For the vast majority of my existence, I was oblivious and downright ignorant to the brilliance that was ‘The Office‘ but then, the all-powerful algorithms of Amazon finally caught up to me. The first season was an absolute disaster, but thanks to some peer-pressure, I carried on. Now, I am writing an article (not at gunpoint) about why this show still resonates with so many people after more than 14 years of its initial release.
The Office (US) is a mockumentary that depicts the everyday lives of office employees in the Scranton, Pennsylvania branch of the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. With people like Steve Carell, Greg Daniels, Mindy Kaling & the legendary Michael Schur (Mose) in the production team, the show was not going to become irrelevant anytime soon but its core philosophy is what still keeps it connected with reality, even more so in the age of the coronavirus. This show about an office weirdly does teach some stuff about what a good office means.
The Subtle Art of Giving A Fuck
What sets this show apart from the other shows of notoriety, was that Dunder Mifflin was no Central Perk or MacLaren’s Pub, here, for the most part, actions had consequences and the settings were grounded, so much so, that I could be in it. The irritation of being called on to long meetings, with the core agenda being ‘stupidity’ was not new. Humour and satisfaction on small things like free food, birthday celebrations and revelling on the petty-misfortune of peers were not as implausible as waking up with a pineapple and no recollection of last night. The USP of the show was subtle humour, which based itself on relatability and quality rather than punchlines and laugh-tracks. The show made a deliberate effort to base itself on reality and then, point out the ridiculous nature of our own lives with the over-the-top antics of its characters.
Enter Michael Scott
Speaking of over-the-top characters, one can’t evade the brilliance that is Steve Carrel’s Emmy-winning character, the best boss; Michael Scott. When we think of a boss, we see a mature and commanding presence. One quick scroll through LinkedIn, you will have gone through plenty of #insightful and equally cheesy paragraphs that fit the perception of the boss/leader. Michael Scott meanwhile forcefully kisses his gay accountant while concluding a seminar on appropriate office behaviour.
The behaviour of this boss would make the pundits at LinkedIn take out their pitchforks, rulers and letters and then push Michael into the abyss of unemployment. However, Michael would simply start his own company and force them to a buyback. Even though the show makes every attempt to show the outlandish nature of this leader, it also shows how his branch is actually thriving in an otherwise sinking market. The only time, the Scranton branch outperforms in his absence is when they had no boss. While many out there ask the question, what it means to be a boss, this sitcom shows what it does not mean.
Michael comes off a stupid, immature, eccentric, lazy & an impulsive man-child at first, but soon we realize the cause of his actions. The need to be loved & feared (on how much people love him) layered his antics and made him 10% nicer. The moments where his talent as a salesman came off with his easy-going behaviour, we saw the outlandish nature of our realities. What makes Michael a success for the Scranton branch is the very thing that other bosses strive to reduce, fun. The almost stupid desire of Michael to build a family and not a workplace, the importance he gave to fun and play rather than work and learning is what made his branch successful in an otherwise failing industry. The Office shows the fundamental flaws in our modern workplace, the overindulgence on KPI’s and other mumbo-jumbo while trying to suck the last ounces of humanity from the very people it is supposed to sustain.
The Office: A Modern Workplace
Even without the coronavirus, the office was seeing a transition. Modern technologies made it easier to control and organize people with emails and algorithms rather than with meetings and conversations. The measurement of employees on performance was increasing but the importance of their personality and antics on the culture was not. If we take some time to think about it, does the demotion of the person from a human to a user/worker not seem as outlandish as Dwight solidifying his rule on The Office? Our fundamental obsession on growth hacking and hustle culture has left an economy of over-worked people, prone to burnout and mental health issues. All while we put billionaires, most of them responsible for the most unethical and heinous actions, on pedestals.
Now, with the advent of work from home, we can see the transition from person to cog almost become a reality. A fact that was laid out brilliantly in the movie, The Intern, was that an office is more than a place to make money. It can be a place, where people want to go.
Professionalism & Michael Scott
Perhaps the greatest heist of all time has been the robbing all meaning from the word, professionalism. We see this word tossed around in every poorly copy pasted post on LinkedIn, a word that allows those in power to justify any behaviour to their subordinates. Perhaps it is wise to create a workplace with relationships being transactional and transient, to facilitate the growth of an organization, but in doing so, do we defeat the purpose. If capital and people are two requirements of production, doesn’t the current ecosystem seem as outlandish as Creed remaining an employee for Dunder Mifflin?
What Michael did was not create a productive work environment, his antics and shenanigans gave an escape to the other characters from a job they had little interest in, both because of its dull nature and equally poor compensation. The stupid meetings, which modern leaders try to reduce never solved a productivity issue but helped these weird and outlandish people see the normal and good in their co-workers, find meaning in their lives and that luckily lead to some sales (mostly Dwight). The office shows that while branches like New York, where career and growth are valued, make for good business, the existence of a Schrute Farm & Scranton Branch is equally important. Two productive people can do the work of twenty in the short-run but as interests vain and time goes by, it will be the experiences that will motivate you, not the goals.