“The Office”

 I watched “The Office” tonight.

I continue to be amazed by how incredibly accurate the representations of different kinds of privilege are represented in the character of Michael Scott, the manager of the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin paper company.

A certain kind of cluelessness is at the center of the gender, sexual, racial, and class/corporate privilege that he enjoys and which serves his interest in exploiting, demeaning, and controlling his underlings.

His heterosexual privilege was evident in the opening scene tonight as he called in Oscar Martinez, the queer Latino employee, into his office to ask him, unbeknownst to Oscar at the moment he entered Michael’s office, how he should approach his upcoming colonoscopy.  He specifically asked Oscar what he should do to make the procedure more pleasurable and whether he should address his concern with the doctor performing the procedure so they could make it as pleasurable for both of them as possible.

Of course, the fact that Michael could even imagine raising such an issue with Oscar let alone the fact that he would imagine the medical procedure as a sexually pleasurable moment reminds me how “others” are always being mined for secret knowledge, “dark” wisdom.

(The fact that the history of white male heterosexual economic privilege itself is a history built and continues to rely on the extraction and exploitation of subordinate “knowledges” is beyond this blog’s objectives, of course.)

I and most viewers were surely waiting for Oscar’s understandably horrified reaction which was remarkably self-contained and non-combative as he left the brief meeting breathlessly and wordlessly. (How does one effectively correct and improve working conditions with the clueless privileged when everything exists for “them?”)

Oscar’s silent withdrawal is the usual response in “The Office” when Michael in his privileged position offends in their work environment.

Michael’s victimhood also manifests itself as another central characteristic of his privilege.  When he fears not being at the center of everything, when his subordinates are not constantly reinforcing his weak sense of self as in this episode’s example of Jim Halpert—the smart, nerdy, sweet sales guy—having a private conversation with upper management in the office without Michael’s presence.

When Michael found out some details of the private meeting that made him look weak—Jim had a job offer from another company and had suggested to the supervisor that both Michael and Jim be promoted within the Scranton office–he tried to undermine Jim’s efforts through deception and manipulation even though they would have benefited him as well.

Through both of these episodes Michael’s privileged position is never in doubt, indeed, throughout the episodic history of “The Office,” Michael’s general incompetence and insensitivity are usually overcome by the underlying assumption that need not be uttered, but is always asserted in his words and behavior, of his “natural” gender, sexual, racial, and economic superiority.  And when those general privileges don’t suffice—when his “privilege” bubble is briefly burst by his subordinates–he plays the victim.

So how does one get some of what Michael’s got?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *