The Office portrays the goings on in the Scranton branch office of the Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company. The characters are all like normal people, but since it’s television, their personality traits,while real, are exaggerated. So when I watch the show I see people who remind me of people I know.
What sets apart The Office from other shows that feature the personality quirks of the characters (like Seinfeld, for example), is the whole idea that the employees of Dunder-Mifflin are constantly being filmed documentary-style. So not only are they quirky, they are being filmed, and they are aware they are being filmed.
What becomes apparent as you watch the show more than a couple of times is this awareness that all the characters have that they are on camera. Frequently they will say or do something good and then quickly glance at the camera as if to make sure their shining moment was caught on tape. Or, they will forget momentarily that they are being recorded and say or do something that makes them look bad. Then you see them nervously look at the camera as if to say, “Oh yeah, I am being filmed and people are going to think I am a jerk.” They then begin saying and doing things in damage control mode, to make themselves look better.
Everything these Dunder-Mifflin employees do or say becomes a performance in front of the cameras. Rarely do you see their genuine personality come through. They are keenly aware of appearances. They are constantly worried how they look. They are always mindful of what people will think about them. Because the cameras are rolling, they live to impress people.
As I was reading Acts 5 this week the thought occurred to me that Ananias and Sapphira would have been great characters on The Office. After all, when they saw people selling their land and making donations to the church they realized those people were respected for their generosity. Since they wanted people to think highly of them, they “played to the camera,” selling their property and giving the proceeds of the sale to the church.
The only problem was, they lied, claiming they had given all the money to the church when actually they kept back some for themselves. They wanted respect, but for them the way to get respect was not to be worthy of respect by being generous, but to have the appearance of generosity without really making the sacrifice needed to be generous. If you have ever known someone who lived his life this way, you know what a tortured existence it can be. The person can never truly be himself, he is constantly playing to the camera, as it were.
This brings me back to the question I have wrestling with this week — why do I do what I do? Am I always playing to the camera? Do I decide what to do based on what will get me the most attention or admiration? Am I obsessed with my how my actions look to others?
Or is there a deeper, purer motive behind my actions?
Why do I do what I do?