As a highly popular TV series airing over a span of about seven years, ‘The Office’ depicts many of the concepts posed and studied in the Marxist methodology.
First off, through mimicking a basic, aesthetically ordinary documentary style with its breaking of the fourth wall, plain cinematography, modest setting, diverse casting choices, as well as the prominent use of recurring one on one interviews, the show implicitly naturalizes the interactions, behaviour and conversations we get to laugh at and be a part of over and over again. One can draw parallels between this and what Marx and Engels put as the “ideas which increasingly take on the form of universality […] expressed in ideal form [… and] the only rational, universally valid ones.” (Lawrence and Wishart 59) While at once bizarre, charismatic and hilarious, the main cast members are intricately fleshed out to be flawed and relatable. This strategy is not only potent in targeting audience members from various ethnic backgrounds, it also works well in drawing the viewers in and framing the chain of events as nothing but a slice of everyday life taking place in an office building somewhere in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
In spite of (or perhaps under the guise of) portraying a playful boss and a mostly unengaged, unproductive, constantly distracted group of direct reports, The Office perpetuates many of the underlying myths in a capitalist society. The staff members literally do not have a ‘life’. They are defined by their place within the office dynamics and are rarely portrayed outside of the office, in their homes or while spending time with their family members. That is unless their significant other is also a part of the same environment, as is the case – to name a few – with Pam and Jim, Angela and Dwight, Kelly and Ryan, or Phyllis and Bob Vance who happens to be from the office next door.) In fact, the relationships formed outside or moved beyond this framework is somehow already broken or bound – sooner or later- to fail. This is consistently the case over several examples and across almost every relationship portrayed, romantic or otherwise.
Despite his preoccupation with romance and fatherhood, Michael Scott’s unconditional passion and dedication to the company steadily hinges on his tendency for short lived, dysfunctional romantic relationships. He is dumped by his realtor and by Jan after she is fired from the company and proceeds to render him ‘impotent’ by sharing a child with a sperm donor instead. Years later when Michael is finally ready to settle down with Holly into what seems to be a healthy relationship, he is ‘punished’ by having to choose between his 19+ year work legacy or his dream for a family.
Similarly, Pam and Jim each break off their individual romantic involvements, both of which somehow tie in with their respective partners (Roy & Karen) leaving ‘Dunder Mifflin’. Later on, their marriage is jeopardized soon after Jim goes part time, and the matter is not fully resolved – despite every effort – until he accepts to let his dream venture go and commit back to the company as a full time employee.
Likewise, Meredith is portrayed as a neglectful mother with a broken relationship with her son and Angela has the integrity of her marriage to the senator compromised when it comes to light that he is having an affair.
This reinforces behaviour closely in line with Marx’ observation: “The more the worker appropriates the external world and sensuous nature through his labor, the more he deprives himself of the means of life” (Easton and Guddat 1). As Marx further puts it, “political economy conceals the alienation in the nature of labor by ignoring the direct relationship between the worker (labor) and production.” (Easton and Guddat 2)
Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels, Ruling Class and Ruling Ideas. from Marx, K. and Engels, F. The German Ideology, 1970 London: Lawrence and Wishart, pp 64-6.
Marx, Karl. Alienated Labour (brief excerpts). From Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, trans. and ed. by Loyd D. Easton and Kurt H. Guddat. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company: Anchor Books 1967 pp. 287-301