Seinfeld was always known for its wild and not entirely sane characters, and now the beloved sitcom is actually being used as a tool to help medical students identify and diagnose mental illnesses.
Anthony Tobia, a professor at Rutgers’ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J., is teaching a course he calls “Psy-feld,” that uses analyzes the characters on the 1990s show.
“When you get these friends together the dynamic is such that it literally creates a plot: Jerry’s obsessive compulsive traits combined with Kramer’s schizoid traits, with Elaine’s inability to forge meaningful relationships and with George being egocentric,” Tobia told NJ.com.
In one class, students had a debate over whether George Costanza was showing signs of narcissism when he neglected his girlfriend to focus on Jerry’s.
“I wouldn’t say he is completely narcissistic because he actually starts to enjoy the idea that she doesn’t like him,” said third-year student Ryan Townsend. “Narcissists can’t stand the idea that people don’t like them.”
Newman, who plays Jerry’s nemesis on the show, is a particularly interesting case to the Seinfeld class.
“Newman’s sense of self, his meaning in life, is to ensure that he frustrates Jerry,” Tobia said. “We actually have talked about Newman in that context and related him to Erik in ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’ The Phantom, while he starts out as being the tutor to the Prima Donna, actually has his life change and he is bent on revenge and that becomes who he is… and that’s Newman.”
After a wave of criticism, Seinfeld walked back the comments in an interview with Access Hollywood.
“I don’t have autism, I’m not on the spectrum. I just was watching this play about it and thought, ‘Why am I related to it on some level?’ That is all I was saying.”
Seinfeld isn’t the only fodder for Tobia’s class. He’s also had students watch the movie Fargo and live-tweet their thoughts about the characters’ potential disorders.