Caitlin Murphy CMMU 1021 Michael Scott: The Office Idiot An Ecological Analysis Michael Scott is an infamous television character in the massively popular “mocumentary” The Office, which takes place within the paper company of Dunder Mifflin. He is the perfect example of “victimage,” a way that we as human beings transfer the guilt we feel from our everyday lives onto another party (Ott, and Mack 267). Viewing Michael Scott get himself into all sorts of trouble is a symbolic form of comedy through which we can get rid of our own guilt on weekly basis. In this paper, I will argue that the idiocy of Michael Scott is a way in which regular everyday individuals relieve their day-to-day guilt. In a particularly twisted and hilarious episode, “The Fun Run,” Michael’s obvious stupidity gets him into a series of unfortunate events from which he then has to dig himself out of. The stupidity begin as the audience observes Michael driving into work. Being extremely distracted by the camera that is recording him, he literally hits one of his employees, Meredith, with his car as she is walking into work. Incredibly freaked out, Michael immediately rushes Meredith to the hospital, where it is determined that she is fine, although she needs to be monitored for a bit. Getting back to the office, Michael immediately announces that Meredith has been hit by a car and leads the office employees to believe that she is dead. After correcting this massive misunderstanding, Michael explains that he was, indeed, the person who hit Meredith. He then gets the office together to go on an outing to visit Meredith in the hospital and show their
support. Michael and another office buffoon, Dwight visit Meredith. At which point, they decide to bring up the multiple animal bites that Meredith has received to the doctors. Following their detailed explanation, the Doctor decides to vaccinate Meredith for rabies (even though it is clearly unnecessary) before she leaves the hospital. Leaving Meredith at the hospital, and upon their arrival back at the office, Michael and Dwight announce that Meredith is receiving the vaccination for rabies. Michael, trying to redeem himself from the “accident,” claims that “it should not take a freak accident, like what happened to Meredith, to be aware of the fact that you may, indeed, need the rabies vaccination.” This is obviously a ridiculous attempt to rid himself of guilt for hitting her with the car, and emphasizing the rabies incident instead. Michael then organizes an office “fun run” in support of the efforts for rabies vaccination (which is virtually none). In the end, his event turns out to be a bit of a flop, but, as always, the office employees forgive Michael for his stupid idea and let slide his idiocy. The episode ends with Michael returning one last time to the hospital to visit Meredith. Instead of trying to distract from his mistake, he approaches Meredith begging for forgiveness, which she grants to him with grace. The two share a lollipop in the hospital bed, and that is where the story leaves off. This incredibly silly, yet ever-so-subtly poignant episode of The Office is a perfect illustration of what Kenneth Burke calls “Equipment for Living.” It is so by being “a public discourse that provides audiences with symbolic resources for confronting the anxieties and difficulties of their own lives” (Ott, and Mack 267). In Burke’s theory, he touches on the fact that we are governed by rules and values (or hierarchies) and thus, when we act in a contrary manner to these hierarchies, we begin to feel guilt for our
transgressions. Let’s face it, in our everyday lives, at school, at work, and even at home, we all make stupid mistakes and have our infractions with which we must endure the subsequent guilts. In order to cope with the guilt we feel on a regular basis, Burke says that we have different means of confronting our guilty conscious (Ott, and Mack 268). In the case of The Office, we are using the strategy of “victimage” in order to manage our guilt. Within victimage, there are two main symbolic forms, those being tragedy and comedy. Obviously, the hilarity of the episode mentioned is a symbolic form of comedy. The foolhardiness of Michael Scott is, in reality, something that every single one of us can relate to. We may not, in fact, hit an actual person with our vehicle, but it is obvious that each of makes foolish mistakes such as those that Michael Scott must endure and resolve. It is incredibly difficult to be left alone with heavy feelings of guilt that we are forced to bear every single day. Our violation of hierarchies is something that we are constantly in a state of guilt over, wether or not we choose to acknowledge it. By using the strategy of victimage, we are able to find a scapegoat, in this case Michael Scott, to which we shift our guilt from ourselves to the idiot making the mistakes on screen. I chose this specific episode of The Office because it is one through which I personally used victimage to cope with a feeling of guilt that had been creeping up on me (though at the time, I had no idea that I was using this method to manage my guilt). I had done an incredibly stupid thing at a job I had just started and was literally wallowing in my own self-pity for days over this violation of hierarchy. My anxieties over this incident could have literally eaten me alive, I was so concerned by them. It is in all
honesty, when I say that as I watched this particular episode of The Office I was truly relieved of some of the guilt I had felt over the disastrous episode at work. As human beings, we appreciate the symbolic form of comedy for relieving our guilt, as opposed to the tragic form in which there is always a calamitous ending for the protagonist. In comedy, the idiot is always forgiven as he or she is shown the error of their ways and is reinstated back into whatever group they had previously alienated themselves from (Ott, and Mack 267). This certainly rings true for the imbecilic actions of Michael Scott in the “Fun Run” episode I have previously described. Throughout the show, Michael continuously makes a fool out of himself and never ceases to be digging himself deeper and deeper into a vast hole of idiocy. However, in the end, his employees help him to realize his blunders. They clue Michael in to some of his stupidities and in the end, everything turns out well due to Michael’s recognition of his silliness. As they say, “all is well that ends well.” This remains true for those who view this episode. Not only do things end well for the character we are focusing on but, whilst watching the show, the audience has been unconsciously relieved of the guilt they feel for their inconsistencies within their hierarchies. Through the process of victimage, those who view this particular episode of The Office, or any episode for that matter, will have experienced “equipment for living.” By using the show as a discourse through which we confront our own personal anxieties and then rid ourselves of those very same apprehensions, we, as human beings grant ourselves, if only for a short time, the feeling of guiltlessness. That is, of course, until our next wrongdoing.