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You know you’re a sci-fi geek when you still can’t stop laughing about this

In last night’s episode of NBC's The Office, Jim is needling Dwight, who’s claimed he’s never wasted time at work. Jim’s been stalking him with a stopwatch, recording every second of personal time. In the spirit of that effort, Jim approaches co-worker Andy, who sits just behind Dwight, and begins a conversation he knows Dwight will have a hard time resisting.

Jim: Hey, Andy.

Andy: Yo.

Jim: By any chance did you see Battlestar Galactica last night?

Dwight looks up from his desk and begins to listen.

Andy: No, I did not. Is that any good?

Jim: Actually not. It is really so-so.

Incensed, Dwight turns around to say something, but Jim holds out a stop watch to start timing his personal conversation, heh. Dwight roles his eyes and turns back around.

Andy: Okay.

Jim turns back to Andy.

Jim: I mean, I like all the crazy monsters and stuff, you know, like Klingons and Wookies and all that, but—

Dwight starts to turn around again, wanting to correct Jim, but Jim holds out the stopwatch again.

Jim: Sorry, was there something you wanted to add, Dwight?

Dwight turns back to his desk, pursing his lips shut.

Andy: Is that anything like the original Battlestar Galactica?

Jim: You know it’s weird, it’s practically a shot-for-shot remake.

Sure that will get a response from Dwight, Jim holds up his stopwatch. Dwight crumples up the papers he’s working on and holds them to his face, struggling to keep his mouth shut and not turn around. Jim puts the watch back down.

Andy: Really. Huh, that’s cool.

Jim: Story’s kind of bland. It’s about this guy named Dumbledore Calrissian who needs to return the ring back to Mordor.

Dwight is beside himself.

Andy: Really . . . that doesn’t sound right.

Jim holds the stopwatch up again at Dwight, but Dwight steels himself, his fist against his mouth. Heh.

--from the "Business Ethics" episode of The Office. You can watch the episode online here at NBC.

(Image: NBC) miscctgy


Anonymous said…
I was howling at that scene. I could not stop laughing. I wanted to shout out; "Jim are you crazy?!"
Carmen Andres said…
heh, was that not one of the funniest scenes you've seen?! heh, those writers MUST be BSG fans, even if they do work for the network that owns the series.
Ken Brown said…
I have to say, I'm really not a big fan of The Office (I constantly feel embarrased for Steve Carell's character), but out of curiousity I watched this episode. I thought that scene was great, but the rest of the episode really bothered me, as it seemed way too quick to laugh at the very notion of "business ethics," without offering any real indication that the characters' blase attitude might legitimately be questioned.

To be honest, I feel that way about most television comedies these days, which I suppose is why I don't often watch them--they are always treating vice as a joke, ignoring the fact that if people really lived like that (not just now and then, which is what makes it funny, but day in and day out, as these shows imply), life would be hell.

Am I crazy?
Carmen Andres said…
ken, i'm right with you on sit-coms (peregrin joe just had a similiar reaction to one on his blog), but something i keep in mind with "the office" is that it's intentionally a satire. everything is taken intentionally to the extreme to make a point--often to harshly criticize human behaviors. the business ethics episode is a good example--in fact, i'll venture the writers probably wanted to elicit the very reaction you had (me, too).

personally, i can only take satires in small doses. "the office" is about the only one of these kinds of things i watch, and i only began watching at the end of last season. but there are others out there; wikipedia lists "the simpsons" (which i think is a lighter version--and i admit, i do watch that one) and "southpark" (which in my mind is more potent). i think "the office" is somewhere in between.

interestingly, the thing that resonated the most with me in the business ethics episode was the conversation between michael and his hr rep, when he talked about the office being a family (she quickly corrected him). but for many people it is their only connection with others--which is can be tragic as well as thought-provoking.
Ken Brown said…
I get that the Office is satire, but I think (in this episode at least) they missed the mark, as the only person who was really made out to look stupid and pitiable was the one person doing the right thing. In contrast, the Simpsons often portrays Bart and Homer being total nitwits, but it never lets them get away with it (hence the constant "Doh!"); ultimately, the right always wins out. Here, the episode ended with all of the characters who we are supposed to like happily eating ribs, completely unconcerned about how they were illicitely acquired.

In contrast, I thought the sequence involving Jim timing Dwight's "personal time" was much better handled, as it intentionally raised the irony that, while Dwight really was using his time well (until the end, anyway, which upended the whole sequence), Jim was actually the one wasting his time. That sequence was great, because it made us laugh precisely as it raised the issue of hypocrisy--not only Jim's, but also Dwight's.

