The Sound of Settling
A few days ago, Jamelle took a shot at “The Office”:
It is actively painful to watch clueless mediocrities trudge through their jobs animated by little more than their mutual disdain and acrimony. And it’s only gotten worse with this season. As Keane notes, Jim and Pam were such appealing characters precisely because they obviously didn’t belong. They were bright, clever and could have easily broken out of Dunder Mifflin to find real success for themselves. But as we’ve seen this season, they haven’t – they’ve settled. And worse, we (the audience) can tell that they’ve settled. It’s perfectly clear that Jim and Pam aren’t happy with their lot, and but don’t have the motivation or courage to aim for something larger.
The worst part about this is the effect it has on the viewer. I am 22, and as you can probably tell from this blog, I’m kind of ambitious. I want to do something important, or at the very least, fulfilling. The Office is not even remotely encouraging, indeed insofar that there is a “lesson” to the show, it’s “that having dreams is no indication that you’ll ever achieve them.” At this point in my life, Jim, Pam, Michael and Dwight’s antics don’t even close to amusing me. No, they fill me with existential despair.
I’m about three seconds older than Jamelle in the grand scheme of things, but having just endured the inevitable “all your friends from college are getting married” season, I think I know where the show is coming from. I feel vaguely depressed just writing this, but “settling” – more charitably, growing up – inevitably involves certain trade-offs. Sometimes, friends’ professional or personal aspirations take a backseat to a long-term girlfriend or spouse. While this might mean they make it out to the bars a little a lot less frequently than you’d like or they aren’t applying to that grad program they planned on, it doesn’t make their decision to invest in a relationship any less satisfying.
In the context of the Jim-Pam relationship, “The Office” makes this trade-off pretty explicit. In the second season, Jim forgoes an opportunity to move to a better, higher-paying job in Maryland to stay in Scranton with Pam. Later, Pam gives up her shot at an art career in New York to move back in with Jim. Sure, they’re still stuck at Dunder-Mifflin, working mid-level jobs in a collapsing industry. But they’ve got each other, which ought to count for something.
Shameless plug: A few weeks ago, we talked about “The Office” on our TV podcast.