A few weekends ago, my sons and I went to see Bee Movie. I have a few brief thoughts on the film eventually, but first a thought or two about fatherhood:

In many ways, I was "born again" (again) on May 12, 1999 (the birthday of my first son).

The act of being a father to my two boys fundamentally changed my perspective on life.

I am a history teacher by vocation--and an historian by avocation. However, I did not truly understand the interconnectedness (the true power) of history until the birth of my sons.

An example: in the Stephen Spielberg film, Amistad, slavers fall upon the protagonist of the story, (we know him as Joseph Cinqué). The kidnapping proves violently disturbing--but, for me, the most bone-crushingly brutal shot is the one in which Cinqué's son, who does not witness the scuffle, sees only an empty frame where his father should be. They boy registers a slightly confused expression as to why his father is no longer visible; he is unaware that dad is gone for good. But we know, of course, what he does not.

The boy's face never fails to hit me like a sledgehammer. True, Cinqué has lost his freedom--but the much more profound tragedy is that a son has lost his father. Who will protect, teach, and love this boy? In that one scene, we begin to comprehend the enormity of the slavery holocaust, the catastrophic hole in the fabric of West African society that greatly exceeded the mere loss of individual liberty.

One other example: understanding the love of God.

The metaphor of God the Father is ubiquitous throughout the Bible. However, the analogy has virtually no meaning to anyone who has not experienced parental love, which is quite impossible to understand fully from a child's point of view (the object of the love). While I knew all my life that my parents loved me, I had no idea what that all-consuming, self-sacrificing, life-giving brand of higher love meant until I experienced fatherhood.

"What father when his son asks for a fish would hand him a serpent instead?" Before parenthood: a pretty bad one? After parenthood: Ah, I understand now. The Parable of the Prodigal Son: my voice cracks, my throat constricts, and my eyes fill with tears reading aloud the story, as I imagine the unspeakable joy of the father when he first catches a distant glimpse of his lost child coming home.

What does this have to do with Jerry Seinfeld?

In his study of "Nihilism and Popular Culture," Shows About Nothing, Thomas Hibbs described the 1990s sitcom Seinfeld as "normal nihilism," popular art in which meaninglessness becomes an "unspoken assumption." Key to this pop cultural transformation, and certainly an essential component of Seinfeld, according to Hibbs, was "dethroning the family."

Hibbs: Seinfeld marked a departure from previous American situation comedies in which the family served as the "dramatic and moral" structure for story telling. Brief moral lessons provided the basic building blocks of the ancien regime of American popular entertainment. Often didactic, pre-Seinfeld programs were shows about something, most often centered around positive themes: "thrift, fairness, compromise, honesty, and hard work." These were Ben Franklin-like virtues, "fundamentally reasonable and just, and meant to reinforce the shared undertaking of American democracy."

Hibbs describes an American TV world in which radical individuals were virtually nonexistent. While authority figures were human with limits and flaws, they engaged in a common enterprise, spoke a common language of "shared feelings and visions," and generally worked toward a common goal connected to a "common American destiny."

Seinfeld departed from that artistic framework, creating a cast of "uninformed, child-like characters" connected mainly by "comic coincidence." They toil in a capricious world overseen by a "dark, anti-provident God," arbitrary, inscrutable, virtue-averse, and as detached from humanity as the characters in the amorality play. A show about nothing.

Is Bee Movie a show about nothing?

Hardly. Bee Movie tells the story of a society pushed off its moorings by a radical individualist who sees the error of his ways and attempts to redeem himself by re-attaching the world to tradition, nature, community, and interconnectedness.

What's happened since the halcyon days of Seinfeld ? Is it too simple to say a wife and three kids? Has Fatherhood left Jerry a pile of mush?

Predictably, some commentators are horrified by this conversion.

Semi-famous Seinfeld detractor, Ron Rosenbaum, writes in this review for Slate :

"The film celebrates not bees who think, but a bee who learns the danger of thinking for himself, abandons his individuality, and becomes part of the hive mind, a cog in the honey-making machine.

"Seriously, that childishly totalitarian sentiment is the 'redemptive message' of the movie. Not bee yourself, but bee like everyone else."

Ironically, Hibbs, the scholar and social critic, who sometimes reviews movies for National Review Online (review here), notes no transformation in Seinfeld's thinking. Perhaps a proper examination would have called for a longer essay, or maybe the change struck him as too facile for comment.

As for the film itself, for the most part, I agree with Hibbs the movie critic. The movie is pleasantly amusing most of the time (perhaps more so for me as a nearly life-long Seinfeld devotee). I laughed a lot. My boys laughed a lot. The audience seemed to enjoy the fare. But, ultimately, the film fails for the very reason Seinfeld the artist has often given for why he doesn't like the genre: comedic films too often run out of gags before the finish line. The big finish in this tale is uninspiring, and the laughs are few and far between in the fourth quarter of the film.

So what?

Having said all that, I am pleased that Jerry Seinfeld has lost his edge. My suspicion is that he is a happier, more contented, and better man as a result of his journey. And now there is a Seinfeld that I can enjoy with my children.