I was recently watching the Hindi remake of the popular, super popular show The Office, and I expected it to be cringy at worst, refreshing at best. What I did notice, on the other hand, was something different - the show is laced with carnal jokes that are often distasteful, if not outright offensive. The problem though? The show doesn’t allow you to view the content as such.
The offensive, misogynistic humour comes out of the endearing boss who is too naive to be woke, too nice to be sexist, too soft to be confronted. In essence, through his casual sexist banter, the show attempts to portray the reality of most settings - a misogynist here, a chauvinist there.
But at what point does representation of the misogynist cup-cake become endorsement for sexism overall? Is such representation needed at all?
While it is true that “the character demands it” is a universally accepted excuse, and perhaps a good one. Its overall impact and contribution in normalising sexist ideas in its viewers becomes a troubling thought to ponder upon.
And this doesn’t of course, limit itself to The Office, its clutches seem to be spread far and wide. When the character cracks sexist jokes, the purpose that joke serves for the audience is still the same - to make someone laugh. The characters and narration within the show itself may look down up and attempt to disregard the sexist humour as reprehensible, but the impact of the punch-line delivered remains the same. It serves as ‘something funny’. The audience begins to laugh at woman-hating, lewd humour, even if they hate themselves for it. But why should it be funny at all?
Let’s take a few examples from the show that the lead character, this guy, just casually drops around:
When asked by Sarla ji if she can join his kabaddi team, he promptly replies: “Sarla ji, ye stoves aur pateeli wala game nahi hai. Ye mardo ka khel hai Sarla ji.” A quiet, sullen Sarla ji then retreats, accepting defeat. He then walks up to the office receptionist, asking her to cheer for the boys playing saying "Thode baal khulle chorh do, thoda low cut blouse, itni si skirt." And while everyone around him doesn’t hoot and clap at this, the show doesn’t compensate with any significant protest either.
The character kind of swims in his “Oh he’s just like that” relationship with those around him.
But when episode after episode, this sexism just intensifies, reaching vulgarity, is it still just something the character does? Doesn’t him being “just like that” act as a sad fig leaf?
“Duniya mein kitni auratein hongi jinko dekhke automatically khada ho jata hai.” Chadda ji tells his employee, trying to tell her to feel better about herself. Crass? CRASS.
While it is important to establish that the show picks its character treatment directly from the original show, that show had the same problem too. The debate isn’t about which show did what, but understanding exactly the kind of impact such characters can have. When Michael Scott (or the Hindi Chaddha ji), a character the audiences love for his helpless childish self that is just trying to be loved, they also simultaneously begin to forgive his sexist thoughts and actions - surely that can’t be entirely inconsequential?
And while this is not to declare The Office a sexist show, because then quite frankly every show we so dearly love (FRIENDS, That 70s Show and the likes) would all have to be collectively cancelled. Each of these thrive on sexist humour that is hardly questioned, if at all. The question simply remains - at what point do we see the larger impact of such happy-go-lucky amiable characters that are so problematic in nature?
Isn’t it harder to pick a bad habit from someone you dislike? So that begs question, why fuel an already patriarchal world? Is it impossible to portray better examples or at least more vocally reprimand such controversial ones? Is it honestly that hard?
And no, that’s not what she said.