9.19.2017

do workplace-based tv shows make people dissatisfied with their jobs?

I recently realized that I enjoy a lot of TV shows that are themed around a workplace. There are the comedies, like The Office and Brooklyn 9-9, and my favourite sitcoms of past generations, such as Barney Miller and Mary Tyler Moore, and a whole bunch of sitcoms I don't watch, such as Cheers. But there are also dramas like Bones, and Suits, and older shows like ER and several others from that era.

You can see why the workplace is ripe for use as a setting. It allows writers to bring a very diverse group of characters, with widely disparate backgrounds, strengths, and expectations, into a situation where they must work together, for better or worse. The diversity and the need to work together is believable, if often not truly realistic.

But inevitably, as the show continues, the workplace becomes a surrogate family. In both Bones and Suits, many characters have no other family, or have only a small scrap of family left, or are estranged from whatever family they have. Each backstory is credible in itself; finding so many of those stories in one place, not so much.

But at least the Bones writers put some thought into why these workmates become so close -- indeed, whey they are closer than most families. Yes, the characters work in a highly collaborative setting, where individual expertise is only valuable insofar as it serves the whole. And yes, in their work, they are constantly confronted with the fragility of life and the spectre of mortality. But even accounting for those factors, the preternatural intensity of the relationships only makes sense because the characters have no other families.

In a separate sphere, we know that feelings of physical inadequacy are often triggered by unrealistic images of youth and beauty promoted in all kinds of media. We know that many people become depressed around Christmas, New Years, and Valentines Day, when we are surrounded with unrealistic images of family, social life, and romance, respectively.

So I wonder, do people feel inadequate because their workplaces don't resemble these TV teams, not even a little? Do people feel inadequate because most of their relationships are less intense than the relationships on these TV teams? Do some people wish their workplace resembled these shows more? Do they seek to become inappropriately close to their workmates, because they believe this is possible, or even normal, in working life?

Postscript: The title of this post is Impudent Strumpetesque.

Post-postscript: I intentionally spelled New Years and Valentines Day without apostrophes. I want to start a trend.

10 comments:

Amy said...

My co-workers and I used to joke that our workplace would make a really boring television show. But that never made me feel disappointed. I was looking for as little drama as possible both in and out of work!

laura k said...

Well, you probably don't get depressed over Valentine's Day either. :)

But I don't mean the drama. I mean the relationships.

Amy said...

With relationships comes drama. But seriously, I worked in a very collegial place for 32 years. We had our ups and downs like any family or tribe, but mostly we got along well. It wasn't exciting, but it was comfortable. But it wasn't like ER or Mary Tyler Moore or any of the other work place families with their love affairs, intense friendships and fights, intrigue, and comedy. It was just life.

johngoldfine said...

"But it wasn't like ER or Mary Tyler Moore or any of the other work place families with their love affairs, intense friendships and fights, intrigue, and comedy."

Good heavens, Amy! Over the years at work I either saw or was involved in feuds, office wives (platonic), love affairs (not-so-platonic), screaming matches, car-keying, professional sabotage, decades-long bitter silences, anonymous hate-notes and denouncements, closet exits, TG reveals, and several antagonisms stopping just short of nude jello wrestling.

Amy said...

Like I said, my workplace would have made for a boring tv show. As a place to work, however, it was quite nice almost all of the years I was there.

johngoldfine said...

How you know you're losing it: when you come up with a word like "denouncements." Somehow 'denunciations' was just not on my vocab list this morning.

Sitting on the couch just now, reading, poodle head in my lap, and suddenly out of nowhere, I ask myself: 'What the fuck! 'Denouncements???'

impudent strumpet said...

I don't know about workplaces, but I was thinking the same thing about friendships. Both hang-out TV shows and other media (especially those focused on young adults) depict a frequency and intensity of friendship interactions that is not only unrealistic but also impractical in everyday life.

I was also thinking that this might hinder people's (especially impressionable young people's) ability to develop civil and functional acquaintanceships/working relationships - it might foster/normalize an attitude of "This lunchroom table is for our friends!" rather than "This lunchroom table is for anyone who needs to eat lunch in this lunchroom."

laura k said...

I don't know about workplaces, but I was thinking the same thing about friendships. Both hang-out TV shows and other media (especially those focused on young adults) depict a frequency and intensity of friendship interactions that is not only unrealistic but also impractical in everyday life.

So true! I do think that people try to replicate the kinds of friendships they see on TV, and are then disappointed that it doesn't work.

This used to be true of TV families, in the Father Knows Best era of perfect TV families. Now TV families have gone completely in the other direction.

laura k said...

Denoucements seems like a perfectly good word to me.

laura k said...

Aaaand I spelled it wrong.