Cultural hegemony is a term and concept that has been created by the Italian Marxist Gramsci. In his terms, hegemony is considered to be the means of success of the dominant classes in portraying their own definition of reality and their perspective of the world – one which should be accepted by other classes.
NBC network’s The Office is definitely a show that a lot of youth watch nowadays or well, used to at the least. Some people are amused by the show’s style of humour, however many are not so entertained. Personally, I find that the style of humour in this particular show is used to depict hegemonic relationships and stereotypes that exist in modern culture. Thus, for this specific reason, I will attempt to apply and analyze the theme of cultural hegemony to The Office.
The Office is a documentary that mockingly looks into the humorous and somewhat realistic daily occurrences of the typical office life. Furthermore, I personally find that The Office is able to surface certain issues and stereotypes that exist in the workplace and society. The show mainly focuses on the delusional branch manager, Michael Scott. He believes that he is not only the best manager but also the coolest one there could be. Personally, I believe the directors of the show purposely made Michael Scott to represent the repressed hegemonic social issues in society.
The Office emphasizes how hegemonic concepts about gender, race, homophobia, and sexuality exist in society and culture today and it highlights the oppression that individuals place on those particular views. I find that Michael’s character symbolizes a physical representation of oppressive topics in our society. His character, as aforementioned, is oblivious to the fact that he represents such views, which one could say shows how our society has a tendency to operate. The audience definitely feels outraged due to many comments he makes, but personally, I think he is just putting a voice to the several stereotypes that exist in culture. As I mentioned above, many people do not like or are not entertained by the show due to the script Michael has been given and the situations that he creates. However, completely understanding these hegemonic situations are represented in extreme cases, I still think it creates an accurate indicator of the stereotypes existent in culture.
In particular, there is definitely evidence of a dominant class system in the show and this is apparent whenever Michael illustrates an unenthusiastic view of his employees that work in the loading dock versus those who work in the actual office. Another example of hegemony would be explicitly shown in the episode “Diversity Day.” In this episode, Michael has good intentions and wants to educate his employees about diversity though the use of stereotypes. Each staff member was given a card to place on his or her forehead and there was a particular ethnicity written on the card, such as Chinese or African. Then, Michael had the employees pair up so that they could proceed and make stereotypical comments to each other based on the ethnicity on the card.
Here is a youtube link from the episode “Diversity Day” where Michael unknowingly mocks the Muslim race:
In this particular scene, Michael is seen to be mocking the language and the dialect of the Muslim race as he confronts and speaks to the Muslim female with an accent.. As aforementioned, the audience can see the hegemonic message of race in society and sheds a light on racial stereotypes. Furthermore, it indicates how racial minorities are depicted within today’s society and culture. Ultimately, this episode brings awareness to all the stereotypes present in today’s culture and how minority groups are ranked low in respect to cultural hierarchy.
An additional example of how Michael is a representation of culture hegemony is when he attempts to be politically correct but is ultimately offensive. In one episode, Michael asked one of his employees, Oscar, what his ethnic background is and after hearing the response, he asked: “Is there a term besides Mexican you prefer? Something that is less offensive?” This type of racial stereotype is often used to increase the social standing of one specific culture/group of people and in particular, this racial stereotype indicates how prevalent such comments are in our modern culture.
In general, aside from cultural aspects of hegemony, there is also definite evidence of hierarchy and gender stereotyping in the episodes, as discussed by Jane Tolmie in Genders 125 at Queen’s University. Throughout the show, men are seen to be aggressive salesmen who control the office; whereas the women are seen to be passive and more so, in the supporting role. For example, the receptionist, Pam, supports the salesmen and Kelly is seen to be ‘marriage-crazy.’ Furthermore, Jan was Michael’s boss in the very beginning of the show’s production. She was definitely in the superior position but eventually lost her job after she seduced Michael. Thus, it can be said that The Office seems to put men higher on the scale according to hegemonic hierarchy.
So, though these stereotypes and hegemonic messages persist throughout the show, there could potentially be a positive impact on society. During many of Michael’s inappropriate cultural/racist comments, the other employees are seen to be rolling their eyes, mocking him, or even just dismissing what he states. For that reason, the audience/viewers could potentially be made aware of their own actions and how they are a part of these societal and cultural stereotypes.
Goldberg, Michael. Hegemony. University of Washington. 2004. Web. faculty.washington.edu/mlg/courses/definitions/hegemony.html