Not just a new year, but a new decade is bearing down on us. There are way too many “best of” the decade listicles already, so I decided I’d take a more somber tone of memoriam for my end of decade take here on Optional Irony: the things we should lay to rest with this decade and move on.
It’s a bit of a tired refrain, but it still rings true: “I’m begging you people, please read another book.” What’s ironic about this entry is that the final book in the series was published back in 2007, but the last pair of films came out in the early part of the decade (2010 and 2011 respectively) pushing it just over the decade line.
I want to preface by saying that I love the Harry Potter series, I’ve gone to Harry Potter worlds in both California and Florida (the only reason I would ever visit the latter state), but in part thanks to the films providing visual image and gif fodder the Harry Potter fanbase remains alive and well. There’s no shortage of reductive discourse by way of sorting people into various houses, or making “insightful” parallels of politics, modern social climate, or more by way of a plot line from the books.
I get it, the books were fun and most of us read them in our formative years, but… those years were over a decade ago. Have you not read anything else since then? Seen another movie since 2011? If you really like fantasy and enjoyed Harry Potter, I’ve got good news: there’s much better fantasy writing out there. Just look up Scott Lynch, Kelly Barnhill, Brad Sanderson, V.E. Schwab or Terry Pratchett to name a few (there are myriad more, including yours truly who wrote a fantasy comedy, Drawful the Awful about a dragon who’s terrible at dragonry).
The other issue I have with this is that JK Rowling has fallen victim to a peculiar sort of artist’s pride where she insists to this day that everything still being released and amended to the series lore was planned from the start in her masterful creation of a complete and functional universe… but that universe is VERY white and exclusionary, and it reeks of faux-wokeness that doesn’t truly understand equality or representation by way of empathy rather than a rubber stamp check box.
There’s plenty other amazing work being done in the Fantasy genre, and it’s not exactly groundbreaking to compare the latest politician fearmongering at a pulpit a Slytherin (nor is it incisive to amend that *actually* they’re a total Ravenclaw). Read some more books in the new year.
It’s stunning to me that of all the comedies that have maintained a deep hold on the zeitgeist from that golden era of NBC comedy, it isn’t Community, Parks & Recreation, or even 30 Rock (they do persist, but they feel a bit more shallow). The Office has the kind of following that cried out in anguish when Netflix announced it would be losing the show in 2020, whereas 30 Rock disappeared from Netflix’s lineup over a year ago with nary a peep.
You’re all well aware that The Office ended in 2013, and of the dozens of quality sitcoms and TV Shows that have come in its wake, so I won’t belabor encouraging you all to watch other things, what I want to bring up is that part of what baffles me about the staying power of The Office opposed to its peers is that The Office is a thoroughly depressing show about fairly shitty people, and despite that fact doesn’t have the self-awareness of that fact that a show about shitty people should have.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Community, and Archer are just three examples of that principle and very different shows besides: you can get a lot of great comedy out of stories about terrible/depressed/selfish people, but you’re doing a disservice if you’re not aware of their shittiness and not making clear their shittiness to your audience. We never have a moment of hesitation that the gang from Always Sunny is trash, nor that Jeff Winger is anything more than a handsome guy who’s gotten through life lying and taking advantage of people, or that Archer is anything but a self-absorbed chauvinist asshole.
Jim and Pam on the other hand are played up as the heroes of the common folk, they’re the cool kids in class(/Dunder Mifflin) who knows what’s hip and what’s real and what’s real is their coworkers and their company suck.
Except those coworkers who they’re snide and shitty to 40 hours a week are their closest friends who got invited to dance down the aisle at their wedding, and attend their child’s christening. Not to mention being in a generally imbalanced, emotionally manipulative relationship? It honestly makes me sad that this is the mirror so many people see themselves in and cling to.
At least Always Sunny is clear about the consequences of being a trashy selfish asshole, at least Community focused on the challenges of growth and emotional maturity as an ongoing project, and at least Archer gets shot occasionally and has increasingly bad tinnitus. The Office is a dark mirror that many don’t seem to realize isn’t casting a great reflection- though because the reflection presents flaws as beauty marks, it’s beloved for that lack of teeth.
I hope we can move on in the decade to mirrors that reflect the truth more honestly and frankly, and without ignoring the challenge of happiness rather than the false promise that it’s meant be. Happy new year, Happy new decade. We move forward.