Tag Archives: michael scott

The Minority Report

Last week, we celebrated “Diversity Day” at work, where our company CEO held a town hall and proclaimed his everlasting commitment to diversity.  That is, he’s working hard at it, but “we still have a ways to go.”  He then introduced an ex-NBA star who shared his thoughts on the matter: first, he told us that diversity “drives ROI”, and second, he told us that black people don’t eat scones.  It was a rousing start to our commitment to challenge racial stereotypes.  D-Day finally ended with a montage of clips, concluding on one where Michael Scott from The Office called us all “homos”… homo sapiens.   

There’s been a lot of talk about diversity lately, even outside of our company.  The buzz around the U.S. Census has somewhat validated the Harvard fluff class “Counting People”, because, apparently it takes $10+ billion to do so.   But once the Census Bureau tabulates the results (by Dec. 31, 2010), most people expect that diversity will be the theme: minorities will become the majority in two of the largest states (California and Texas)… more than 40% of children under 18 will be non-white… and there will be a lot more people who hate scones, including Hispanics and Asians. 

As a diverse, first-generation, scone-hating female, I’ve always felt an unusual relationship to contrived diversity celebrations.  On the one hand, I think it’s great to highlight (and promote) people with different backgrounds … on the other hand, I believe that differentiating diversity also cheapens it, feeding resentment from “non-diverse” folks who now have something to blame (“she only got the job because she was a woman”).  It’s the whole affirmative action debate, revived… If we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, then shouldn’t Diversity Day be followed by a Homogeneity Day as well?

So, to test out my theory, I tried to celebrate Homogeneity Day today.  First, I took the subway to work, because it’s the New York thing to do.  I wedged myself between the door and a homeless man and tried to look as crazy as possible.  Once I got to work, I decided to follow the lead of a co-worker and try lemon tea.  Yes, it looked like a cup of hot, steaming pee, but I drank it in the spirit of togetherness.  At lunch, I continued my yellow-only theme by eating a plate of macaroni and cheese with chicken, corn, and rice pilaf.  I even seriously considered reading “Eat, Pray, Love” while listening to Justin Bieber.  

But at the end of the day, I wasn’t sure that I had captured the true essence of American homogeneity.  Was the typical American a red-blooded teabagger who enjoys shooting guns and protesting healthcare reform?  Or was the typical American a society-minded idealist who eats kale and subscribes to progressive list-servs just to feel good about themselves?  Is diversity defined just by the color of our skin, or the money in our banks, or the links to our ethnic heritage?  Or, could it also be determined by our judgment of Tiger Woods (gross), or our opinion of goat cheese (gross), or whether we have a gag reflex to Sarah Palin (yes)?   

Diversity Day should be intended to celebrate and accept our differences — all of our differences, not just the noticeable ones.  But every once in a while, we should also celebrate our common thread of humanity.  Because like Mr. Scott said, at the core, we’re all just homos.  

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When Your Job is Like an Episode of The Office

dundermifflinOftentimes there are moments at work when I think that I’m living an episode of The Office. Although I’ve never run an employee over with a car, embarked on an interoffice romance, or staged a suicide to rally my co-workers, I’d argue that some of these moments are Dunder-Mifflin worthy: (And sadly, they are all true.)

  • Forced to dress up a life-size, cardboard cutout of my former boss for Easter. I’m not sure what’s worse: A) Spent $13 at Staples to pick up markers and poster board… B) Spent $120,000+ on my college education, only to regress to fourth-grade arts and crafts… C) That my boss has a life-size cardboard cutout of himself.
  • Asked by a man dressed as a vampire if I wanted candy. In the office… in the middle of June. Apparently the people who run our employee blood drive have a strange sense of humor.
  • romance-novelGot hit in the face by a Frisbee. A director in my old group enjoyed knocking out light bulbs with Frisbees. One time, my face got in the way.
  • Attended an employee retreat where an HR rep told us, “The company owns you.” This was in response to a question about switching functions. Apparently it is not encouraged.
  • Found some interesting material left in the shared printer. It seems like one of my co-workers wrote romance novels while at work… with herself as the main character.

Given that art appears to imitate reality, perhaps there’s something to Michael Scott quitting his job on The Office in favor of a startup. Some worthy startup ideas in a recession?

