Tim Delaney’s book looks at sociology through the lens of Seinfeld, one of the most popular situation comedies ever broadcast.
Delaney begins and ends his book with the astute observation that though Seinfeld famously described itself as “a show about nothing,” in fact it was about everything. He proves this thesis by showing the vast range of topics that the program actually dealt with. The book is organized into topic chapters that treat major issues of sociology — social deviance, religion, crime and social control, etc. Each begins with a brief overview of sociological theory on the topic, followed by an extensive series of illustrative incidents drawn from Seinfeld’s 180 episodes.
As entertaining as it generally is, Delaney’s analysis is too often superficial. In a study of how Seinfeld is informed by sociology, we would expect a more extended treatment of what made so much of the series so trenchantly funny: its exploration of the anxiety-inducing suspicion that while there are prevailing norms in contemporary American society, they are virtually impossible to define with certainty, so that even the most trivial behaviors are laden with potentially treacherous mystery. For example, as one episode of Seinfeld asks, is eating a candy bar with a knife and fork the idiosyncrasy of a lone eccentric, or is it in fact a true marker of social status, so that questioning or laughing at it would mark one as hopelessly déclassé?
Despite its limitations, however, Seinology will instruct many who know nothing of sociology and will delight many who know much about Seinfeld and find themselves thirsting for more.