Blog #2 The Office

MCOM 352 Media Criticism BLOG#2

By: Jorge Brown-Ojeda

Introduction

Enter the scene.  A tall dark and handsome Caucasian male tenderly, yet firmly, holds his equally attractive lady friend close as the two fade to black and the word Dior is displayed in bright white letters as a woman’s voice seductively whispers it. You switch the channel and happen upon a case-of-the-week type show where the balance of civilized society is violently disrupted once police discover a brutal murder and begin a thorough investigation with the hopes of bringing the perpetrator to justice. You switch to the next channel where a shaky camera records a mockumentary of an adorable, lovable yet bumbling idiot boss attempts to guide his team of neurotic and flawed sales people through business life and all of the many hijinks they get into. Finally, with television to form your background noise, you look down at your laptop and discover an online forum overflowing with controversy as users accuse Vogue of racist intentions for displaying the first African American on their cover with a striking resemblance to a World War 1 propaganda poster which features a German soldier as an angry ape carrying a defenseless white woman away. People are naturally afraid of that which they do not understand, and because of that, many people choose to disregard these media texts and only look at it for their face value. However, if you are brave enough to escape your comfort zone and intelligent enough to know that these media texts are not only shaped by the culture they were made in, but also shape the culture of the future, then you are brave and intelligent enough to understand that Media Criticism is a legitimate field which requires your attention.

Hello, my name is Jorge Brown-Ojeda, and don’t let the name fool you, my Spanish is weaker than a wet noodle (although I can inquire about the nearest bathroom). I am a Mass Communication major in Towson University and am currently thinking about taking on Information Technology as a minor. But enough about me, this is about my class MCOM 352 Media Criticism and its importance to every individual that belongs to a culture that has any form of mass media.

What It Means to Me

Media criticism is to take any example of a medium, whether it is pushed on a micro or macro scale, and observe every explicit detail from the colors and language used, the people (if any) involved and the product (good or service), to the hidden implicit messages derived from the syntagmatic and paradigmatic aspects of the medium and how they relate to the culture they were derived in. It is not empirical research (quantitative) yet it is not opinionated; more so subjective and qualitative. Media critics seek to understand how potent media texts are in regards to how they influence the lives of you, I, and whoever else may be exposed to it. They seek to understand how media texts affect our consumption habits on a micro and macro scale. They seek to understand media texts and their affects as part of popular culture and to increase the media literacy of all who maintain a mind open enough for it.

Media criticism is an important field for media permeates every facet of first world life. Marketing ploys from countless marketing firms advertising for even more numerous businesses saturate our daily lives with a constant flow of images and sounds. Posters, commercials, TV shows and movies including the product placement within them, politically charged programming, etc. all push an ideal, service, or good. Thankfully, media criticism is an enormous bag of differing approaches and interpretations that can be used however the media critic likes. Semiotics, the study of how social production of meaning is created using signs, and structuralism, the study of a media text as a structure or “whole” due to its ability to make sense of how texts creating significance and two powerful ways to interpret media texts.

Text-centered Approaches

Semiotics depends on signs which can be symbolic, or arbitrary, in their connection such as a red light meaning stop, iconic which means that the sign resembles its meaning, such as a happy face, or indexical, which is the casual link between cause and effect such as waves on a lake mean that there’s a boat in the water. Semiotics is by nature subjective and while signs may bear a heavy resemblance, signs can always be interpreted in multiple ways which can make them unstable. Due counter this instability, one is encouraged to increase the number of viewpoints by taking a multiperspectival approach.

When using structuralism, one must realize that we create structure in order to better understand ourselves and other in order to achieve a sense of coalescence in that regard. Structuralism depends on language, action and narrative. This method also functions through levels from the smallest being the phonemic, or words and images such as gun, to the paragraph, or a longer unit of signs such as the scene or the episode, all the way to the highest level known as the familial level which deals with intertextuality, or the relationship people draw between one or more texts. A great example of this would be the comparison of the Hunger Games movie to the novel, and seeing Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss when reading future books.

It is common and encouraged to combine the strengths of semiotics with structuralism in order to form a better understanding of signs, their history, and their impact on the future.

Then there is the Narrative Criticism approach which, according to lecture, is defined as the study of texts and how they are formed into a cause-and-effect relationship with a beginning, middle and end. The narrative critic assumes that, not unlike structuralism, we create stories in order to make sense of others and our own experiences as well as the world around us through the structured sequence of events known as the syntagmatic and the common theme or charactaristics of each event known as the paradigmatic. The narrative critic focuses on the story the sequence of events, both obvious and not, the plot, elements of the story shown to us in the order intended, and emplotment, the “selection and arrangement of said plot into a uniform narrative, and understands the differences between the three.

