Cultural Revolution: The Chinese 'Office' Opens
Four years after the debut of the British show The Office, an American version was developed for NBC and first aired in March of 2005 to almost instantaneous success and a degree of critical acclaim comparable to that of the original and surpassing that of nearly any American comedy series in recent memory. Needless to say, the format of the show had to be modified slightly for American consumption: the setting of the original, Slough, a small industrial city in Berkshire, England just a few miles west of Greater London, became (for whatever reason) Scranton, Pennsylvania, a small former anthracite coal mining community about one hundred and fifty miles away from New York City.
And while the characters of the original series were, for the most part, harnessed within feasible parameters, recognizably mundane and human with only one or two characters venturing towards zany sitcom contrivance, the American series featured an ever growing cast of completely whacked space cadets. The character David Brent, an intelligent, well-meaning, but ultimately selfish, immature and hypocritical office manager, was transmogrified into Michael Scott, who embodied some of the same qualities, but was far stupider, crueler and more emotionally unstable and childlike in disposition.
The news of a Chinese version of The Office currently in development raises questions of the types of cultural adjustments its creators will make to the original premise. For example, how well will the frustrated artistic aspirations of the character Pam translate in a country where all but the most indirect and deeply coded of politically questionable art is censored, and most of what isn't is inherently patriotic and propagandistic in nature? And how will a positive, non-stereotypical gay character like Oscar come across in a country which only decriminalized homosexuality in the last decade? And, perhaps most importantly, what possible sense will Chinese viewers make of a show largely based on the distinctively western concepts of "hating your job" and rugged individualism? Will the show be forced to adopt a more darkly pessimistic style of humor? Will there be amusing sketches of provincial Chinese straphangers forced to wear adult diapers on overcrowded trains without toilets during sometimes two or three hour daily work commutes into overcrowded cities?
On the other hand, China is a nation on the rise, eager to embrace humanistic and democratic values, and not just to improve its image on the world stage and further cement its status as a superpower, but to move forward as a people into a new age. The Chinese government has in the past ten years enacted a slew of groundbreaking human rights legislation, paving the way for a modern China: a new generation of free(r)-thinking and acting citizens. So the Chinese Office may very well be a positive gesture towards cultural symbiosis.
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