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

 

Call for Arms

Who knew that a spray-on deodorant would be able to bring love and peace to international war regions? It can easily be said that from the very first scene, the Axe Peace Super Bowl commercial feels like nothing the brand has previously produced or even promoted. Personally, I found the commercial’s gendered and racialized protrusions concerning the topic of war and peace to be concerning and alarming.

In this particular commercial, there is a toned-down piano track that bolsters the aspects of war and oppressive regimes. Furthermore, there is evidence of allusions to North Korea, the Middle East, World War II, and the Vietnam War. The commercial presents forth a character resembling Kim Jong-un (supreme leader of North Korea) overlooking a crowd in what seems to be Tiananmen Square, an Iranian man having what is assumed to a bomb handcuffed to his wrist, a young soldier gripping his machine gun, and a tank patrolling a destroyed city. Everything seems extremely depressing and isolated, up until a wife or girlfriend romantically approaches each of the men.

The Axe Peace advertisement attempts to make the product attractive to the macho man by referring to war, which is considered which is linked to masculinity (Hutchings 2007). It attempts to build a masculine consumer base by offering an elusive twist to masculinity by showing that men would choose love.

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I find that the advertisement is irrefutably racist in its representation of individuals living within these war regions. This is evident as the commercial portrays a threatening and dangerous image of individuals living within the Middle East and Asia. With the advertisements undisputable endeavor to display the briefcase as a nuclear detonator in the hands of a Middle Easterner, or a North Korean society prepared for war, it demonstrates ignorance and typically, less respect for the individuals living their daily lives within these portrayed regions.

Furthermore, the Axe Peace commercial is highly inappropriate in regards to stereotypes. For example, there is a scene in the advertisement where a beautifully dressed Vietnamese woman can be depicted during the Vietnam War. She watches defenselessly as an armed American soldier descends from a helicopter, strolls towards her, embraces and kisses her. This plays into the stereotype of a submissive, powerless, and beautiful Asian woman. Additionally, it also plays into the American dogma that women are gratifying towards the men who are contemplated to be the hero that risked his life for her or for a country. However, such portrayals neglect to address the number of rape of Vietnamese women by American soldiers that once happened.

Moreover, additional stereotypical references made during the advertisement would be the North Korean man and the Iranian man being depicted as threatening. The North Korean man, illustrated as Kim Jong-un, is seen at the scene signifying the Tiananmen Square massacre and the Iranian man is seen with a suspicious briefcase. These individuals and these scenes may possibly refer to the terrors that preceding leaders of these respective ethnicities have committed.

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Representation of North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un.

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Representation of former Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Not only is the advertisement denoted to be racist, but it is also highly gendered in its portrayal. In the scenes presented throughout this advertisement, there is evidence of gendered roles. The heterosexual men epitomized are enlisted into positions of power, allowing them to commence or stop war when they please. They hold authoritative positions of the aggressor, soldiers, hero, tyrants, President, or Dictator. The male gender stereotype presented throughout the Axe commercial seems to present the sense that a man’s role in society is not one of a submissive role. However, on the contrary, the females within this commercial evidently fit the part of a submissive individual in need of protection and rescue.

Gender roles for females within this commercial emphasize aggressive and repressive stereotypes that position a female into a powerless and voiceless role. Indeed this commercial shows hierarchy of the genders as the males are in position of power and authority. However, there seems to be a hierarchy arrangement within the female gender. For example, the only voice that seems to be heard throughout the entire advertisement is from a white female, who grimacingly utters the name of her tank-driving male lover, “Mikhail.” Quite the reverse, the women of another race (i.e. Middle Eastern or Asian) seem to be seen as the silent companion.

Understandably, armed forces are an important source of the rules that define proper behaviour for women and men as heterosexual (Aulette and Witner 384). Furthermore, Aulette and Wittner 2012 also state that women are recognized as instrumental in preventing and stopping armed conflict and in building peace (386). Thus, in terms of the constructed gender role of females within this Axe commercial, it becomes evident that the females are depicted as objects of male affection. However, in my opinion, the Axe brand seems to portray that with a spray of the deodorant, the male can control any woman’s emotions of love and affection. Thus, I would typically state that the advertisements that Axe produces, as a whole, tend to illustrate women to be head-over-heels for the male’s affection.