The Office (U.S. Version)

There are many great media texts to choose from. Some that I described in the first paragraph include CSI, The Office, and the Vogue cover with Lebron James in 2008 that was deemed racially insensitive. For now, I’d like to focus on The Office, a mockumentary focusing on the daily lives of salesmen and women and other office people involved with Dunder Mifflin in Scranton, Pennsylvania. As I described before, every employee there is heavily flawed and highly neurotic, and while their clashes in personality tend to push tensions to unbelievable heights, their caring for one another is evident. At the head of it all is Michael Scott, a loveable yet abrasive and mostly offensive Regional Manager that tries his best to keep his underlings working together. The American version of The Office is a sitcom mockumentary intended for a very wide demographic range of 18-49 year old adults.

For this media text, I will be using the narrative analysis approach, delving into the overall story of The Office as a whole and from episode-to-episode, and how it helps us to understand the show.

Criticism

The story, as a whole, follows the development of Michael Scott on a personal level, as he learns to leave his old flame behind for a new and more stable love and on a professional level since he visibly matures over the course of the series until his eventual departure. The relationship of Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly grew from a very brief affair into a budding and natural relationship full of the ups and downs that are expected. Every major character and most of the minor ones attain a full sense of development. Even Dunder Mifflin as a paper company has its downs, in the form of a buyout as an alternative to bankruptcy, and its ups, in the form of the Scranton branch becoming a sales power house in the local community.

The plot can be seen from episode-to-episode. Typically, the group or an individual is confronted with something unusual or requiring action from the last episode which is followed by one of many testimonials where the character gives us insight. In a case-of-the-week style, the Dunder Mifflin crew must adapt and overcome the new obstacle or problem within their ranks and move on. An example of a convention that The Office typically employed would be a character giving a testimonial about a recent experience where the character would usually down-play or exaggerate something that happened to him or her. This would promptly be followed by “captured footage” of what really happened which would more often than not contradict what the character said, giving us a better feel for the character’s personality and how they view their own life experiences. This is a great example of why Narrative Criticism exists in the first place.

Three Sub Approaches

There are three approaches within the Narrative Analysis of The Office that we can use to decipher the implicit signs and meanings. The Aristotelian Approach focuses on a narrative through the lens of the components of drama, such as the contents (plot, character, and theme) and the vehicles (language and performance). The Visualist Approach focuses on the narrative through the actual lens, but interpreted as a narrator. In the approach, we examine foreground and background, color, lighting, etc. What I discussed in the preceding paragraph briefly illustrated the Aristotelian approach. The Visualist approach can be a very rewarding style. The white down lighting, the cabinets and sticky notes in the background with common office supplies in the foreground and thee neutral colors exhibited by the staff convey not only an office environment but also a place where everyone is more-or-less the same or on the same level. The small office space only offers minimal elevation to Michael Scott who is the (best dressed) superior and the accountants who have their own space. Finally, we can use the semiotic structuralist approach which studies the overall emplotment of each episode and season and how the storyteller developed a uniform sequence of events to create signifieds or meanings.

One structural theorist, Claude Levi-Strauss, looked over the more obvious syntagmatic in favor of the more complicated paradigmatic. In other words, instead of focusing on the sequence of events, he focused on the deeper meanings within each event. For example, when Kevin Malone spoke to Jim Halpert without using articles like “the,” we could either disregard and look no further, or we can understand Jim and Pam showed great concern for Kevin where Oscar and Angela did not. Jim and Pam are parents, and this implies that they are especially proficient at nurturing. Pam is pregnant; therefore she might be emotionally drawn to possibly injured individuals that might need medical attention. Does this make Jim and Pam better people, or does this make Angela and Oscar wiser and more experienced when dealing with Kevin? Angela is a very seemingly prim and proper woman with very sleek business attire; therefore she must be very strict. The fact that Oscar and Angela are accountants must imply that they are responsible individuals capable of knowing when Kevin is being serious or not or if he actually needed medical attention. The beauty of media criticism is its multitude of interpretations.

 Conclusion

Media criticism is an incredible tool for any media literate person to use. Not only is it a powerful field of qualitative research, but an individual may also choose any path he or she wants in order to decode the messages that are hidden and in plain sight! The approaches, as illustrated through the narrative critical approach, are all related to each other and can be used within one another. Not only is media criticism fun and easy to understand, but it also allows the individual to research however one sees fit and spread the understanding to newcomers through new theories.

7 thoughts on “Blog #2 The Office

  1. Pingback: Blog # 2 for MCOM 352 | J Brown-Ojeda MCOM 352

  2. I used to watch The Office up to the point when Steve Carell left the show, so it was nice to see someone talk about it. You definitely had a good amount of information present in your blog, and did a good job explaining things to your readers.

