TV’s “Community” as Posthuman

ImageThe TV sitcom “Community” is perhaps the only show on television that consistently captures what it is to be alive in twenty first century North America. All characters on that show display kaleidoscopic shifting identities. Troy and Abed filter the world through television programs and movies and pop culture. Everything is a reference is a reference is a reference and the world has been over-laid by a palimpsest of the make-believe and the virtual. They even have an empty room in their apartment they refer to as the ‘dreamatorium’ where they run virtual simulations in their minds unencumbered by reality. It is perhaps telling that while Abed shows little empathy for humans (it has been suggested he has Asperger’s) he can transform the world into any scenario he wants and believe it, a proposed posthuman capability. The rest of the characters Tweet, Facebook, surf the Internet, dress up in costumes, play roles assigned to them, present false identities to the world which are occasionally torn away by circumstance only to reveal more false identities beneath. There is even a viscious monkey that lives in the walls. The only one among them that is real is Pierce (played by Chevy Chase) who is old, antiquated, boorish and constantly confused by the identity switching around him. Meta cameras and “student” cell-phone footage are common in the show. Sometimes animation and virtual image are substituted for the actual footage. In one episode they all turn into zombies, one of which–the ever cool, emotionally stunted Jeff–continues to lean up against a wall and sift through screens on his Iphone. In another, during a conflict between Troy and Abed over a pillow fort vs a blanket fort, the entire second half of the hour-long episode is told in a documentary style using stills, footage captured on Iphone, strategy explanations using graphs, charts, drawings and voice-over. The entire show is, intentionally or unintentionally, an attempt to show what a pastiche of the virtual, second world, film, pop culture, music and self deception and actualization our identities have become. No-one is real in the show. Every potentially tender, humanist moment is kicked out from underneath us as yet another ulterior motive is revealed, yet another presented identity torn away with another lying patiently in wait underneath. You know the characters by how they behave in certain situations but not by who they are. Everyone has adapted and retreated into technology and/or ideology and/or multiple identity. The show is a mess of substituted, overlaid and intermeshed meta narrative. It’s not interested in coherence. It’s only goal is to confuse, to stay one step ahead of us, to set us up and then let us down. If occasionally it does allow a moral to get through, it is perhaps just enough of a concession to allow itself to stay on the air. And it does so ironically. If we’re stupid enough to believe it, then so be it. No-one else on the show would, except maybe Pierce, and the Shirley the evangelical Christian. But these two are there only for their outrage, and counter-balance. In the world of Community, as in the real world, no-one takes them seriously anymore.

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