sartre’s No Exit (hell is other people, briefly). So perhaps the author was admitting to the truth of his series.

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  6. You are right about real life mystery cases being different from fiction. Real life crime doesn’t get neatly tied up most of the time. I too prefer stories about something. Seinfeld’s characters weren’t pretty people just as real life people are imperfect. Comedy shows are often trifling, shows about nothing. But sometimes there is a grain of reality lurking beneath the surface.

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