I have been watching The Office through Netflix and am now halfway through season two. I want to grab one episode as emblematic of what the show does, and then raise a question.
In a first season episode, boss Michael Scott makes everyone go through his version of a diversity seminar – painfully-funny scenes where casual racism is tossed around alternate with just regular funny scenes where we are, for example, making fun of Dwight for doing idiotic things. The Dwight scenes are generally not painful, because we feel he deserves it, as we do not think the rest of the office deserves being encouraged to spout racist things at their co-workers because Michael has the bad idea this is somehow helping people work through their “issues.” The day of the diversity seminar is also the day Jim expects to land a big account as he does every year on this day -- and pick up a huge commission. The seminar prevents him from doing so and he looses the account to Dwight, but in the seminar Pam gets sleepy and puts her head on Jim’s shoulder for a moment. He looks moved, and in the ending beat of the episode says that today was not a bad day.
The Office is what Brad calls “not really a Geoff Klock show” but I find these scenes moving enough to want to see more. I avoided the Office after seeing the first season of the British version and a few episodes of the new one until my sister insisted I see the Whedon directed episode since I am such a Whedon fan. It featured a terribly moving scene in which Michael and Pam comfort each other at her art show, and from then on I was hooked. But I keep returning to something I am not sure how I feel about and wanted to get your opinions on.
Does the show carry a kind of admirable philosophy of life in which your dreary, stupid, awful day-to-day existence can be redeemed by the smallest of perfect moments – as 19 minutes of uncomfortable scenes can be redeemed by one tiny, beautiful connection between Pam and Jim? Or is the show kind of frighteningly conservative, convincing us to be satisfied with our dreary, stupid, day-to-day existence by telling us that these tiny moments are enough, when maybe we should demand more, not from our television shows – on the show it is enough, at least for me -- but from our lives?
(I got this idea from a Slavoj Zizek comment on MASH. Zizek discusses Hawkeye’s use of subversive humour; Zizek argues it is not as subversive as it seems – instead of subverting the military system he hates so much, it actually allows him to do his job more effectively, which at the end of the day is all the army really cares about. It actually is not that smart a comment, since it is a question MASH asks itself, especially when Hawkeye receives a letter from a kid and describes his saving the lives of soldiers as “weapons repair”).