  • unionratManufacture giant inflatable rats: With businesses cutting back on unionized (ie. more costly) labor, expect to see more inflatable rats appearing across the country. In fact, they might need a whole family of giant hideous rats to cover all of Detroit.
  • Invest in dive bars: We might be cutting back on clothes, entertainment, vacations, and even food, but people have to get their alcohol somewhere…
  • Sell your soul… literally: There used to be a kid in high school who would go around and buy people’s souls for $5. One time he even offered up $20. Although I never sold him my soul (I was holding out for $40), I’m sure plenty of people could use $20 in this economy. So if this kid isn’t living on the streets yet, I’d track him down…

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Diversity in TV Shows Today… Do We Still Need a Color Television?

Update 4/7/09: Well, there goes another one.  Goodbye to Kal Penn’s Dr. Kutner.  He’s moving on to another House, one of far greater prominence.

Update 2/18/09: Yesterday’s article in the LA Times reports on the diversity phenomenon in television… While the Times may have a different definition of “lead character” than I do, the message is still the same: Diverse characters just aren’t found in scripted programming these days.

On my way to work on Monday, I told a co-worker that I had seen He’s Just Not That Into You over the weekend. “It looks cute,” my co-worker said, “But I don’t want to see it on principle… it’s too white. Where are all the minorities?”

Let’s see: in the movie, all the primary characters were… white. All the couplings… white. All the love connections… white. There were a few gay men who were minorities, and Justin Long did make out with a black girl, but other than that, the movie was one long, bad, whitewashed chick flick.

Strangely, even as a minority myself, I didn’t notice that the cast was all white before I went to the theater. However, my co-worker’s stand resounded with me (she, by the way, is white). Our country is supposed to be a “melting pot” — our minority populations are growing — and oh, our President is black. So why is Hollywood so white?

Entertainment Weekly ran a story a few months ago about diversity in entetainment: “Why is TV so white?”

There was a time when diversity seemed to come naturally to prime time. The social consciousness of the ’70s spawned successful sitcoms like The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Sanford and Son; the ’80s brought living-in-harmony comedy Diff’rent Strokes and the ultimate breakthrough TV family on The Cosby Show

After nearly 10 years of working with diversity reps and outreach programs, the networks still primarily solve the problem by sprinkling nonwhite actors into white-led shows — often as a comedic sidekick or in guy-who-helps-the-main-guy-solve-a-crime roles.

So I decided to take a look at the current TV lineup to see just how white it actually is. I went through all the network shows in primetime, excluding all reality/news programming. For the shows that I didn’t personally watch, the litmus test was whether the show’s website included pictures of diverse characters on their main page.

From there, I color-coded all the shows that featured the following:(1)

minorityreport

Based on thorough scouring of show websites, and operating under the assumption that some cartoon characters were meant to be white, what I found confirmed the EW report and my co-worker’s concerns.(2) (Of course, I don’t have 90 hours a week to carefully watch each show for its contribution to diversity, so feel free to email me with anything I’ve missed or gotten wrong.)

Out of 90 hours of primetime programming per week, there are 32.5 hours dedicated to reality TV, news, or Sunday night movies. Of the remaining 57.5 hours of scripted series:

  • Shows with ANY minority primary characters: 13.5 hours (Heroes, Scrubs, 90210, Law & Order, Lost, 30 Rock, ER, Ugly Betty, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, My Name is Earl, Friday Night Lights, Everybody Hates Chris, The Game, Desperate Housewives, The Unit, The Simpsons)
  • Shows with MULTIPLE minority primary characters or leads: 6.5 hours (Heroes, Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, ER, Private Practice… and this is counting ABC’s double-airing of Lost on Wednesdays)
  • Shows with a LEAD minority character: 3 hours (Ugly Betty, The Unit, Everybody Hates Chris, The Game)

tvmatrix1

So, out of the 57.5 hours of scripted programming, 76% of this programming features all-white leading casts. Only 4 shows have minority lead characters, and two of them air on Friday nights on the CW.

Finally, just some parting thoughts on diversity in entertainment:

  • Derek and Meredith, Jim and Pam, Kate and Jack/Sawyer… We’ve seen interracial couples flow seamlessly through the Grey’s Anatomy plotlines, but how many other shows have done it? Even in the diverse ensemble casts, why does the main love story/central relationship in the show always feature only one race? I’m not talking about flings, I’m talking about the Ross and Rachels… makes me wonder.
  • The lack of diversity isn’t limited to network TV either… some of the hottest shows on cable (Burn Notice, Damages, The Closer) and pay TV (Entourage, Californication, Big Love) are lily white.
  • A show featuring a minority family has not earned broad mass appeal in more than a decade. Has something systemically changed in our audience today? Are we more or less racially polarized? How would the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or The Cosby Show do today? How would The George Lopez Show or The Bernie Mac Show have done then?
  • Will we ever see a show with an Asian lead on network TV?

