Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Diversity in The Office

The Office was a groundbreaking television show that challenges relatable and uncomfortable topics that are relatable to many Americans. The extremity of the subject and vulgar humor forces the audience to experience the awkwardness of the situation. It has received countless nominations and over 20 awards such as Emmys, Screen Actors Guild awards, Golden Globe awards, as well as the People's Choice award. The Office has incredible character development and real life situational humor. The second episode of the series, aired in 2005, “Diversity Day”, was named the nineteenth greatest episode of any television show in 2009 by TV Guide. The construction of race in the episode “Diversity Day” uses intense exaggeration, highly offensive and vulgar stereotyping as well as developing characters in order to symbolize the audience.

Michael, the boss, thinks he's trying to help and that he understands race as well as actually making the workplace a safer and more welcoming environment. However, because of his own insensitivity, the workplace is forced to do a “Diversity Day” to educate the staff on proper race relations. Ironically, Michael is the only one who really needs it. Michael tried to come from a place of understanding but his  ignorance is visible, “Abraham Lincoln once said that if you're a racist, I will attack you with the North, and those are the principles that I carry with me in the workplace.” Taking matter into his own hands, Michael writes out different races on index cards such as “Asian”, “Indian”, “Jamaican”, and even “Jewish” and “Martin Luther King Jr.”  Michael has the employee's tape the index cards to their heads and have others describe the race to them so they can guess what is written on the card.  When Pam, a mild mannered worker is forced to play along,  describes Chinese, “Fine, if I had to say something very stereotypical and bad about this card that’s on your head, if I’m being forced to do this against my will, I suppose I would say, and I don’t actually mean this, but I suppose I would say that you’re not a very good driver.” By using common and offensive stereotypes, the audience is shocked but can still relate to the resistance of the characters. Pam’s unwillingness to participate symbolizes the uncomfortableness of race, especially coming from a place of privilege. Michael Scott symbolizes the good hearted and well intentioned American who matter of factly knows next to nothing about race in America. The writers do this in such an outrageous and ballsy way that it brings shock value to the audience. The show is not afraid to cross boundaries, all races included, even the most touchiest, “You'll notice I didn't have anybody being Arab. I thought that would be too explosive. No pun intended. But I just thought, "Too soon for Arabs." Maybe next year. Um... You know, the ball's in their court." It makes the audience remember the times in life they too have experienced very cringy and similar experiences. Race is such an unspoken and silenced subject, especially in the workplace. By bringing forth this uncomfortable topic in the way they did, it shines the light on American culture and the unspoken mental stereotypes and biases we all have. They are rarely to the extreme that’s portrayed in this episode, but it does challenge our notions and and makes us stop and think about the world around us. 

 This episode reminds me of the uncomfortable situations of race I have encountered. In grade school, race was explained in a very clear cut manner with no grey areas allowed. As I continued to get older,  I was woken up to all of the injustice and inequality in our society. There are so many grey areas when it comes to race in our society. Race has become such an important topic that should be spoken about freely and normalized. With the election and inauguration of the new president elect, race will be forced into the spotlight as a central topic heavily discussed in America today. As society progresses, and regresses, race will always be an underlying problem that demands to be heard. Television shows like The Office, although crude and outrageous, force the American consumer to question their own notions of race as well as allow them to do it in a satirical fashion. American culture needs more iconic television shows like The Office that allow the audience to be conscious of their own biases and beliefs, as well as modernize and portray a diverse cast. The Office pushes the boundaries of television in an effective and thought-provoking way, making race a central topic of discussion.

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