On Curb Your Enthusiasm
Curb Your Enthusiasm is a very well-written and clever sitcom that surpasses Seinfeld in my opinion; it has situations that involve the minutiae of everyday done in an intelligent manner. It seems to almost have an Existentialist subtext in taking the meaningless activities of day-to-day life, of whether or not the person in the back seat of a car should move up-front to the passenger seat once the person once sitting there has gotten out, if it’s ethical to coordinate tips if everyone at the table is tipping, of whether or not you should call back if a call that was winding up was cut off, and essentially say that this is all there is. All the grandeur and drama of human life is usually highly exaggerated both in fiction and throughout history. The greatest choice we have to make in our daily lives is whether to get Chinese or Italian, whether to play cards or watch The Sopranos, whether to get paper or plastic – besides the aspects of the Life of the Mind for those who live it this is all that there is.
Most I assume have mixed feelings about Larry David, (or Larry David’s character though from what I’ve heard he essentially plays a less suppressed version of himself) they probably sympathize with some of his frustrations but overall laugh at how serious and personally he takes everything. I was having dinner with my mother, her friend, and one of her children who I had had vacations with growing up and when I mentioned Curb Your Enthusiasm immediately after she expressed love for the show my mother’s friend says: Isn’t Larry just so completely pathetic? She of course didn’t say this with anger or malevolence towards Larry David, but I did feel a bit like Larry David defending George Costanzia when I said that I empathized with him more than nearly any other character I’ve seen on television. He is incredibly anal as I am (though I don’t express the majority of my qualms with others) and hyper-aware of himself as the typical intellectual “Woody Allen” esque character is. In fact it was only several episodes into the series when I decided that the show seems to be a perfect synthesis between Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld.
But it is his great deal of concern in all of his relations that allows the character to be both funny and relatable I find. If he looked at every situation completely objectively (that is both in-regards to a lack of personal interest or bias and in-regards to how significant the situation is to the world let-alone the Universe) then his acting and show would be incredibly blasé as would be our lives. Curb Your Enthusiasm to me is the perfect absurdist comedy that highlight that though our daily live are comprised of nothing but the insignificant, we must play a role of someone who acts as though they are significant to be able to enjoy life while seeing reality at-least somewhat clearly. The typical example given is someone who during a game will muster up enthusiasm about their sports team no matter how arbitrary they all are and regardless of his knowledge that it makes absolutely no difference in global, national or community affairs who wins or loses. It doesn’t matter; but neither do the dealings of our own life save the preservation of justice (which globally is typically trampled upon or rather is non-existent more-or-less but is not commented on due-to it being commonplace), the rare occurrence where we are forced to make an ethical decision (rather than the ethical possibilities that are always there that we refuse to act upon) and the application of reason and knowledge on daily life to improve it for the better.
The show also showcases quite well the degree of apathy and irrationality that permeates throughout society. Largely ignoring politics, religion and other intellectual topics both to abstain from dividing the audience and because to do so would be in direct conflict with the focus on the meaningless, the show does however have a easily irritable man who has a strong Ego and Superego (I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which is stronger) that almost always vanquishes his Id both in the attempts to achieve the Id’s goals and in the conscious mind’s focus and desires. The obvious example being Larry David’s wife returning to him but his major concern rather than sex is calling Julie Dreyfus and having Cheryl tell her that it was her that left the ring-stain.
There is something to be pitied about this character but also something to be respected. It could be argued that throughout the series Larry David is incredibly selfish and cares only about himself (which I would disagree with – there is a difference between total apathy towards right-and-wrong and lack of altruistic feeling towards others; despite what some may claim the latter is not needed for the former to exist healthily) but more-so then his own pleasure he clearly cares about preserving what seems right and rational to him even when it ruins his own happiness. It is obvious that the average human being is exactly the opposite.
Larry is vocal about his frustrations (which are usually rational in content though arguably irrational in extent though I’ve already stated that this is necessary both for the sake of comedy and our own sanity) while most of us are either silent out of apathy, fear of offending someone and being judged as rude, fear of not getting what we want from this supposed rudeness, or have entirely irrational views as is highlighted in the show such-as the people who all agree that if you lose something at the drycleaner’s it no longer belongs to you or that someone is in-the-wrong for cutting a little girl’s doll’s hair when she excitedly requested you do it. Many may debate the latter but even if the child is too young to make the decision with composure (compunction/clarity/firmness) (or too stupid to know that the doll’s hair won’t grow back, and if such is the case she’ll likely have much larger problems in life then not liking her doll’s haircut) she should suffer the consequences of her decision to learn that an action has results many of which cannot be easily undone; i.e. actions have consequences. The point being that Larry is persistently persisting in voicing his complaints some of which do involve someone performing a blunder or saying a stupid thing such-as someone taking up two spaces parking or saying that giving a “flamboyant” boy a sewing machine for his birthday is wrong – though he eventually knuckles under and buys him a second present and then he’s given the task of returning the first gift because his mother seems uncomfortable with the fact that his son is as queer as a three dollar bill but unwilling to say so – while others are either too concerned with their own self-interest to speak of the universal good or right if it betrays such interests or they’re shy and cultured to the notion plurality in the way of refusing to voice dissent.
