"The Two of Us, Working Together At Full Capacity, Could Do the Job of One Normal Man": The Construction of Masculinity on Seinfeld

Matthew Mariola, The College of Wooster


In this study I examine the portrayal of masculinity in a popular American sitcom, Seinfeld. The study encompasses three main areas of research: humor, masculinity, and the mass media. Past literature and various theories in each area generate a series of important axioms: humor often contains contradictory layers of meaning, so that it both criticizes and reaffirms cultural norms; masculinity is a social construct and is often portrayed in the media utilizing the technique of contrasting masculinities; messages in the mass media hold a great deal of sway over audiences, but one must acknowledge the powers of interpretation that all individuals also possess. My research design was twofold: first, I conducted a "deep" textual analysis of the content of Seinfeld; second, a group of individuals watched various clips of Seinfeld and responded to questions regarding the themes on the show. Between my own analysis and that ofthe respondents, a variety of interpretations were discovered. On the surface, Seinfeld seems to display a fairly traditional masculinity where men are obsessed with sex and averse to both commitment and any display of femininity. As more layers of meaning are uncovered, however, a different theme emerges: Seinfeld is in fact pointing out that masculinity in our society is an ideal state consisting of stringent norms that few, if any, men can actually fulfill.


© Copyright 1998 Matthew Mariola