I don't know, though, I suppose it could be argued that we are meant to generalize that conclusion to the rest of what went on in the episode. Maybe I just don't like the constant feeling of discomfort the show gives me, like I should be laughing at them, but I'm expected to laugh with them...
Carmen Andres said…
Ken, I usually don’t disagree with you, heh, but I’m not so sure “Business Ethics” did miss the mark. I think it effectively ridicules the way management approaches business ethics in the workplace (it has become such an eye-roller), how bad practices are swept under the rug (in the name of the bottom line), and how too many of us dismiss them, especially if they bring us gain. Normally, bribery for discounts would include practices that many have only a small twinge of guilt about—if that. But this episode made it sex—-and disgusting. The writers chose such a crossing-the-line action that the character's responses to it--from management down--reveals just how bankrupt human nature can be. The fact that THAT action itself got swept under the rug—-by Michael (a really bad manager), headquarters (in the name of “the bottom line”) as well as the employees (who treat it like any other minor ethics problem)—-are biting criticisms in and of themselves, even without a moral recognition or argument from the characters. I would argue that the HR rep actually comes out looking good in this epsiode--I empathized with her, anyway). That her obvious voice of morality (and compassion)--one i would argue few viewers would disagree was spot on--is drowned out is yet another revelation of the fallen nature of humanity (and the systems we create). The ending, where the employees are enjoying the ribs even though they know how they were gotten, even enhances the satire for me, displaying the human nature’s capacity for moral bankruptness. We don’t need to be the perpetrator of bad moral decisions to reveal that; simply treating it as if it were nothing and being happy for what it got US will do that as well.

But then, that’s my opinion, heh. And I get your point. I’d like to have seen some sort of comeupance in the end. But I’m not sure satire is supposed to have a moral ending or moment, where the characters aren’t allowed to get away with it and the ones who uphold morality (or the best for another) are lauded. I’m pretty sure that the riducle iteslf is supposed to reveal a moral conclusion from the portrayal of the immorality and vices of the characters. I could be wrong though. Been a while since grad school, heh. I even had to refresh myself with its tools and purposes (here’s another interesting article I found on the subject). Occassionly, I have seen “The Office” make a moral decision or not allow characters to get away with vices, but even that tends to be shot down in the end by another character or the group of them, revealing yet another human failing/vice. Also, I haven’t watched it long enough to know if the characters suffer long term for their decisions.

For what it’s worth, one of the reasons I can only take satire in small does is because the genre insists we laugh at people, not with them. I am uncomfortable doing that. In addition, if I like the character proposed, it becomes even more uncomfortable. And perhaps that is a complexity (or weakness?) of “The Office”, that it invites us to laugh with the characters as well. Which, in some cases, may mean I regard the vice being portrayed as funny rather than immoral—-which gives me pause to examine my own (as well as the culture that allows it to get to that point) human failings. Or perhaps I dismiss the damage a vice can cause out of some sort of misguided understanding of what love is. Or I just don't want to deal with it. At least, that’s what this series has occassionally confronted me with.

Regarding "The Simpsons", personally I was surprised to see it classified as satire for the very reason you mention and that the characters show themselves to be good guys in the end. Though, I must admit, even in the “Business Ethics” episode, Michael showed compassion for the HR rep in the end, and that made me realize that even the shallowest and most vice-ridden people can show compassion, which is something Jesus pointed out more than once. We aren’t completely morally bankrupt; there are those echoes of the image in which we created still within us.

I’m enjoying the discussion, Ken. Heh, I know I'm weaving all over the place without even addressing all you've brought up, but thanks for taking the time to comment. Your comments have made me really think and articulate my thoughts, and I appreciate that.
Ken Brown said…
Alright, you've convinced me; great thoughts!

I guess I'm just being inconsistant, as I don't normally expect a clear "moral" from drama, but actually prefer just the sort of subtle thematic developments you highlight in the Office. For some reason I tend view comedy differently, though I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe it's for just the reason you highlight: that without a clear cumuppence I'm never sure I'm that laughing at evil, or only with it. Or whether I should be doing either.

But maybe you're right that this makes the Office different than a standard sitcom; since it does try and make you uncomfortable about the situation(even without explicitly condemning it), it makes it harder to uncritically laugh along....
Glen Stollery said…
I was doubled over laughing for literally 10 minutes watching this scene... absolutely hysterical!!! :D