Friday, April 6, 2007

Violence as a Technique of Social Control in "The Office"

“The Office” often portrays violence as a technique of social control. Whether they are physical or verbal, violent actions are frequently used as tools to gain superiority and make others feel subordinate. These tactics are employed especially by Michael Scott, who is the manager of the office. He commonly uses verbal violence against his employees to boost himself up in the hegemonic hierarchy and keep them below him. In one episode in particular he uses physical violence to accomplish this same task.

Verbal violence as a tool for gaining social control is evident in many episodes of “The Office.” This verbal aggression is portrayed mostly through Michael Scott towards both male and female employees. One example can be seen in the Episode, “The Alliance,” in which Michael discusses a party with the party planning committee, which is made up of three of his female employees. During this discussion he refers to them as his “party planning biatches.” In doing this he is using verbal aggression to subordinate them, and therefore gain social control over them, in two different ways. First, he is identifying them as his. He is bringing to light the fact that they are below him in the hegemonic hierarchy, both as females and as his employees, and are therefore his property. Second, he refers to them as “biatches,” something other than human, something below himself. In referring to them as both his property and something less than human, he is making sure they know that they are his subordinates and he has social control over them.

Other examples of verbal violence can be seen on several occasions when Michael uses terms like idiot and stupid to put down Dwight. As his second-in-command, Dwight is closest to Michael on the hegemonic hierarchy of the office. Therefore, to maintain social control over Dwight and make sure that he stays below him, Michael needs to constantly use verbal aggression to put him down. Calling him stupid no doubt makes Dwight feel subordinate, which is exactly what Michael intends to do. He needs to make sure that Dwight knows that he is well below him on the hegemonic hierarchy.

Another technique of social control that is portrayed in “The Office” is physical violence. Physical violence as a technique of social control is especially evident in one particular episode, entitled, “The Fight.” In this episode Dwight brings his karate belt to the office to let all of the employees know that he can physically dominate them. As a result, everyone starts to tease Michael, saying that Dwight is tougher than he is. This causes Michael to feel that he is physically subordinate to Dwight, and consequently his social control over Dwight is challenged. To regain control over Dwight by proving that he can physically dominate him, he challenges Dwight to a fight. They go to Dwight’s dojo to prove once and for all who is tougher. Michael ends up beating Dwight, and Michael returns to the office feeling physically dominant, while Dwight returns feeling subordinate. After having his physical domination challenged, Michael needs to prove that he is stronger than Dwight. In accomplishing this he maintains social control over the office by showing his physical toughness.

Verbal and Physical violence are often used in our society as techniques of gaining and maintaining social control. As Terry A. Kupers states, “Free men do a lot of toughening, too. If it is not the physique it’s the mind, or it’s the reputation or the financial empire, but men are always building something that they believe will keep them off the bottom of the heap, out of range of those who would ‘shaft’ them” (Kupers, 500). This toughening is frequently portrayed on “The Office,” as is evident in the previous examples. To stay on top of the hegemonic hierarchy, Michael uses both verbal and physical violence towards his employees. Through these tactics he is able to maintain social control over the office by making others feel subordinate.


Kupers, Terry A. (1992). “Homophobia in Straight Men” from Revisioning Men’s Lives: Gender, Intimacy, and Power. Guilford Press.