Ya know, why don’t you open these pants, it’s gonna be a lot easier that way.
Deep within the recesses of core Seinfeld ideology is a smartly ironic and complex take on perhaps the 1990’s chief culture war topic, homosexuality. Several episodes deal with it roundabout, while several deal with it explicitly, specifically the landmark season four offering ‘The Outing’. While that episode generally gets the lions share of commentary when Seinfeldian politics on the matter are discussed, I’d argue that the earlier ‘The Note’ is the more telling, insidious episode in terms of LGBT themed subversion. Plus, with its central focus on the series’ main quasi-homosexual personality George Costanza, its jokes come quicker and land much more often (for comparison sake, it’s telling how I rank each episode, ‘The Note’ is here at number nine and ‘The Outing’ didn’t even land in my top 75 [I assume it’d land somewhere in the 80’s if I took the ranking that far]).
‘The Note’ begins after a rather ho-hum start about misinterpreted small talk between Jerry and his masseuse on the topic of a recent kidnapping, really only existing to provide a plot development near the episodes close (as well as fruit for Jerry’s activities during the episode). The second scene, where George and Elaine first sit in a physical therapists waiting room then move to the adjacent massage rooms, is where the episodes main comedic thrust begins. It’s found that George is set to be massaged by a male, and a rather lithe, blond one at that (the introduction scene is wonderful; George is shot head on while seated, while Raymond the masseuse is standing slightly akimbo with his crouch pointed to George’s face in the composition) and since he’s put that his hamstring as “a little tender” as the reason he’s there, Raymond asks him to take his pants off (“it’ll be easier that way”) thus fully erupting the humor of George’s situation. Couple that with when recounting the perfectly un-ribald scenario later to Jerry, he claims he “thinks it moved” (his penis starting to become erect obvious) due to being touched by a man, George’s fragile ego is all the more thrashed.
The jokes on the subject come fast once this is established, with George become increasingly more touchy on the subject. My favorite, and one of George’s funniest moments in the entire series by my estimation, is when Roy, the doctor who has provided the titular potential insurance clearing doctor’s note, points to a poster of Evander Holyfield in his office (an idea funny in and of itself, that an MD would have such a poster in their office) and points out that he has “a hell of a body” immediately followed by a query “do you like him?”. George immediately takes it incorrectly as if Roy is asking if he likes him as a potential sexual partner. George’s immediate escalation is wonderful, as he’s equal parts testy and bashful as if he’s hiding a deep, dark secret buried in his psyche. Later we learn that he might be, when he recounts sexual dreams he’s had involving women that Raymond keeps inexplicably entering.
It’s this weaving between fragile male ego, and complete openness (or closed off) in sexuality (Raymond you’ll notice has no issues with performing his job of a masseuse on a man) that forms the framework of the episodes politics.
It’s a weaving as prescient now as it was then. The era from which Seinfeld came was phase one (or two depending on your definitions) of the civil rights debate for homosexuals. At such an early stage it was of the utmost that the lifestyle become mainstream and less alien to potential bigots. Obviously then that is where much of Seinfeld’s forays into the debate exist; homosexuality is explored as impulse and potential, thus wedging the orientation into its rightful position of normalcy (the 1990’s seem like a late era to think about homosexuality as strange or alien, but one needs to consider that ‘The Note’ originally aired on September 18, 1991; right around the time—early 1992—that professional bigot Pat Buchanan was about to launch one of the most homophobic onslaughts in mainstream modern American campaign politics). After the communities (gay and gay friendly straight) laid all these necessary foundations, subsequent generations could then wage the fights on the peripheries of basic acceptance (which is more or less where we are at now, it’s mainstream accepted so the battles are now over marriage equality, adoption rights, etc). It’s chiefly here that I think ‘The Note’ advances clear past ‘The Outing’. Both were original and fresh in their early nineties air dates, but it’s one (‘The Note’) that seems clear minded and trendsetting now. ‘The Outing’, upon recent revisiting, seemed cruel—here is a young women ‘outing’ two men she’s never met nor had the consent to eavesdrop on (a strange wording of what happens, but in effect, she’s taking a private conversation—however sarcastic the boys were being—and published it for the world to read). It’s an escalation of events all to factual for a good many people, and that the episode remains spinning its wheels on this “humorous” misunderstanding—rather than the highly unethical and downright gross ways she’s operated in—points that ‘The Outing’ is more about semantics than real life politics. ‘The Note’ however confronts actual human sexuality, what it means to have sexual thoughts and have to potentially deal with them, and the gender differences that reside therein (remember Elaine wants her gender massaging her, as it does feel safer to her, probably because a massage–however unsexual it is—remains an act potentially coded in sexual foreplay).
The ‘weaving’ I spoke of earlier, also is played out between homosexuality and health insurance. The (health) insurance industry has long been understood as perhaps the central roadblock to full stop marriage equality for LGBT couples. Meaning in essence, that the conservative constraints blocking full on homosexual equality in this country are purely financially motivated. Working behind the scenes, large insurance companies with considerable political clout continue funding candidates who vote and act against marriage equality because opening up marriage to more buyers means covering more potential couples. It seems foolish, but having more 1 for 1 insurance payers than 1 for 2 is an equation with numbers that they have crunched and decided to remain in play for as long as possible. Thankfully there is a religious element willing to do the dirty work of arguing the bigotry in mainstream circles (a large company would never want the PR nightmare of openly courting offensive dogma), so they just remain in the background continually getting their wishes enforced as they prod the discriminative legislation forward. The inclusion of the insurance note for coverage here is wonderfully prescient then, both a great accident and a coincidence I can’t think to be only coincidental.
It’s fitting that the one character who always skirts these sort of social designations has the last laugh (you’ll remember that Kramer does the same in ‘The Outing’ as the humorous implication of him sashaying back to his apartment with a man who turns out to be the cable guy ends that episode) or at the very least prompts the last laugh. Kramer has spent the episode a bit on the outside of the main titular plot line in a thread built entirely at his creation, claiming that he’s seen Yankee great Joe DiMaggio eating (and dunking) pastries in the small and dingy Dinky Donuts. He claims that his yelps and howls as DiMaggio ate neither broke the Yankee Clipper’s concentration nor rendered any acknowledgement to Kramer’s disruptive presence. It’s argued then that he has discovered the key to DiMaggio’s sublime baseball feats; heightened attentiveness through the ability to block out the hysteria of what is going on around him (with the obvious nod to his profession being made; a ballplayer deals with hysterical crowds and a litany of cheers, jeers, taunts and applause all at fevered volume). It’s only at the end of the episode when the gang spots DiMaggio in their favored Monk’s that Kramer’s tale is believed. It’s then that George finally relents on his facade of heterosexuality when he chimes in that “You see? Now that is a handsome man” (I’d thought is was a connection to an earlier conversation in the episode but actually the one I’m thinking of is in ‘The Jimmy’ in Season 6, where Kramer admits to finding George Will “attractive” but then responds to Elaine that he doesn’t find him “all that bright” when she relents with “He’s smart…”), offering everyone at the table a spot in which to turn to their friend with a befuddled glance. Costanza has spent the episode in sexual orientation limbo and, true to form, it’s he that prompts the last laugh at himself.