Daniel W. Drezner

The comparative political economy of The Office

Liesl Schillinger has an interesting essay in Slate comparing and contrasting four different versions of The Office. In addition to the U.K. and U.S. versions, both French (Le Bureau) and German television (Stromberg) have produced variants on the show. Schillinger’s takeaway: [T]he base-line mood of David Brent’s workplace?resignation mingled with self-loathing?is unrecognizably alien to our ...

Liesl Schillinger has an interesting essay in Slate comparing and contrasting four different versions of The Office. In addition to the U.K. and U.S. versions, both French (Le Bureau) and German television (Stromberg) have produced variants on the show. Schillinger’s takeaway:

[T]he base-line mood of David Brent’s workplace?resignation mingled with self-loathing?is unrecognizably alien to our (well, my) sensibility. In the American office, passivity mingles with rueful hopefulness: An American always believes there’s something to look forward to. A Brit does not, and finds humor in that hopelessness. What truths, I wondered, might Le Bureau and Stromberg reveal about the French and German professional milieus?… if any conjecture could be made about the cultural differences that these subtly contrasting programs reveal, it might be this one: These days, Germans and Americans are doing much of their living in and around their offices, while the Brits and French continue to live outside of them. Here, in broad strokes, are the chief differences. In the British version, nobody is working, nobody has a happy relationship, everyone looks terrible, and everybody is depressed. In the French version, nobody is working but even the idiots look good, and everybody seems possessed of an intriguing private life. In the German version, actual work is visibly being done, most of the staff is coupled up, and the workers never stop eating and drinking?treating the office like a kitchen with desks. Stromberg continually calls his staff “Kinder,” or “children,” further blurring the line between Kinder, Computer, and K?che. While Michael Scott also sometimes calls his American office a “family,” his staff knows he’s the kid brother, not the father, and that if there’s to be any Kinder in their lives, they’re going to have to get busy with one of their fellow prairie dogs, because really?who else are they likely to meet, given the stretching parameters of the U.S. working day? We may still talk of “working like a dog,” but the Russians lately have coined the expression, “to work like an American,” reflecting our 24/7 on-call mentality. These days, for Americans, “home office” is not just a place, it’s a state of mind. And it’s perfectly reflected by our version of this global sitcom?in which work is ostensibly cared about (though skimped on), romantic tension simmers on numerous fronts, and the whole enterprise is gently inflated by a mood of eventual, possible progress in work and love?like a bowl of dough that could have used a little more yeast but is doing its best to rise. Vive la diff?rence.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola