Analyzing Social Class and Humanity in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot and Seinfeld
Typically, the relationships between theatre and film are encountered--both pedagogically and theoretically--in terms of authorial influence or aesthetic comparisons. In the first method, an instructor builds a syllabus for a "Theatre and Film" course by illustrating, for example, how Bergman was influenced by Strindberg. In the second method, the aesthetic norms of the theatre (fixed spectatorial distance and stage-bound locations) are compared to those of the cinema (editing and location shooting) to determine which art form is better suited (or "superior") to which material.
My work proposes a broader view of the theatre-film interface, one that relies on intertextuality as its interpretive method. I believe it is valuable-both pedagogically and theoretically-to ask broad questions about the aesthetic, narrative, and ideological exchanges between the history of theatre and contemporary film and television. For example, this paper will study how the "Chinese Restaurant" episode of the sitcom, Seinfeld, intertextually reworks Samuel Beckett's modernist play, Waiting for Godot. In each text, characters encounter an existential plight as they are forced to wait interminably, and thus confront their powerlessness at the hands of larger social forces. As a pedagogical matter, this connection encourages the students to see academic culture in the guise of having to read Beckett's play for my course, not as foreign and alienating, but instead as continuous with their understanding of leisure activities like watching sitcoms. As a theoretical matter, this intertextual connection allows important ideological matters to come into bold relief. In Waiting for Godot, the characters are starving to death because of a reprehensible and uncaring social structure, whereas in Seinfeld, the ignored characters, because they are middle-class, can always "go to Skyburger and scarf 'em down," as Elaine so eloquently puts it.
It is this observation about different treatments of social class that makes the Seinfeld-Waiting for Godot comparison so intertextually compelling. Waiting for Godot is about two men who are saving a few moldy carrots because that is all they have to eat. Every time Estragon leaves the stage, he returns having been brutally beaten. There is very little sign of life on the stage, the appearance of one sparsely-leaved tree further emphasizing the barren nature of their surroundings. The Seinfeld episode, by contrast, offers characters who announce themselves as being extremely hungry. Elaine makes a comical association between herself and Ghandi: "Did Ghandi get this crazy," she asks her friends, referring to the Indian leader's hunger-strike that ended in the liberation of India from British colonial control. However, unlike the working-class hobos of Godot, they are characters firmly ensconsed in the middle-class, and as such have access...