(1) Lead character(s): The main storylines are centered around this/these character(s). They serve as the face of the show, and are featured in every episode. With a show like House, the lead character would obviously be Hugh Laurie’s Dr. House. In Grey’s Anatomy, the lead would be Meredith Grey. Even though it is an ensemble cast, she provides the voice-over and has the sickeningly cute doctor-boyfriend. Similarly, in The Office, it would be Steve Carrell’s Michael Scott… in 30 Rock, Tina Fey… etc.
Primary character(s): Not every show has primary characters who are not leads. Primary characters are mostly part of an ensemble cast where their characters also have a backstory that is shared with the viewer. Examples: Jenny in Gossip Girl, Hurley in Lost, Jim and Pam on The Office… etc.
(2) In this exercise, I did not look for minority secondary characters because I figured that most shows did have diversity in this sense, per the EW quote above.

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The Presidential Debate Redux, With Michael Scott

TOM BROKAW: Good evening from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.  I am Tom Brokaw of NBC News.  Welcome to the second presidential debate of this campaign season, sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, AIG, and Dick Fuld’s compensation package.  As you have noticed, this is the first ever debate to feature not only the two presidential candidates, but also a representative of middle America, Michael Scott of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.  Welcome, Senator Obama, Senator McCain, and Mr. Scott. (polite applause)

MICHAEL SCOTT: Tom, I would prefer that you address me as Senator Scott.

TOM BROKAW: (long pause)…Uh, okay, let’s get started.  The first question is to Senator Obama.  This from Oliver Clark.  Oliver asks: Through this economic crisis, most of the people that I know have had a difficult time.  How is this bailout package actually going to help these people out?

SENATOR OBAMA: Thanks Tom.  Oliver, first, let me tell you what’s in the rescue package for you. Right now, the credit markets are frozen up and what that means, as a practical matter, is that small businesses and some large businesses just can’t get loans.  If they can’t get a loan, that means that they can’t make payroll. If they can’t make payroll, then they may end up having to shut their doors and lay people off.  And if you imagine just one company trying to deal with that, now imagine a million companies all across the country.  So it could end up having an adverse effect on everybody, and that’s why we had to take action. But we shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

SENATOR McCAIN: I’d like to jump in here.  My friends, Oliver’s question is a good one.  You know, the match that lit this fire was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I’ll bet you, people like Allen and Mr. Scott here probably never even heard of them before this crisis.

MICHAEL SCOTT: (perplexed)Who’s Allen?

SENATOR McCAIN: See?  So, Fannie and Freddie were the match that started this forest fire.  Some of us stood up against it. There were others who took a hike.

TOM BROKAW: Thank you Senator McCain.  Mr. Scott, do you have anything to add?

MICHAEL SCOTT: Tom, again I would prefer it if you addressed me as Senator.  And yes, yes I do have something to add.  You know, I run a paper business out in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  While Fannie and Freddie are out there lighting fires, guess who, or more importantly, what–is getting burned?  That’s right: paper.  And you know what will happen if these forest fires don’t get extinguished?  No more paper. (McCain nodding somberly) Now, I’ve taken a hike before, don’t get me wrong.  There are many beautiful trails outside of Scranton.  But if we keep having these fires, what’s going to happen to these trees that overlook the trails?  Whoa, big fire, (simulates fire with hands) Smokey the Bear can’t save us, ahhh–there goes the paper!  There go the trees!  There go the trails!  Now I’m out of both a job and an enjoyable weekend hobby.

TOM BROKAW: …Right.  OK, next question.  Senator McCain, in all candor, do you think the economy is going to get worse before it gets better?

SENATOR McCAIN: My friends, we can fix our economy. Americans’ workers are the best in the world. They’re the fundamental aspect of America’s economy.  They’re the most innovative. They’re the best–they’re most–have best–we’re the best exporters. We’re the best importers. They’re most effective. They are the best workers in the world.

TOM BROKAW: (confused) OK… Senator Obama?

SENATOR OBAMA: Part of the problem here is that for many of you, wages and incomes have flat-lined. For many of you, it is getting harder

MICHAEL SCOTT: That’s what she said!

SENATOR OBAMA: (looking pissed) Excuse me?

MICHAEL SCOTT: Sorry, that’s just a thing I do, I–you know, OK, so seriously–the economy.  I mean, I live a pretty good life.  I don’t own 8 cars or anything, but I do own my own condo, I run my own branch of Dunder Mifflin, AND (pointing to stomach) I am a soon-to-be father.

