Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Chronicles of Jan

Image of Melora Hardin via.

NBC's version of "The Office" is undoubtedly one of my favorite television shows. It is hilarious and engaging. That is why it is very difficult for me to be critical of it. But there are a few things about this amazing show that make my stomach turn.

Early in the second season there is an entire episode about sexual harassment. Sexual harassment happens on "The Office" a lot but most of it is very satirical. I can dig satire especially since it is somewhat subversive. The harassment is depicted very ludicrously.

I anxiously awaited the third season finale. This episode revealed who got the job at 'corporate' and Pam and Jim finally appear to be hooking up. Yay!

But early in the episode we discover that the corporate job is available because Jan (Michael's boss in NYC) got fired. The level of glee that people felt over seeing that bitch get knocked down a peg is really quite telling. From the very beginning I was impressed that the person with the most power in this show was a woman. She is the boss of the boss. But she has consistently been depicted as an angry, castrating bitch. Only women who reject any shred of stereotypical femininity can make it in the corporate world. Or at least that is the image that we are inundated with.

Jan gets divorced early in the second season and while on the rebound she has a relationship with Michael. In this relationship Jan is domineering to the point of cruelty. We get the sense that she is totally in control. As this show got more popular, and Jan got more powerful, the writers and producers of "The Office" appeared to be stripping Jan of her power. The last episode is the epitome of this.

Devastated that Michael broke up with her, Jan gets breast implants and begs him to take her back. This is when she loses her job and basically has a total emotional break down.

This reminds me of the episode of "30 Rock" that I watched in which Tina Fey's character (a very powerful television producer) has a total emotional break down and needs to be literally carried off by her co-worker.

I immediately dubbed that an example of backlash but have been much more reluctant to do the same about a show that is so dear to me. The season three finale of "The Office" demonstrates anti-feminist backlash. The powerful women is fired because she is too emotional (which was NEVER demonstrated prior to this episode).

Also notable, when Jim and Karen witnessed Jan's breakdown Karen was delighted because Jan is "crazy" and self-destructive. I am not sure that any of this exemplifies self-destruction as much as the logical conclusion of male domination. Jan was destined to fail from the very beginning because she was a woman in 'a man's world.'

The very best part of all of this (and this completely proves my point that this was intentional misogyny not just good story writing) is that Ryan, the young temp. worker, gets Jan's job at the end of the episode.

Even in a show with egalitarian writers and characters, even in a show that I adore, misogyny is rampant. Still, I eagerly await the season premier. I will most likely address this issue again at that point.


secondhandsally said...

I hadn't thought about this (and I love The Office too) and it's very interesting.

I have to disagree (or add more too?) Karen's reaction though. It's true that she is delighted that Jan is "crazy," but I think her delight is supposed to make us dislike Karen more; give the viewers another reason why Jim is supposed to be with Pam rather than Karen (because Karen is unfeeling and cruel).

Cortney said...

You know I had not even thought of that. Goes to show that there are multiple readings for everything.

That moment also made Jim a lot more likable because he was sympathetic. I love that Jim.