Tonight, in a fit of “Dammit, I just wanna,” I watched most of “Parks and Recreation” and all of “The Office” and “Community” on NBC (Channel 4 in NYC) tonight. These shows are part of a trend I like to call “Comedy of the Awkward.”
When my generation (specifically, me) was growing up, it was the era of “Free to Be You and Me.” Time was not spent on training us to behave and get along in society. We did not learn how to “fit in” and “get along.” We were allowed, nay, encouraged to “express ourselves.” There was no need to go into something with a preconceived notion, to blindly accept authority, to follow the rules. We could just “be ourselves,” say what we thought, and ask questions.
(…and just as a non-sequitor aside, don’t you hate it when something that your ex-girlfriend who is no longer talking to you got you interested in comes on TV and now the person you would have enjoyed talking about it with won’t talk to you? Yes, freestyle wrestling is on TV right now. Anyway…)
We were told never to assume that people are what they seem to be, not to judge a book by its cover. Trained that all people are just the same, only different, to be fair and honest and generous, to say what we mean and accept people at their word.
All this made us completely unable to get along with people who somehow missed the whole point of the 1960’s and ‘70’s, the people who went to school, got jobs, and went to work, who basically came before us and set up and ran the world that we would have to move into when we got out of the shelters of our progressive schools and enlightened families.
So there we were, uncomfortable in our new suits and constricting ties, awkwardly attempting to fit into the social scenes that we were not brought up in, squirming as we heard the jokes and assumptions that were made about different ethnicities, genders, financial status, sexual orientation, etc. Suffering the indignities foisted upon us by schemers and scammers, opportunists and assholes. We slowly, awkwardly, tragically came to realize that all that wonderful, utopian stuff we had been raised to believe has a snowball’s chance in hell at being accepted by the rest of the world just on the basis of its rightness.
And so, our life would be filled with awkwardness. Everything we would say and try to do would be misunderstood and wind up getting us in trouble. We would have to accept the fact that we are different and unique, and learn to either reject that and embrace the mainstream, or revel in it and fight that good fight, never compromising, even in the face of Armageddon.
And so Amy Poehler has to deal with people who don’t recognize her female political heroes and a judging committee for a beauty pageant that only sees the “hot” one. John Krasinski faces office rebellion when he finds himself having to decide how to distribute the raises for the year. Gillian Jacobs learns that helping someone live their dream does not always mean that you are going to get warm and fuzzies from them.
And this kind of comedy would not exist if it weren’t for my generation thinking that the world could ever be a different, better place.