TOM BROKAW: Congratulations, but we really need to get on–

MICHAEL SCOTT: (continuing) Now, do I want to raise my child in a country where America is #2?  Where we’re sitting at home, looking up as Madagascar laps us in the recyclable paper business?  No, no–that is not what I want for my child.

TOM BROKAW: Thank you Mr. Scott.

MICHAEL SCOTT: (wagging finger) Tom???

TOM BROKAW: (reluctantly)…Senator Scott.  Let’s move on.  Next question, Senator Obama: There are some real questions about whether everything can be done at once.  Health care, energy, and entitlement reform–give us your list of priorities.

SENATOR OBAMA: Terrific question, Tom.  We’re going to have to prioritize, just like a family has to prioritize. Now–

SENATOR McCAIN: (interrupting) Hey look, we’re not–we’re not–we’re not rifle shots here.  We are Americans. And I think you can do all three at once.

MICHAEL SCOTT: (whispering) That’s what…

TOM BROKAW: That’s enough.  We’re moving on.  Our last question is from a hippie in New Hampshire.  She asks: As president, how will you know what you don’t know and what will you do when you figure out that which you don’t know?  Senator Obama, I’ll start with you.

SENATOR OBAMA: Tom, one of the things that we know about the presidency is that it’s never the challenges that you expect. Here’s what I do know: I know that if the economy continues to struggle, Mr. Scott over here is going to have a tough time keeping up with the mortgage payments on the condo he’s got.  His firm may soon be facing the real possibility of having to let some people go.

We can’t expect that if we do the same things that we’ve been doing over the last eight years, that somehow we are going to have a different outcome.  We need fundamental change. That’s what’s at stake in this election.

MICHAEL SCOTT: (looking fearful) Will there still be enough money for a Christmas party?

SENATOR McCAIN: My friends, there are challenges around the world that are new and different and there will be different–we will be talking about countries sometime in the future that we hardly know where they are on the map, some Americans. (Michael Scott nods emphatically)

When times are tough, we need a steady hand at the tiller and the great honor of my life was to always put my country first. And–and–you know who is going to raise our taxes and take away Christmas?  That one.  (points at Senator Obama)

MICHAEL SCOTT: (running from stage) Noooooooooooooo!!

TOM BROKAW: And that concludes tonight’s debate from here in Nashville.  We want to thank Belmont University, the Commission, and the traffic light operator for tonight’s debate.  There is one more opportunity for the talking heads to give their stump speeches: next Wednesday, October 15, with host Ryan Seacrest and musical guest Akon.  Good night everyone.

(NOTE: All text in black is what was actually said, taken from the CNN transcript of Tuesday night’s debate.)

 

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You Just Don’t Mess With Must-See TV

With the return of television’s hottest heartthrobs like McDreamy, McSteamy, and Michael Scott in a fat suit, TV is officially back from its eight-month hiatus. During the next few weeks, network execs are undoubtedly waiting to see if audiences will also come back…especially after enduring a long summer of repeats, Japanese game show knock-offs, and Deal or No Deal.

While some may have enjoyed a continuous helping of Howie Mandel as a placeholder for quality programming, I am slightly skeptical that viewers will come running back with open arms to their favorite old shows. After all, to put it in economic terms, TV is a normal good with plenty of substitutes. When the writers strike halted production earlier this year, viewers naturally altered their behavior. Instead of installing themselves on the couch for 30 Rock every Thursday, people may have gone to the gym, read a magazine, or, God forbid, even had conversations with their families during dinner. Plus, some Americans are probably still ticked off about the strike itself; instead of watching our 401ks plummet, it would have been nice to have a quality show on TV to distract us.

So now, even if viewership returns to their normal levels, is this necessarily a positive development? For everyone who does NOT work at a television network, the answer may be no.

To illustrate this point, I have included a graph which shows how substitutes to television (like reading, exercise, and family time) may have crept into our daily routines… and how such activities may be preferable to Project Runway marathons:

  • Lower TV consumption = High literacy, healthy kids, more time with family = Not so bad?
  • Higher TV consumption = Low literacy, rampant obesity, excessive Paris Hilton exposure, remake of Knight Rider = Armageddon?

Then again, if 30 Rock gets canceled and I never find out what happened to Liz Lemon’s baby quest, someone’s gonna pay… and it might be the woman on the neighboring elliptical at the gym. I’ve got a lot of aggression.

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