Sunday, August 14, 2011

Why I consider Michael Scott of "The Office (U.S.)" the greatest sitcom character ever created (so far).

He thinks he is a young, good-looking, funny and smart person and that of course, everyone has no choice but to like him. To his coworkers, he repeatedly insists that he is a friend first, a boss second, and "probably an entertainer third". He considers his co-workers as "family members". He thinks he's a lovable boss who is trying to motivate his employees with a dash of humor. He even bought himself a mug that said, "World's Greatest Boss" which he delightfully treasures. 

But, he is none of these. In reality, he neither has friends nor a social life outside work. He falls for any woman who smiles at him twice. His co-workers don't think high of his abilities as a manager and consider him a regular nuisance. They do not invite him to any of their parties. His bosses have no faith in him. What more, he is abysmally inadequate in comprehending others' reaction towards him. That is Michael Scott, the regional manager at the Scranton, PA office of a mid-sized paper supply firm who bosses over a dozen other employees. He doesn't seem to get it that the others might differ with his definitions of awesomeness. But, Michael is not plain dumb and stupid. He is a people's person. He loves talking, making friends, joking around and seems to get his humor right with his clients. He values his employees as the most important asset and many a time, he is portrayed to genuinely care for his employees. His jovial and cordial persona once made him a star salesman for the company and led to his promotion as a manager. As Peter Principle would have it, the same old tricks that made him a good salesman would no longer work in his managerial capacity. With an insecure desperation to be liked by everyone, he repeatedly finds himself blurring the boundaries between professional and personal life which makes it harder for him to break a harsh news (reduction of benefits or firing an employee) or even make a simple decision on what to buy with the office budget surplus (To buy "new chairs" or a "new copier"). He champions himself as a “cool and funny” boss but never seems to realize the importance of context to comedy. Consequently, he constantly ends up frequently invoking a completely incongruent and insensitive racial, gender, age, disability or gay stereotypes much to the chagrin of everybody around. This colorful contradiction of being fundamentally simple-hearted along with his dismal lack of control over actions and helpless self-indulgence made him instantly lovable and captivating TV characters of American Television. Among a multitude of misplaced contexts, pitiable gaffes, unintended seriousness and beautiful "Inappropriocity" do we find a glorious treasure of subtle humor and biting satire on humanity itself.

The most marvelous aspect of the show is how the writers have authenticated such flexibility in a character. They managed to create a character who can be anything, be it funny, naïve, misinformed, smart, stupid, evil, nice, sweet, rude, vulgar, flirty, insecure, shallow and sometimes even correct - and made it look totally believable. Steve Carell who plays Michael Scott, himself said that the character can "get away with saying anything". To pack in so much of diversity in a fictitious character is a stroke of genius as far as the art of comedy is concerned. This is exactly why I feel Michael Scott is artistically one of the greatest sitcom characters of all time.


Probably, the biggest reason why I love the character is his self-delusion and utter lack of self-awareness. No other work was able to point out to me as effectively as "The Office" of my own delusions and prompting me for the first time to question my own self-images. He represents a delightful comedic metaphor for our imposed blindness onto ourselves reminding us how easy it is to rationalize any of our actions and thoughts as long as we are using clever euphemisms. 


He is a hyperbolic caricature of a person refusing to break open and crawl out his own shell of world-views and self-indulgences. The hilarious awkwardness that ensues when Michael making fun of Kelly Kapoor by speaking in an annoying Indian accent or when he tries to dress up as a "Fat Mike" (in a partially inflated Sumo fighting suit that he bought for himself) to make a point on obesity is so reminiscent of our constant yet reluctant struggle within us to put on an acceptable reaction all the while being cautious not to offend anyone on any kind of personal identities be it sexual, religious, racial or political etc. The particular scene where Michael tries to kiss Oscar (who is gay) in order to prove that he doesn't discriminate against gay people is possibly my most favorite philosophical moment of the show. Not only does it parody our paradoxical urgency to prove that we "care”, it also demonstrates the shallowness of our ways to declare our open-mindedness. We notice how farcical we are if you see any of those ads by the oil companies saying that they are trying to be "green" while mocking the climate-change research or lobbying against renewable energy (or) when the plastic bottles/e-waste from your neighborhood recycling bins end up on theroad-side of a third-world country. Our reactions to ecological degradation, climate change or other people’s religions and culture are a classic example of similar hypocrisy that we drape ourselves with. When Michael passes off a double-entendres on his assistant ("Unbutton that top button. Let those things breathe"), it surely makes us laugh, but also nervously reminds us of the implied metaphors of how the popular media culture has somehow okayed the objectification of women.

Another celebrated motif that runs distinctively through "The Office" is Michael's lack of motivation and seriousness in his job. One employee describes his managerial style as "80% distracting others; 19% procrastination; 1% critical thinking". His real heroes in life are always comedians ("The day Steve Martin dies will be the worst day of my life"). His secret dream is to be a screenwriter, an improv artist and sell comedy albums:

Even though he didn't have the time to pursue the dream, he could never let go off this obsession and ended up imagining himself as the office comedian. We know what a disaster that can be given his persona although he does seem to have a good sense of humor and is extremely knowledgeable about comedy.  This is probably where Michael enjoys a cordial empathy from the audiences as many of us find ourselves in jobs we really may not care deeply about and similar struggle to come to terms with constant haunting of secret dreams and compromised ambitions. The universal workplace paradox of being mired in the illimitable boredom of job-routine makes us helplessly laugh and yet we secretly pine along with him for his longing till a realization dawns on us on we may not be all alone in seeking self-delusion, after all.

We may laugh at him, pity him or cheer for him. But, it is impossible to ignore the Michael Scotts amongst all of us and in our society as a whole. “Micheal Scott” is a brilliant thought-experiment of how a person would be if he completely lacked perspective. The comedic exaggerations and absurdities of "The Office" do form an emphatic argument for growing self-indulgence and erosion of perspectives in our times. To me, "The Office" will always remain a special inspiration. Ricky Gervais (the original genius behind "The Office") majored in Philosophy (although he did it to free his time to make it in his music career) and it's hard to miss the philosophical underpinnings in the show.


Jeremy said...

Brilliant article - i consider myself a big fan of the great Scott!

Unknown said...

Great article. Should have delved into his childhood more. There is a lot to dissect there.

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