One of the most popular shows to air on television has been catching a lot of flak recently due to its problematic humor. The show is “The Office” which first aired in 2005 and was aired up until 2013. It’s a show that has developed a cult following amidst its increasing popularity. It’s a documentary style show that follows a paper company “Dunder Mifflin” and all the unique characters that work there. Capturing all the nonsense that they create on a day to day basis that’s usually headed by the boss Michael Scott, played by Steve Carrell
While The Office first aired over a decade ago it has been facing a lot of backlash due to the style of humor that they use. Most of the humor comes from the boss of the paper company Michael Scott. His humor tends to be about off limits subjects. Jokes of race, religion, people’s weight, sexuality and any insecurities the characters might have about them, nothing is off limits for his jokes. This is where a lot of the backlash is coming from as in todays society, we are increasingly aware and trying to prevent these topics to be laughed at.
There was one article by Affinity Magazine that first grabbed my interest in terms of backlash toward The Office. Its one of my favorite shows, but I do understand why people think it’s problematic. While this article is more of a paragraph with a list than an actual article its completely correct. The minority groups in the show are constantly harassed for their differences. Michael continually makes racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks throughout the entire course of the show. So, if you’ve never seen the show this article gives you an idea of what the humor looks like.
So yes, this show is problematic I will agree with that.
After I saw that article I was intrigued to see what others had to say, and in the last few years there’s been A LOT of articles published saying the same thing. Most of the authors of these articles even claim that they used to be huge fans of the show but as society evolves these jokes become less funny and more offensive to some. This is completely understandable, and I think the many writers and producers (there’s over 40) of the show expected this backlash.
An article came out this year by the The Decider where they chose five episodes to break down and explain why they are problematic. Without even clicking on the article I knew what episodes they were going to break down, I was able to guess four of them right. That’s because these episodes really take the shows problematic humor to the next level. The one they had listed as number one was the episode “Diversity Day” from season one.
Michael decided to teach his employees about diversity by making them put a card on their forehead and someone would use stereotypes about that ethnicity, so they could guess what was on their forehead. The Jamaican was a pothead and the Asian was a bad driver, you get the idea. They chose the most offensive stereotypes about that ethnicity to portray them. Even at some point in the episode Michael shouts the N word when trying to reenact a Chris Rock standup routine. So, its difficult to argue against any of these stances about the show
Everything about this show is wrong, the jokes are in bad taste, they are offensive, and it leaves the audience with a sense of guilt as they laugh at all the events in the show. So even though I agree The Office was problematic in just about every way I do think there was a reason the show lasted and wasn’t canceled after the first season for offending just about everyone possible.
That’s because the show was problematic for a reason.
First, we should understand why the show was so popular. It follows ordinary employees that work at a boring company. Most of the characters can be found in any real life workplace, the prankster, the know-it-all, the uptight one, the annoying one. This show is very relatable to a vast majority of America that sits in an office from nine to five. These are ordinary characters who happen to have an unordinary boss. People can relate this show to their own everyday life.
Now we look at that unordinary boss that’s so problematic, Michael. He’s every company’s worst nightmare, a walking lawsuit. Everything he does is a problem, he’s unproductive, waste his employee’s time, and has an obsession to be liked and accepted by everyone he meets. Then there’s all the behavior that was mentioned before. Michael is an example of everything you should not do in an office environment.
Anyone who has ever had a job has sat through the endless hours of training on sexual harassment, discrimination and all the ethical behavior that is expected from employees. We have all seen the videos in these training sessions that show bad examples of workplace behavior. The ones where a guy makes uncomfortable sexual advances toward a female coworker or makes a very poor racial joke to another employee but everyone else around can hear him as well. These videos are always cringeworthy because they show the worst and obvious examples. But it still remains a problem in the American workplace so its important they show them.
To me Michael is one of these videos, everything he does serves as an example of what not to do in a work place. Companies show these training videos for a reason, while proper behavior may seem like common sense to most it remains a problem in just about every company in America. If it wasn’t, they wouldn’t show the videos to every new employee and do annual training on it again each year. Every place I ever worked showed these videos regularly.
Like mentioned before these shows relate to a vast majority of America who work in an office environment. The Office always tries to show that all the bad jokes and behavior is not okay using dialogue and expressions from the other characters. For example, Michael’s favorite joke “That’s what she said”. A joke that was popular during the time this show was aired but completely inappropriate, expecially in an office environment. Every time Michael makes one of the jokes the camera cuts to one of the female characters sitting nearby. The always have an expression disgust and feeling uncomfortable. This isn’t on accident, its to show they viewer the effects it has on other workers who hear the joke. You might think a joke is funny but others who can over hear it might get offended.
If you watch the show with this in mind you begin to notice how much the producers go to explain the Michaels problematic behavior is not acceptable for an office. So, let’s go and look back at the article by The Decider. Number two on the list of problematic episodes was “Gay Witch Hunt”. This episodes Michael finds out that one of his employees is gay because he reported a homophobic slur Michael used toward him.
Michael gets upset that he doesn’t know when he can use the slur because he doesn’t always know who around him is gay and might get offended by it. Conversing with another employee Dwight, Michael says “There could be other, I don’t want to offend anyone else” which then Dwight replies with the appropriate response “You could assume everyone is and not say anything offensive”. Of course, Michael doesn’t like the logical response, but it goes to show how the producers put that conversation in to serve as an example of how to properly behave in a workplace. It was a very short conversation and serves no point to the plot but the producers put the scene in anyway.
So, while The Decider sees this as an extremely problematic episode its littered with other lessons like this when dealing with gay co-workers. Michael has his comedy that is offensive and might make people laugh but it is just to set up for the appropriate response to this situation. They make an effort to not let this offensive behavior be seen as acceptable.
So, lets continue with another episode on The Deciders list which is “Woman’s Appreciation Day”, number five on the list of problematic episodes. One of the female’s character Phyliss was flashed in the parking lot as she walked into work. She’s in shock after what she just saw and everyone in the office is very sympathetic toward her when they find out.
Except of course Michael, he finds this as a great opportunity to make a bunch of jokes toward Phyliss as she sits there traumatized. As Michael makes his jokes everyone in the office has a look of absolute disgust that he’s doing this. They all exclaim that what he’s doing is wrong. Then one character, Toby intervenes and says to Michael, “Laughing about it is not the appropriate response.” If the several shots of the disgusted employees’ facial expressions weren’t enough, again the producers created a short conversation to make it very clear for the audience.
Hopefully your beginning to see the theme because each one of the episodes on The Deciders list has moment in it like this. So yes, While Michaels behavior is ridiculously problematic throughout the entirety of the show and even more so in these five episodes, there is always a conversation that follows to explain to the audience that his behavior is unacceptable.
I agree with every article out there about The Office being offensive and problematic. The Office is not just trying to be edgy and make a bunch of jokes at taboo subjects in an attempt to get the audience to laugh. Its bigger than that, the producers understand that they cannot just portray this behavior as acceptable to society. Every chance the producers get they go out of the way to explain to the audience that the problematic behavior is wrong and use it as a lesson. You just have to look at it as one of those training videos you would watch at work where they show examples of poor behavior. So, if you believe that this show just makes jokes in bad taste for laughs, I encourage you to watch it again with this mindset. Look out for these lessons and understand that The Office is problematic for a reason and that it helps to teach society about acceptable behavior.