The Microcosms

During an episode of The Office earlier this year, there’s a scene in which Michael and Dwight are rooting around in a garbage dump, looking for some MacGuffin or other that was supposedly integral to the plot. Eventually, they grow frustrated with each other and start throwing garbage back and forth, which quickly leads to the two of them stumbling and falling down in even more garbage.

It occurred to me that the scene served as a perfect microcosm for this season of The Office. Everything you could possibly need to know about the season was captured in those few moments: the show’s two most cartoon-like characters acting in a completely unbelievable fashion, and flailing around in an enormous pile of trash to boot. If aliens ever visited Earth, and asked “Hey, what was Season Six of The Office like?” you’d just have to show them that scene, and they’d be like “Oh, OK, think we got it. No, we don’t need to borrow the DVDs. We’re good. Thanks, though.”

What else in pop culture serves as a perfect sample of the whole? A miniature version of the entire show/album/movie it’s a part of?

The line “Just because you feel it, doesn’t mean it’s there,” from Hail to the Thief’s “There There.” Yep, that’s Radiohead in a nutshell.

Guns N’ Roses
The original banned cover of Appetite for Destruction:

The entire show is summed up succinctly in a scene from this season’s Ab Aeterno: Richard Alpert is chained up in the belly of a slave ship, abandoned in the middle of the jungle. Richard has been trapped for days without food or drink, and seeing a small drip of water a few feet away, he pulls on his chains desperately, straining to catch just a drop of the precious water on his tongue. His ordeal, his wretched quest for nourishment, perfectly symbolizes the relationship viewers have with the show. We’re forever in chains, in need of answers but deprived indefinitely, straining at our bonds for just a tiny morsel of resolution.

The Sopranos
The 20-minute dream sequence in Season Five’s “The Test Dream” tells you everything you need to know about the entire show: it’s compelling, well-written, accessible and difficult at the same time, overly long, frustrating, and self-indulgent. It encapsulates everything the show’s been, and everything it will become.

The Corrections
The scene in which college professor Chip has sex with the couch that smells like the student he was sleeping with. Chip vacillates from being the novel’s most hyper realistic character and its most completely unbelievable, and the character himself is a good barometer for how you’re going to feel about the book. And that particular scene is a litmus test for how you’re going to feel about the character. Even beyond that, the scene represents the book – it’s a lurid snapshot of privileged, white psychosexual obsession and neurosis.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
This passage:

“I worry about exposing him to bands like Journey, the appreciation of which will surely bring him nothing but the opprobrium of his peers. Though he has often been resistant – children so seldom know what is good for them – I have taught him to appreciate all the groundbreaking musicmakers of our time – Big Country, Haircut 100, Loverboy – and he is lucky for it. His brain is my laboratory, my depository. Into it I can stuff the books I choose, the television shows, the movies, my opinion about elected officials, historical events, neighbors, passersby. He is my twenty-four-hour classroom, my captive audience, forced to ingest everything I deem worthwhile. He is a lucky, lucky boy! And no one can stop me.”

The raining frogs (SPOILER ALERT!)

Rocky IV
The training sequence set to “Hearts on Fire.”

In fact, that montage isn’t just a microcosm for Rocky IV or the entire Rocky series, it’s a microcosm of the entire American pop culture experience in the 1980s. Cheesy music montage? Check. Soviet Cold War villains? Check. Underdog triumphing through hard work, sheer will and patriotism? Check.


1 Comment

Filed under Film Has AIDS, The Dilemma

One response to “The Microcosms

  1. Pingback: Watching a Good TV Show Die | Pop Culture Has AIDS

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