Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Office: Fandom Merit and Malarkey


There's an odd trend in fandom that I've had the displeasure of observing that has to be explained before talking about the current season of The Office.

1. During the first season of a show, it can do no wrong and fandom overflows with love and creativity.

2. During the second season a show makes tweaks. Fans begin to question what they saw in the show in the first season. Their creativity is no longer a celebration of what they're watching, but an expression of what they wish they were watching.

3. At some point shortly afterward, fandom sours. Because we all know the guys running the show should totally be following what every single member of fandom wants, even if it makes no sense.
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Recently, on an internet community that shall remain nameless, there have been multiple posts that caught my attention regarding the direction that the writing staff of The Office has taken with several characters.. People are pissed because… Ryan's wearing stupid clothes and… Jim isn't pulling pranks?

I chalk a lot of it up to anti-shippers (not to be mistaken for 'non-shippers'). A recent roasting of Pam decried her decision to drop out of art school because IT'S HER DREAM!!!!!!!!! (Exclamation points are fandom's, not my own.) Since Pam's 'idiotic' choice, she's accused of devolving into an uncaring pregnant jerk who's more of an annoyance than a source of entertainment. I would say the same of those who have decided Pam made an 'idiotic' choice.

Pam's 'dream' was to become an artist and she followed that by taking a few courses and having her work in an art show where it received little to no attention. After doing some web design for Dunder Mifflin, she decided to go to art school in New York. She failed classes, wasn't enjoying herself… and she missed Jim. Her decision to return to Scranton wasn't failure; it was recognition. While Pam loves art, it wasn't her biggest dream anymore. Her dream became a future with Jim.

Pam is no less of an artist because she dropped out of art school and she is not a failure because The Office chooses not to show what's going on in the garage Jim converted into an art studio. It would be wonderful if Pam's art were to re-emerge, transformed, at some point later in the series because it would no longer be driven by a need to fulfill a dream, but will be the extension of a dream fulfilled.

As for her attitude, I took issue with her asking people not to wear perfume, but understand that it's a mockery of the selfishness of motherhood sometimes today. It also set up the vomit gag. Small sacrifices, folks. But what I think people are angry at – or at least what I saw a backlash about – was her slapping Michael. Some people think too highly of themselves and underestimate how they'd react if their own mother were dating their own boss and then watched said boss dump their mother on her birthday.

Plus, this show is ridiculous. If you don't acknowledge that, you're too lost to debate with.

Jim's decision to grow within the company has been deemed inconsistent with his character and now that he's hooked up with Pam, he's boring. Somewhere we've bought into this idea that a television show is boring if the main couple is together. You know what happens when a couple in the real world gets together? They enter into a new phase in their relationship called 'Dating'. Then there's the 'Marriage' phase. I know we're not used to believing that phase can work, but trust me, it still can. And when the 'Marriage' phase starts, sometimes it turns into the 'Two Kids and a Minivan' phase.

When a show goes south after their couple hooks up, it's the fault of bad writers who've decided coupling means death instead of seeing it as just a new phase in a relationship.

Jim, like many people in the real world, never really had a goal. The point when he decided he wanted to transfer to another branch to get away from Pam (when he thought he just couldn't have her) he started to toy with the idea that maybe he could grow within Dunder Mifflin and become a great salesman. Retiring as a salesman isn't everyone's goal, but people do it every day and they've had great (and often profitable) lives. Once Jim started a real relationship with Pam, his goal became making a life with Pam. With that comes the responsibility that often requires us to put aside things like playing daily pranks in order to work just a little harder to bring in the dough. He will never lose the jester inside, but he's learned to be more reserved about it.

It's called Growing Up, something many in fandom would benefit from.

Outside of this relationship come the 'favorite character' gripes. A lot of fans fail to recognize that their favorite characters are not necessarily the main characters and that it is main characters around which the core story revolves. I, personally, do not like Michael Scott. I suffer through most of his scenes outside of the office, but he is a main character and I have few justifiable complaints about his scenes – like in this past week's where I expected the great salesman that Michael Scott actually IS to actually HAVE a 45 day plan - but I understand when my complaints are JUST because I don't particularly like the character.

I've also never had any real strong feelings towards Ryan. He was the Temp, then he was Fire Guy, then he was that guy with no sales who got a high position at corporate, then he was the corporate guy who cheated and went to jail, and now he's the Temp again. He's a slacker who only THINKS he's intelligent because he went to business school. If you work in an office there's bound to be someone who went to school, got a high paying position, and doesn't know jack. But Ryan has pretty eyes, why did mean "new" Jim put his office in a closet!?

His growth has been limited because in society some people don't grow up. It's shocking to see people complain about his lack of growth as a character while failing to recognize the growth in others (also shocking, the lack of complaints about characters like Dwight, Kelly, and Angela, who also have had very little growth). It makes me wonder what fandom thinks growth is, or if what they really want isn't character growth, but character shifts: Their favorites in the spotlight while main characters get reduced to background characters.

Kind of like Heroes. Which most people hate because of the constant character rotation and near stagnancy with said characters while the plot rolls around in circles.

You want to know why most shows stall out after a few years? A lack of forward motion with the relationships and main characters on the show in an attempt to "keep the status quo" and eventually, it just angers the audience because... it's boring.

A stalemate with major characters is what stops a show dead in its tracks. All of these characters should be constantly evolving in one direction or another. For The Office, sometimes that growth comes in the form of a promotion, or a pregnancy; for their audience, that growth comes in acknowledging that maybe their favorite characters aren't as 'awesome' as in the fanfiction they write.

2 Responses to “The Office: Fandom Merit and Malarkey”

Spot-on. I'm with you on not liking Michael, and I agree that Jim and Pam have to have more to their lives outside of the office (too bad about that documentary format, huh?)--although I have still been frustrated by this season and a lot of Season 5. It seems like they've hit that fateful point in a sitcom's lifespan when most of the main characters become more caricatured, and the plotlines go from clever and comical to increasingly less interesting and/or kinda dumb. *sigh*

At least Niagara was made of win.

Anonymous said...

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