Now of course accepting plurality is essential to the health of any Liberal Democracy or Stateless society. Those who expect all human beings to conform to their values whether religious, philosophical or psychological are not only delusional but authoritarian and unjust if they wish to force others to act according to their own personal beliefs and value-judgments. However, there is a difference between acknowledging the obviousness of “live and let live” and refraining to voice complaint simply because we acknowledge others have the right to do as they please. My voicing criticism of drug addiction is not taking away the right for a crack addict to do as he pleases – that’s what the State does which is clearly immoral and indefensible. Human beings can give polite, or even rude though this is not only unproductive but unbecoming and verging on the immoral, criticism and commentary of others actions if they so wish and this in no way impedes upon free action. In fact, commentary on the actions of others is an essential for a society that acts on “the good” or any rational conception of the good save someone’s own momentary conceptions and interests. There must be a dialogue even if it is internal on the nature of ethics if we are to live in an ethical and non-apathetic society. The key example being when Larry tells children at a Lemonade stand that there Lemonade tastes awful (and they charge one dollar for a small amount which he didn’t chastise them for but could have rightly) and their bitch-mother later yells at Larry for “killing the buds” and Larry correctly says he’s helping the buds grow through critique.
This fault, along with the incredibly derisive aspects of Capitalism is why Liberal Democracies produce ever-increasing apathy and moral neutrality. Unfortunately it is the most bigoted, judgmental, religious right-wing zealots who make the most uncompromising statements of “the good” while more intelligent progressive people always wish to focus on the essentials of voluntary association and plurality and by doing so focus on “the right” while scarcely commenting on “the good.” This is one of the fundamental distinctions ‘tween Liberalism and Anarchism. While Liberalism allows Capitalism because it is on the surface and in the most immediate sense voluntary, the Anarchist realizes that Positive Liberty is just as essential as Negative Liberty and the accumulation of capital is innately unjust as well as creating unjust situations that people are born into. Anarchism acknowledges that with any concept of “right” there will be a limited conception of “good” even if it’s simply striving towards the social factors and institutions needed for each individual to strive interdependently with others for their own unique good, and to debate freely with others over what such factors those would be. Larry David – to get back to Curb Your Enthusiasm – is one of those people. The things he talks about isn’t explicitly the nature of the good life or ethics (once again such would stray from the nature of CYE) but many of them have the notions of right-and-wrong and decency implicitly tied within. The episode where he wishes to bring a limo driver waiting outside a fork to eat his food with but is charged with theft by the petty, bitter restaurant owner (who is angry with Larry because he refused to do a “stop and chat” with him) is an example that comes to mind. Clearly the restaurant owner is being absurd and acting out of spite but because he owns all the silverware in the restaurant he has the right to refuse Larry from doing the right thing. His “right” supposedly has precedence over Larry and the limo driver’s “good.” I will abstain from further commentary on this matter, but the fact remains that there is an implicit notion in the show of ethics and critiquing others who either have a different view of ethics or far-more commonly simply are acting out of simplistic self-interest.
This exercise of critical faculties and critique of others in a tolerant or not overtly judgmental way not only staves off a type of social anxiety towards voicing opinion and apathy but also refrains a Liberal Democracy from its “illiberal” aspects of imprisoning those who perpetrate non-violent crimes and from perpetuating the view that force is necessary to work towards the good or for the best of society. Only an apathetic state of being allows not only the petty rudeness or lack of concern we find in society but the major aggregiances against human liberty and wellbeing we see in all forms of States and practiced by all hierarchies whether they be the evils of Capitalism, Government or religion – even if its supposed conception of existence is to preserve the freedom it routinely tramples upon. Of course a Liberal State despite its notion of plurality will act on certain notions of the good over notions of right for to do so is the very essence of force which is the very essence of the State whether it be Liberal, Christian, Socialist or otherwise. Locking up people for doing drugs typically on Utilitarian (or rather negative Utilitarianism to be more specific) grounds is aiming towards a certain good and deprives people of their rights to free action – this is obvious. And though Liberalism claims to be against this, history shows clearly it will always remain hypocritical and contradictory as-long as Liberalism is a political philosophy grounding the justification for a state – or rather as long as it contains distinguishing features from Anarchism. Liberalism not only creates docile people who have been made passive by Capitalism and fear of ostracism at the slightest notion that one is giving offense to another, it creates unjust laws that break the Non-Aggression Principle through imprisonment and taxation as a type of “pragmatic compensation” towards the perversion of human nature and the refraining of healthy voluntary associations which happen naturally without the State or Capitalism.
To conclude with some of its non-ideological merits, Curb Your Enthusiasm isn’t the most brilliant piece of television known to man, but I would hold both that it is some of the most brilliant sketch writing ever shown on television and it is ingenious in being a absurdist comedy both bluntly depicting and satirizing the insignificant factors of our existence. Once one has seen a few episodes where the show is going can be a tad predictable but it still has made me laugh more than any other show in my adulthood. And even when I’m not laughing it’s hard not to appreciate the intelligence required in the formation of these elaborative situational (elaborative constructions of happenstance) and satirical (reflecting the minutiae of everyday life) pieces as well as to admire and pity Larry for being both able and unable to refrain from critiquing letting those who sign in first see the doctor first making the whole appointment system useless (though he understandably and hysterically is upset that they took his commentary to heart when he races a woman down a hallway, shoving her as she shoves him and makes it to the office before her just to have her go first because of his suggestion) as well as other situations which we acclimate ourselves to, forcing us all to curb our enthusiasm to life.