I love The Office. In my view, hands down, it was the best sit-com of the past decade. Each character was perfect as a “type” of a person we all know—and especially known in the office world or environment—but my guess in most worlds. Most of us know a Michael Scott, Dwight, Jim, Pam, Andy, Erin, Oscar, Kevin, Ryan, Toby, Gabe, Meredith, Stanley, Kelly, Phyllis, Creed, or Angela. What made each character so memorable was their believability as a type. They truly captured the personality type, blew it up a little, nuanced it, and made it funny and real at the same time. They made us feel those awkward moments when the camera would simply capture Jim or Pam’s stare back to us the audience as we shared in the embarrassment of Michael Scott saying something completely ridiculous or offensive. We were in on it.
The other great thing they did was to not make people like Michael Scott, Dwight, and some of the other hard to take characters, into one dimensional “bad” guys. Each one’s humanity would show through at times. We could understand sometimes why each was the way they were. They were human. They could be complete idiots but they also showed some signs of empathy and wisdom (I know, not very often!). In other words, they were us too sometimes. And the love story between Pam and Jim, culminating in marriage, had to be one of the best television romances depicted in a very long time—maybe the best. We cared about these people. This is the last season and I will miss them.
Putting the characters aside, the show also captured the weird and often pointless world of “business” or corporate America. There was Dwight’s power hungry quest to be become the manager. There was the fact that someone like Michael Scott could even become a manager. There was that intangible sense that even if the staff characters disliked their jobs, culture demanded they seek promotion or more responsibility. And any promotion didn’t really seem to change their situation. One was still in a culture (Dunder Mifflin/Sabre) that didn’t ultimately care about them. Nothing was really based upon merit or productivity. One of the reasons Jim and Pam pulled pranks, goofed off, and basically took none of it seriously was because they could see through it. Yes they needed jobs, they needed to pay the rent, but it didn’t mean they gave their lives to it or made their lives revolve around it. Strangely, somehow that attitude made them better employees than many of the others. It certainly made them more human.
There is one other area the Office struck a chord with me. I’ve spent the last two decades in a tradition (evangelical) that basically borrowed, mined, copied, and drank deeply from the wells of the modern marketing and business worlds. Like Dwight, they took that world seriously. They really thought this was a good model for “doing” church. Evangelicals could learn a lot from Jim and Pam. They could learn to laugh and make fun of a world that is all about “sales” “numbers” or, for us, “conversions.” They could learn that what was really important to Jim and Pam was their love for each other and their friendships with these other hard-to-love people and it all trumped this thing called Dunder Mifflin.
The show was never about paper, or sales, or business. It was about life. It was about people. It was about love, hurt, relationships, and all the other things that truly matter. The Christian life and “church” is not about whatever it might be we think takes the place of “paper” or “sales” or “business.” And don’t give me that crap about how “people” are our business because once you think of them or our mission as “business” you’ve given the game away. It is about people—as people—and for no other reason. Not people as “prospects” or “numbers” or even “converts.” Jesus served and was interested in (loved) people regardless of their response to him. Other than people, in and of themselves-not because it fulfills some “purpose” or “clarity” statement, everything else we should take lightly and be ready to laugh at.
And what is most laughable is the Dwightesque chase of evangelicals for power within a system (late Capitalist/Liberal Democratic/Modernist) that cares nothing for them and sees them as simply another market (whether as consumers or a voting block). In other words, the same way evangelicals have, too often, come to view people as they absorbed that very sensibility.