References

Aulette R. Judy and Judith Wittner. 2012. Gender Worlds. 2nd ed. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Hutchings, Kimberly. 2007. Making Sense of Masculinity and War. Sage Journals, Men and Masculinities 10: 389-404.

ad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63b4O_2HCYM

John Apple Jack – All about the right guy

John Apple Jack is a recently filmed gay, romantic, comedy film that was played at the Reelout Queer Film + Video Festival in Kingston, Ontario. The film is written and produced by Vancouver’s Rick Tae, directed and co-produced by Monika Mitchell and produced by Selena Paskalidis. It tells the story of a modern-day boy-meets-boy romantic comedy about finally finding love. The interesting fact about this boy is that he has slept with nearly every hot guy in town.  I had the opportunity to watch this feature film during this festival in Kingston and I definitely recommend checking it out. 

This film has more to it than just a guy falling in love with another guy and the audience seeing their lives together. It is different. When a very attractive playboy realizes that his dream guy, also his childhood best friend, is the true love of his life, he turns his life upside down in a mad rush to confess his love. 

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This tale unfolds around the escapades of John, played by Chris McNally, a handsome gay man and heir to a restaurant empire. John is considered the rich playboy in the film, with access to lots of money and lots of men. The film indicates that as kids, John and another boy named Jack (played by Kent S. Leung) were best friends. Twenty years passed and the boys grew apart, causing them to barely recognize each other when older. I guess in those twenty years, some feelings arouse in John for Jack because his sister Vivienne was about to marry Jack and oh boy, was John jealous. The marriage had to be stopped.

Thus far, we have talked about who John is, but who is Jack? What does he do? Well Jack is the line cook at John’s restaurant and his marriage indicates that he wants to build a future and a family. However, Jack once did imagine that he and John would be happily in love and will have a restaurant together one day. Then one day, while in the kitchen, the two men have a heated argument, resulting in Jack throwing an apple at John’s head – hence, John Apple Jack. From here, things take a turn. John tries to back Jack out of the marriage to prevent his sister from heartbreak later on. How does he do this? He comes “out of the closet” in front of his parents, who already knew that their son was gay. However, his parents take advantage of this situation and cut their son off financially, so that he can stand on his own two feet and make something of himself. Homeless and loveless, John finds himself at Jack’s doorsteps, where it did not take long for the two men to realize they are meant to be together. So what happens from here on? Well that’s something that can only be uncovered by watching the film. All I can say further is that the characters need to find a way to blend sex, love, money, and family. 

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Overall, there are some great performances in this particular film and many entertaining moments. As with most romantic comedies, the film has a really cute and satisfying ending that will leave you longing for Mr. Right yourself. Aside from the entertaining moments, this film displayed some or no problems to homosexuality. That is good, but is it realistic? In society today, so many issues have arouse due to one’s sexuality and John Apple Jack tends to swerve away from this concept.  Even today, “moral, religious, and legal attitudes are such attempts that in turn are utilized to control sexual behavior” (Reider 1957). However, this film does not show this explicitly. The only individuals who seemed a bit hesitant would be John’s parents, both of whom were not phased majorly.

Personally, this was the first time I had attended any Queer Film + Video Festival and to be honest, I actually enjoyed myself. As stated in GNDS125 at Queen’s University, queerness is not necessarily something that is largely marketed. For this particular film, there was a really good turn out. It felt like a privilege to be able to witness this film and to be given the chance to go to the festival. There has been much talk about homosexuality and homophobia in the news – rather it is in Russia or in a different corner of the world. Particularly, as it turns out, the Opening Ceremony had a glitch when one of the Olympic rings did not open. The following are some parodies that arouse in social media, which personally I was not very pleased with. It shows discrimination towards homosexuals and bullies the concept of homosexuality through a glitch that seemed to happen at the opening ceremonies.

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It was nice to see a good turn out at the festival because people seemed to enjoy why they were there – whether it was to hang out with friends or to support different sexualities. Would I go again if I were given such an opportunity? Absolutely. 

Mitchell, Monika. (Director). (2013). John Apple Jack [Film].

Reider, Norman. 1957. Problems of Homosexuality.California Medicine 86: 381-384.