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June 05, 2014

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Beau Baez

In teaching the "no duty" rule in torts, I use the scene from the last episode where Seinfeld & company do absolutely nothing as the "fat guy" gets robbed. It allows us to contrast the traditional "no duty" rule with some of the "required duty" statutes that are popping up around the world.

Jeff Yates

Last fall I used the Curb Your Enthusiasm chat and cut scene as an example of behavior we could try to make illegal. I let them try their hand at appropriate legislation.

Steven Freedman (KU Law)

If only we had a class in postal law.

Matt

Do typical law students these days remember Seinfeld? I'd actually be a bit surprised. (It probably wouldn't be as bad as when I tried to illustrate a point by reference to an episode of Qunicy, M.E. in a class taught to undergrads once, but I do wonder if it's really a reference for most students these days.)

anon

Beau

I'll bet some people in your class feel just great about that skit, and the way you describe it. About 60%, to venture a guess.

Or, perhaps, any humiliating way of describing something or someone is ok if Jerry Seinfeld said it first.

It is sad that today, in our hyper sensitive world, it is perfectly ok to humiliate and demean certain people and groups, to wit:

"the last thing we need around here is another middle aged white male"; "the fat guy got robbed"; "we just have to wait for them to die off" etc. etc. etc. Why not just teach the material? Why illustrate the point with this scene?

Perhaps using that scene gives us an opportunity to discuss the attempt to make the material relevant to students by pandering to their taste in inane and often cruel sitcoms. Overgrown children, made to feel more and more childlike at older and older ages, perhaps can be forgiven. But, should law profs?

Should be also go for Howard Stern? Or Beavis and Butthead? Or whatever cruel humor we can dig up that the "kids" like? We'll find plenty of foul mouthed, juvenile humor based on human cruelty and indifference out there.

I know, I know. I'll say it for you: "Lighten up!" Or, perhaps there is a better slang to which an overgrown teenager attending law school could resort and relate!

Beau Baez

It is becoming more difficult to use humor in the classroom. Each year a few people complain, in the student evaluations, about the use of humor. But the educational literature indicates that deep learning occurs when we tie our teaching to an emotion. For example, I also use the Kitty Genovese murder to demonstrate the "no duty" rule--most students are moved by her death. Anecdotally, students that I see years later recall those classes where I used pathos, versus the technical topics that I covered using the lecture method.

Howard Wasserman

My crim class also used the Genovese case to illustrate no duty and the line between law and morality. But what do you tell them about the Genovese case now, since everything popularly written about the case has turned out to be flat-out wrong?

anon

Beau

Do you equate humor with insensitive, if not outright cruel, and almost always juvenile (Seinfeld) ridicule and humiliation? To laugh at the misfortune of others is the lowest form of comedy.

Of course people remember these things. So what?

Using a tragic situation that illustrates indifference has nothing to do with using ridicule and inane sitcoms to teach torts.

Profs who turn to the Simpsons, or Seinfeld, or Stern, or Butthead, are more often praised then criticized by the students. Evals say: "My torts prof taught us using the Simpsons. Cool!" Thus, pandering. Little or no risk or effort to find a better way, IMHO. And, this use is just reinforcing the seemingly endless childhood that allows twenty six year olds to be termed "kids" and "children."

My other concern is that, these days, even the slightest remark that might offend certain groups is grounds for OUTRAGE, but, as stated above, other groups are fair game. Law profs, in my experience, express bigotry, ageism, and other prejudices in the most disgusting ways.

Such profs (I have no reason to include you Beau) often believe it is "cute" to do so. It is so striking to hear the endless pontification about the impropriety of certain remarks coming from the lips of those who regularly utter vile generalizations and slanders about non-favored groups and individuals. Anyone who has spent time in the FL has heard the remarks quoted above, and much worse.

Again, why use of a vile sitcom that humiliates a significant number of students by reason of casual and flippant reference the "robbing the fat guy"? Is there no other way to teach the "no duty" rule?

Steven Freedman (KU Law)

@ anon. Although I respect your concern that we should be sensitive to the sensitivities of our students, I think you make a great point when you suggest you might need to "lighten up." If we can't present Seinfeld to 22 year olds, what exactly are acceptable forms of humor? If you watch that episode again, you should see that Seinfeld is not mocking the "fat guy", it's mocking the four self-absorbed, narcissists witnessing the robbery. Or is it now offensive to mock narcissists?

anon

Steven

I did watch it ...

Do you believe the students all shake their heads in disbelief and disgust at the comments they made while the "fat guy" was being robbed?

Or, do they laugh?

If you actually can't think of any "acceptable form of humor" other than Seinfeld, then I cannot respond to your comment.

I will ask this: do you really need to defend ANYTHING that a law prof says or does?

Steven Freedman (KU Law)

@ anon. In deference to Wes, can we agree to disagree on the issue of whether a clip from Seinfeld would "humiliate a significant number" of reasonable law students? While this is the first time I've heard of anyone being offended by Seinfeld, perhaps we travel in different circles.

Joseph Slater

In Employment Law, I refer to the episode in which George tries to scam unemployment insurance benefits by giving Jerry's number to the benefits guy and telling Jerry to say that he is from Vandelay Industries and that George had applied to work there. Of course Kramer answered Jerry's phone, so the scam didn't work. . . .

anon

Steven

Did you watch the clip? You can find it on YouTube. Just put "Seinfeld robbing fat guy" and listen to what they say as the man is attacked. You think those remarks were funny? We all know that the students would laugh at those "jokes" - should this be encouraged? Where is common sense here?

Is "Seinfeld" some sort of standard of decency in your view?

If disgusting juvenile humor at the expense of others is now being lauded and fawned over as a preferred means to pander to the immature tastes of law students, then law schools truly are lost. Law school can be, and should be, a place to acquire maturity.

It is mind boggling that so many law profs can't fathom this simple point. This perhaps explains the sort of remarks I have so often heard from the mouths of the "elite" among law school faculties - bigoted, insensitive, cruel. Examples are provided above. These comments are completely tolerated so long as not directed at favored groups or individuals.

Finally, it was Beau, not Wes, who referred to the referenced episode about "robbing the fat guy."

Steven Freedman (KU Law)

I'm going to defer to the New York Times for my final word on whether the last episode of Seinfeld was vile and offensive, or a relatively funny, self-mocking commentary on the self-absorption and narcissism of the four main characters. http://www.nytimes.com/1998/05/15/arts/television-review-seinfeld-goes-out-in-self-referential-style.html

anon name

Oh come on...... this is just another example of the extreme oversensitivity that pervades academia today. The fat guy IS fat and he can't run fast. Grow up. Deal with it. Take your oversensitivity someplace else.

anon

anon name

Comprehensive. Incisive. Brilliant.

And, A+ for reading comprehension re: your comment about academia. You must be referring to this:

"My other concern is that, these days, even the slightest remark that might offend certain groups is grounds for OUTRAGE, but, as stated above, other groups are fair game. Law profs, in my experience, express bigotry, ageism, and other prejudices in the most disgusting ways.

Such profs (I have no reason to include you Beau) often believe it is "cute" to do so. It is so striking to hear the endless pontification about the impropriety of certain remarks coming from the lips of those who regularly utter vile generalizations and slanders about non-favored groups and individuals. Anyone who has spent time in the FL has heard the remarks quoted above, and much worse."

And, you clearly have no idea how some students feel when irresponsible law profs insult them. Perhaps you were that arrogant, perfect one in the front row.

Finally, the fact that you are repeating the Seinfeld comments, but without any humor, demonstrates that you sort of didn't and don't get it, in any respect.

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