    One area that might need more explanation though is the paragraph where you discuss what media criticism is. For that section you used the terms we used in class. I understand what the terms mean, and I’m sure everyone else in our class knows what the terms mean, but the average reader might not know what syntagmatic and paradigmatic means. A single sentence to explain the terms or use of layman’s terms instead would probably help the average reader.

    Another thing to consider in the future is adding more pictures to your blog. The overall layout of the blog is neat, which is good. The text is spaced out, and you made good use of sub-headings throughout the post. That said, it’s black text on a white background, so the post doesn’t really stand out visually. You only have one picture in the blog post, so it certainly couldn’t hurt to add a few more next time. Also, you should probably consider including a few more links next time. That was personally a weak point of my own blog.

    Overall you did a really good job I think of applying the different approaches of Narrative Analysis to The Office, and I’d be happy to read more stuff by you in the future.

    Like

    • Hey Jorge! Awesome job with this blog. You have a great layout and it makes it even more appealing for readers. You clearly showed that you knew everything about narrative criticism and you included examples of almost every term that you brought into the picture. Examples are crucial for people who know nothing about media criticism or ones that take the class and need a refresher (cough, cough….this guy right here). Your intro brought the readers in nicely with what yo wanted to talk about. However, I think the description of media criticism and narrative criticism could be condensed a little bit. The actual critique didn’t start until the eighth paragraph and I think it could have been more effective earlier in the blog post. However, it’s hard to argue with the knowledge that you presented here. The examples, including the ripples in a lake one, really helped the reader understand the terms you brought up. I liked what you did with dissecting characters like Jim and Pam and how they were presented in the show. These two characters were the most “normal” but still had their own problems that made them unique. I think it would have been helpful to include more videos or pictures to give the reader a visual on the depictions of these characters. Overall, though, you did an amazing job describing the office in terms of narrative criticism. Keep up the good work!

      Like

  3. Pingback: Dissecting the Dissections: MCOM 352 Edition | Matt Hamilton and Media Criticism

  4. I really like the way you opened your discussion about the various media text placed in our culture. The media plays a big role in our everyday lives and shapes how we think of each other as well as ourselves. I agree that perceptions of many social groups have been influenced by the media. A lot of people tend to stick to what they are told so they do not feel the need to break away from their comfort zone as long as they are on the good end of the stereotypical view. No one wants to be the butt of a joke or conversation. For this, I believe that the media can be quite insensitive when it comes to other cultures and slows down our cultural growth when it comes to tolerance on a multiperspectival view.

    With that being said, I also agree with your view on Media Criticism as a study. Being critical of the media allows us to analyze the signs and symbols embedded in text, thus enabling us to see the big picture. People tend to want to make sense of their experiences. Certain signs allow us to figure out our lives as well as predict what might be happening in others.

    Analyzing “The Office” as a form of media text was a very good choice. Since the show is made as a mockumentary, it demonstrates how regular people act in everyday life, but in a comical atmosphere. The mockumentary type presentation makes way for narrative criticism. As you stated before the plot of each episode consist of “each character being confronted with what happened in last episode, then that character give testimonial in following episode from their perspective.” We can be critical of how the characters narrate the story from their point of view when the mockumentary shows the audience captured footage. Through the focus on the sequence of events we can be critical about how we feel each character should have handled each situation.

    Like

  5. Pingback: Media Criticism: Comparing and Critiquing peers | Kyle's Blog

  6. I really enjoyed reading Jorge’s blog about the television sitcom, the Office, and was intrigued by his analysis of the show from a media critic perspective. First and foremost, I’m a big fan of the show and I think that your overall assessment of the show was spot on and insightful. You were able to explain the bizarre nature of Michael Scott and the development over time of the supporting characters. A point that resonated with me the most was how you used syntagmatic approaches to describe Pam and Jim and how that ultimately builds on our understanding of those characters in relation to Oscar and Angela. You brought forth different ways that these characters can be interpreted even some that I might not have seen or agreed with but was I would say is justified. Though I didn’t agree with some of the interpretations, I am able to accept them because just like you iterated, “the beauty of media criticism is its multitude of interpretations.” I would have like to see some comparisons between the United States version of the show and the United Kingdom version to see what the differences in content and pedagogical symbols were. It would be interesting for you to look at how audiences from the opposite country thought of the different version or just show the difference in narrative. But overall, I loved this blog and show a lot! Here’s a link that I think you may find to be interesting that deals with the differences between each version. http://www.theguardian.com/culture/tvandradioblog/2007/may/18/iprefertheamericanversion

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s