No Hugging, No Learning

Seinfeld broke several conventions of mainstream television. Often described as being ‘a show about nothing’, it became the first television series since Monty Python’s Flying Circus to be widely described as postmodern.

Several elements of Seinfeld fit in with a postmodern interpretation. The show is typically driven by humour interspersed with superficial conflict and characters with peculiar dispositions. On the set, the notion that the characters should not develop or improve throughout the series was expressed as the no hugging, no learning rule. Unlike most sitcoms, there are no moments of pathos; the audience is never made to feel sorry for any of the characters. Even Susan’s death elicits no genuine emotions from anyone in the show.

Kramer: Well, you know the important thing is that you learned something.
Jerry: No, I didn’t.

The characters are thirty-something singles with vague identities, virtually no roots, and conscious indifference to morals. Usual conventions, such as isolating the characters from the actors who play them and separating the characters’ world from that of the actors, were broken. One such example is the story arc in which the characters promote a television sitcom series named Jerry. The show within a show, Jerry, was much like Seinfeld in that it was ‘about nothing’ and Seinfeld played himself.

A major difference between Seinfeld and sitcoms which preceded it is that the principal characters never learn from their mistakes. In effect, they remain indifferent and even callous towards the outside world and sometimes toward each other. This refers back to the show’s mantra no hugging, no learning. Predictably, this leads to very few happy endings for the main characters – except when they come at someone else’s expense. More often in every episode, situations resolve with characters getting a justly deserved comeuppance.

George: Haven’t we had this conversation before?
Jerry: You think?
George: I think we have.
Jerry: Yeah, maybe we have.