Cultural Hegemony: The Office

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.

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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.

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Here is a youtube link from the episode “Diversity Day” where Michael unknowingly mocks the Muslim race:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ipEflG4lxc

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

 

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5 thoughts on “Cultural Hegemony: The Office

  1. I think this is a great example of cultural hegemony and resistance! This is something we see a lot of now. The deliberately outrageous racist, sexist, etc. discourse being used in popular culture, I feel is a great way to make people aware of the things that they are actually saying and how absurd it sounds. Because it is Steve Carell, it is hard for us to see it seriously, we as viewers understand it is mocking the stereotypes that exist today, which allows individuals to gain awareness. However, like you mentioned without being deliberate I think the show plays into stereotypes such as the difference between the men and women’s roles. It reminds me of the commercial shown in class “women sort yourselves out,” where it essentially is making fun of female stereotypes that exist to create awareness and entertainment. This is basically what The Office does.

  2. I personally am I huge fan of The Office. I’ve probably seen every single episode from the start. While it is obvious that the show explores stereotypes I don’t believe it to be in a malicious manner. I think sometimes we become so immersed into society that we often don’t realize how incorrect and offensive our comments are. I think Michael’s character was created to expose the ignorance all of us posses, because let’s face it, no one is an expert on anything and although we may not mean to be inappropriate, at times our lack of knowledge causes us to be. Michael’s character brings humour to the fact that we aren’t perfect and that we must learn from one another openly. With regards to cultural hegemony being expressed through male and female power positions I have to say that I disagree. Jan gets fired because of incidences that have occurred over the course of two years. For example, she smokes in her office, is constantly online shopping at work, takes multiple days off without notice, and leaves work for hour long breaks. Her relationship with Michael is the last straw of inappropriate behaviour. Lastly, when Pam decides she wants to become a part of the sales team she is right away given the position.

  3. Like you said near the end, I also think The Office could be used towards promoting this type of awareness to society, especially for the youth who watch these shows. Often, writers will make one character (Michael in this case) particularly offensive, or rude, or opinionated on whatever subject manner they want to bring to light, all the while the character is oblivious to their problematic behaviour. By doing so, audiences get to see how obscene and downright inappropriate some behaviours/comments/stereotypic beliefs/etc. may be. By setting up the storyline like this, we [the audience] gets to step back and realize: “Wow, is he for real? That’s so rude. Do people actually still make all these stereotypical comments about certain races, etc? That really should stop.”
    So, in a way, The Office could be promoting some good intentions by helping us realize how absurd stereotypes may be, and that they do in fact still exist [in the office place]. haha.

  4. I am a huge fan of the office and i remember when i first saw this episode. The producers obviously know how ridiculous and although it is just a show there are people out there that are this ignorant. Michael and Dwight characters are blatantly arrogant towards other cultures and are perfect examples of people who strengthen the hegemonic views towards other cultures. Watching the whole episode everyone else tries to hold back and be polite, and educated while Dwight and Michael verbalize every stereotype under the sun. Since it is a comedy it is easy to brush it aside as harmless but it represents well the cultural hegemony that is held up by contemporary society. I found the application to the office was a perfect example!

  5. I am not too familiar with The Office but your blog has me intrigued, especially to see the Diversity Day episode you mentioned. Littlebunny10 commented beautifully and I have to agree; everyone has some ignorance and that is okay as long as it doesn’t drive malicious actions and you are always willing to continue learning from others. I think in the context of everyday life, it can be hard to catch ourselves or people around us when offensive things are said. However as suggested by jscor, detaching ourselves from dialogue as strictly a TV viewer can be good practice and raise our consciousness towards stereotypes that could hurt others. As with all parodies we have analyzed in GNDS 125 lectures, there is a fine line between ridicule and reinforcement of the issue at hand. Judging by the mixed reviews of the show you talk about in your blog, it seems that The Office dances right on that line.

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