Monday, November 22, 2010

The Office: Real Characters in a Modern Comedy

Lately I've been watching a lot of episodes of The Office and overall I find it to be a fairly comical television show. While I love to follow the office romance between two of the characters, Jim and Pam (who are in season two something equivalent to star-crossed lovers), I cannot help but be slightly disturbed by the portrayal of the token Latino, Oscar Martinez. Oscar is not one of the "main" characters and as this show is somewhat of a sitcom or situation comedy show there is no real story line, only small details cross over between episodes, but there are several facts that the audience can hold on to in understanding the characters background.
What the audience knows about Oscar is that he comes from an immigrant background, he is Mexican, and a closeted homosexual. Everyone knows he's Mexican because that is one part of his identity that everyone associated him with. This is no different for the other ethnically diverse characters, such as Kelly Kappor the "Indian" or Stanley Hudson the residential "black man." His sexual orientation on the other hand is a secret to all but the audience. This is evident in the Valentine's day episode his lover sends him a gift and when the office asks who it is from he says "my mother." Prior to this one of his co-workers had gone to his home to confirm he had a valid reason for calling into work sick and saw him with his lover (but was oblivious to the situation) and promised not to tell the boss that he had lied. For the duration of the episode he and his lover exchanged loving looks and caresses when the nosey co-worker had his back turned. As Michael Scott, the boss, makes it known he likes to make fun of different ethnicities or sexualities in the name of equality characters who this type of harassment pertains to are forced to brush it off and take Michael's ignorance as part of his character. While this may be true it is not right.
I am not disturbed at the fact that Oscar is portrayed in very real situations, such as coming from an immigrant background or wanting to keep aspects of your identity private. In fact I think that this show does a good job at presenting their characters in an authentic way. For example, the writers could have put Oscar in the warehouse doing some sort of manual labor they chose not to. What I do not appreciate is that this is all seen as comical or something that can and is to be made fun of. I feel that serious topics are in this show not satirized but help perpetuate particular ideologies about how certain individuals should act. I understand that this show is meant to entertain, and as I've said I find it entertaining myself, but this is putting aside all of the things that I see wrong with the way the characters are constructed to interact and identify themselves.


  1. I think that looking at the Office is a really interesting view into the way satire is applied to very problematic issues in a way that I think is kind of sad. People laugh, I admit I laugh. But sometimes I feel guilty about afterward because a lot of the things that are joked about are decently serious problematic stereotypes like Melissa mentioned above. However, I think the thing that does redeem the humor of the show is that, even though Michael Scott will crack offensive jokes about anyone that's not white, male and heterosexual, there is generally a point where he ends up paying for it. Or if he doesn't feel any sort of repercussions/remorse the show will likely be written so the viewers end up sympathizing with the person who is being made fun of in a way that pretty clearly indicates that Michael is in the wrong. However, I think this is the kind of subtlety is usually only detected by people who are more open-minded and less likely to be the kind of person who would independently choose to agree with Michael's opinions, whereas people who share the not PC views would be more likely to overlook the undertone of disapproval. This very much ties in to the discussions we had about comedy earlier in the semester.

  2. I think the whole point to Oscar's character is not only to satirize stereotypes (simultaneously) on homosexuals and those of Mexican descent but also to present it in a way that these stereotypes are palpable to the audience and defuse any reservations we may have towards those who are not like the mainstream, heterosexual white audience.

    To illustrate this point, the character make-up of Oscar is one that's amiable, reasonable, and often helpless at Micheal Scott's incessant teasing about his homosexuality or forcing him to play into an ethno-stereotype - such as giving him a Pinata to beat for his party and assuming that he will enjoy it etc (in the later seasons). The audience is made to sympathize with Oscar and mentally rehearse their defensive counter-arguments for him and against Micheal, and in that way, anti-stereotypical sentiments are precipitated and perpetuated. So overall I find this show actually worth watching, even politically.

  3. Although I agree that there are some problematic issues in the show, I would like to somewhat defend the show's integrity because in later seasons Oscar is no longer closeted on the show. In fact, characters on the show often rally together and help set up Oscar or help him pursue his romantic interests. It is the natural progression of the storyline. It shows an almost realistic take on how office colleagues would deal with a homosexual co-worker which end result is love and acceptance. I am not defending Michael's actions and inappropriate comments, I am just commenting on the structure and writing of the show. The storyline progresses in attempt to repair most of these problematic issues. And it is always good to keep in mind that this show in some ways is a show about a family. At the risk of sounding super cheesy and dorky, like any family, they tease each other and say inappropriate things but at the end of the day they care about each other's feelings. I think The Office does a good show of trying to appropriate much of the tensions of race and sexuality depicted on television while maintaining the ethics of a funny amusing show.

  4. I do not remember which exact episode it is, however I think it is "Diversity Day" where Michael Scott makes several offensive jokes and several of the perceived stereotypes are shown. I remember watching the episode and cringing. Michael makes me cringe a lot though even though I find him humorous. This discussion makes me think about our discussion on comedy that we had in class after watching the George Lopez clips. Satire can be beneficial as it is a way of opening up discussion in a manner that isn't as confrontational as a public debate on issues. I believe that comedy can be a medium to help relieve existing tensions and to begin a discussion. For example, throughout the Latin@ Pop blog, we can see that satire sparks discussion, it is times when people do not question what they are watching and do not enter a dialogue that satire can be destructive.