Something interesting about The Office is that it is filmed in documentary form. We are able to follow the lives of many interesting people in a not so interesting workplace. This documentary form allows for the viewer to actually take part in the scene and become one of the actors because everyone on set acts like the camera is one of the actors in the scene. The Office puts a strong emphasis on breaking the fourth wall, the process of speaking directly to, or otherwise acknowledging, the audience. This imaginary “wall” that exists between actors and the audience is where the actors pretend that they cannot hear or see the audience. This is very frequent in television shows and creates an effect for the audience just as if they were a “fly on a wall”, just observing. This shows ability to break that fourth wall draws in it’s audience by allowing viewers to feel as if they were a part of the crew helping co-create the story.
A huge emphasis on sideline interviewing contributes to the shows ability to engage the audience. Every character has a chance to talk individually to the camera (audience), which allows for the director to effectively communicate his message behind whats going on. As an event unfolds, we are able to see what initially happens, followed by the “voice” or the message behind what’s going on. The Office is mainly focused on basing our reactions on the reactions of others on the show.
This breaking of the fourth wall creates a sensation that the viewers feel as if they are really interacting with the actors. In this scene, we see Ryan (the new intern) take over Pam‘s job at the reception desk. Jim isn’t quite used to the change yet so he’s still in the habit of peeking over there. Michael also isn’t used to the change and stares creepily but as we watch this event unfold we (the audience) become a part of the scene.
The audience (camera) appears as if it’s in power. When we catch Michael off-guard towards the end of the clip, he darts his eyes away in embarrassment. We feel engaged and we feel as if we have domination over him even as a viewer. The cameramans assertion of dominance creates a non-verbal message: this is not how you behave professionally.
In film, there is a voice (actor / director) and a perspective (audience). The voices communicate messages which are interpreted by the audience. As you may think, not everyones interpretation of the same event will be identical. This relates to your past experiences and memories which are all very different from everyone else. In The Office many of the interpretations are already made for us because a lot of the times the actors look at the camera with facial expressions identical with the audience’s reaction (perspective).
Polysemy is defined as the possibility of multiple meanings. The audience could interpret different meaning to situations because they incorporate their own experiences and lifestyles. For example, in season 3 episode 21, Meredith is driving in her car with Pam in the passenger seat as she decides to throw a trash out the window.
Pam: Slow down! We’re not gonna get there any faster if we’re dead.
Meredith: Thank. I know how to drive. (*as she empties a bag of chips in her mouth and tosses it out the window)
Pam: Oh yeah, you really shouldn’t litter.
Meredith: My car, my rules.
There can be two different sides to this argument. One thinks breaking the law is nothing to worry about and one thinks it’s wrong. It’s up to the audience to pick which side to take. Depending on your lifestyle you may not think littering and speeding is a big deal and meredith is right. Normal people would argue otherwise and side with pam the directors cut out of the scene and let the audience form an opinion.
The dominant meaning to the show is not obvious to people who do understand the irony. The directors are trying to show people what not to do by exaggerating events that happen regularly in our culture in a ridiculous manner. The Office gives it’s viewers a satirical way to think about real issues that are relevant in our society.
By allowing the audience to engage directly with the story, The Office is very successful at breaking the fourth wall. The directors set up the show as if the viewers are actually there to co-create the story by acknowledging the camera in every scene. The satirical approach to relevant situations in our culture draws an audience because viewers can relate with themselves. Audience engagement is the key behind this shows great success.