Seinfeld ran for nine seasons on NBC and I have seen every episode. The line was that it was a “show about nothing” but almost every episode is about at least three different stories which are sometimes intertwined.
Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer encounter odd people and unusual situation that are surprisingly not so different from our own lives.
If you have ever had to deal with a rental car agency at an airport, you can probably identify with Jerry's consternation at a reservation that doesn't actually hold a car for you.
“This is a paper about nothing.” So begins Princeton economics professor Avinash Dixit’s academic paper “ An Option Value Problem from Seinfeld.” The paper uses option pricing theory to deconstruct Elaine’s decisions in the “Seinfeld” episode number 119 “ The Sponge.”
In it, Elaine’s preferred contraceptive sponge goes off the market, sparking an ultimately fruitless hunt for a greater supply. Her limited supply of contraceptive sponges forces her to reassess their usage, and decide whether a potential partner is “sponge-worthy” or not.
Using these clips (as well as clips from other television shows or movies) makes economic concepts come alive, making them more real for students. Ultimately, students will start seeing economics everywhere – in other TV shows, in popular music, and most importantly, in their own lives.
“You are deciding whether or not to make an investment decision,” Prof. Dixit says. “The mathematical techniques are exactly the same as financial options.”
Last week, I cam upon a site called "The Economics of Seinfeld" that has the nice URL of YadaYadaYadaEcon.com (an inside Seinfeld joke). The site creators select clips from the shows and suggest economic concepts that might be taught using them.
For example, in "The Apartment" we look at Jerry NYC rent controlled building. If you want an apartment, you need someone to die because no one moves from a rent-controlled place. Elaine is looking for a place and when Mrs. Hudwalker dies, she finds out about the opening from Jerry. She's the first one to get it, so it goes for $400 per month. But then the super realizes he can play around with the demand side of this situation. Yada, yada, yada, he is offered a $5,000 bribe and Elaine doesn't get the place.
Lessons? Price ceilings and rationing mechanisms.
The site wisely doesn't offer the clips, but does give you the DVD information (season, disc and the times for the key scenes) for using them.
These academics are not the first to consider another side of Jerry and friends.
I bought Seinfeld and Philosophy: A Book about Everything and Nothing when it came out. It's for those with or without any real philosophical background. There are essays grouped into four acts. Act One looks at the four Seinfeld characters through a philosophical lens - Jerry and Socrates: The Examined Life? Act Two examines historical philosophers from a Seinfeldian standpoint (Plato or Nietzsche? Time, Essence, and Eternal Recurrence in Seinfeld). Act Three is Untimely Meditations by the Water Cooler, which explores philosophical issues raised by the show - Is it rational for George to do the opposite? Act Four is called Is There Anything Wrong with That? and has discussions of ethical problems of everyday.