The Sound of Settling


Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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10 Responses

  1. Michael Drew says:

    Indeed, it seems (not being a regular viewer, I’m extrapolating here) this is close to the point of the show… the quiet dignity of trudging on through a life that is slightly less triumphant than hopes and dreams had envisioned yada yada. (Kind of similar to the underlying message of about 85% of American sitcoms ever produced in that.) It’s an interesting contrast with the other main NBC office-sitcom that is essentially the same show, just set in a place where the characters can disguise from themselves the essential meaningless of their corporate existence in the glitz and glamour of the Big City, 30 Rock. That, too, is a show I don’t watch precisely because, for all its apparently (wildly) successful satire of the portentiousness of the New York big-shot corporate culture (and what courage it must take for Tina Fey to skewer her own employer, and her employer to let her! Wait…), it still seems to rely on the audience essentially buying into that essential notion — that meaninglessness in work, and hence the boredom inherent in a totally uninteresting workplace, can seemingly be remedied by an exciting setting — in order to give some sense of import to the thing that is then pierced with biting satire. (All of which interest is of course heightened by the fact that the setting being pilloried is your own humble television network! I guess if solipsism is your thing…)

    Now, anyone who has lived in New York can tell you that there really are about a hundred million things the city itself offers that truly can give life greater meaning, and many of those things are in fact fulfilling work opportunities. But should you, as is likely, find yourself occupying one of the much greater number of rote, soul-deadening positions the city has to offer, the mere fact of being located there doesn’t make the monotony any more interesting. So as far as depictions of the bleakness of the bulk of modern American employment goes, I’ll take mine (when I take it) straight up, thanks.Report

  2. Bob Cheeks says:

    Sans snark: Jamalle’s blogs fill me with existential despair!Report

  3. Great post Will.

    I find myself today in a career I never would have predicted for myself. It’s not perfect and it’s not always sexy, but I bring home a good paycheck and every day I find a way to enjoy what I do. Of course there’s the old saying, “Don’t live to work, but work to live.” Think of it this way:

    168 hours in a week
    – 40 for work
    – 56 for sleeping

    72 hours to live life. That’s 72 hours you can go to school, volunteer, read, blog, love your wife, cook your kids pancakes on Saturday morning, play golf, fish, ride a bike, go to a concert, etc. etc. etc.

    I think the moment I became an adult is when I quit being ashamed of not having a cool career to tell people about when I met them and started being more proud to introduce them to my family or have them visit my home.Report

  4. Paul Barnes says:

    I would say that Jamelle actually misreads the dynamics of the show. First off, Jim in the first two seasons was the likable slacker, and it was only when he could no longer live with his feelings for Pam that he was forced out of his ‘rut’ by leaving Scranton and becoming number two at Uttica (I believe that’s where he was). In season four, when Ryan gets his promotion, he talks to Jim about his poor sales performance and general lackadaisical attitude towards his job (completely true) which is a real slap of reality for Jim. Thereafter, Jim starts to really succeed because he actually commits himself to his job.

    In season four and five, we see a couple of major events occur. He begins to start dating Pam (buying an engagement ring two weeks after this), buys a house for both of them, and, at the end of season five, we learn that Pam is pregnant. The beginning of this season, we see a couple of further developments in Jim’s personal and professional life. He is promoted to co-manager, gets married, and we learn that he and Wallace are actually fairly good friends.

    Despite all this, the impetus for Jim to actually attempt to improve himself or his career has been Pam all along. Similarly, Jim has encouraged Pam’s ambition, unlike Roy, to go to New York and to become a salesman.

    Finally, I think Jamelle forgets that The Office is essentially a show about family, albeit in a non-traditional sense. The Office-mates (especially in Michael’s mind) treat each other like family, dealing with each others foibles and weaknesses fairly well, all things considered. In particular, see last season’s story arc about Michael Scott Paper and Phyliss’ reaction at the end of it to Michael and her speech about family and how Michael hurt them. I think that that, along with the look on Michael’s face explains what the show is really about.Report

  5. Hudson says:

    I do not watch the tv show The Office. However, I have worked in many offices, especially in New York City, both as a temp and a full time employee. A reality show about office life would resemble an Andy Warhol movie, say, about sleep. You would see lots of repetitive motion, hear lots of repetitive talk. You would see/hear little of the thoughts, dreams, fantasies that animate personal life.

    The task for tv writers, who have imaginations, is to make interesting the workaday lives of workers who do not have imaginations. Workaday workers have fantasies; they can tell you what they would do with their lottery winnings. They do not have artistic imaginations, because they are not artists. They do not create virtual worlds the way artists do. Coleridge wrote about this.

    If you are an artist stuck in an office job, or any type of job, really, you suffer. Business English is to literary English, as martial music is to music. Complex sentences are not allowed in business letters. It’s subject, predicate, punkt. Whereas you can joke on the phone, you cannot joke in a business letter. Business letters are all business. I know, because I have typed practically every type of business document in existence, on practically every type of keyboard instrument you can type on.

    If you temp, you don’t need so many shirts and ties because you are gone in a few days. If you stay in one place more than a few months, you settle in, yes, requiring an upgrade to your wardrobe. Inevitably, you become involved in office politics, maybe even an office romance, though office romance can happen any place, any time.

    Once I worked at the Israeli Discount Bank in midtown Manhattan, in the back office, in the 1980s. The younger bankers were an eager, optimistic lot. They joked among themselves, threw paper airplanes, talked military shop. I sat next to a gnarled, older Russian who revealed to me that he had once had a top job at a Moscow opera-ballet company. He had four phones on his desk, one to the Communist Party. He told me stories about A-level talent; the poet Yevtushenko was one name he mentioned. He had marched into Berlin in 1945 with the Red Army, he told me. Now he distributed mail at the bank. I forget his name. He wore a beret and lived in the past.

    This made me aware of the alternate lives of older persons. There are New York messengers who have never had an alternate life. But there are people like Sergei, call him, who once sang and danced in glittering spaces, and are forever proud.Report

  6. bcg says:

    This is the fate of almost all underachievers – the mystery of what they could accomplish if they applied themselves is almost always greater than what they actually accomplish when they do. I think the takeaway from The Office is that once you do apply yourself, even though you didn’t do as well as you thought you would, you are still happier for it.Report

  7. Jaybone says:

    Well…it is just a TV show, after all, and only meant to reflect certain aspects of the reality of the workplace. But I do understand the points being made. Some years ago, I found myself in a job from which I could have probably escaped, but came to the conclusion that MOST jobs available to me at that time were going to be about the same. And much like one sees on “The Office”, my boss at the time was the poster boy for “The Peter Principle”. Though not nearly as entertaining, he was in fact MORE inept than Michael. I shamelessly used this fact to my advantage. I finally did quit that job in order to go back to school full-time. Thanks to the current economy, however, I since haven’t been able to find any worthwhile employment!Report