Parks and Rec, The Office, Bursting With Bullies

Olivia Baker I’d like to think most people are familiar with the names Toby Flenderson and Jerry (or Gerry, Larry, and sometimes Terry) Gergich. And if you are not, I’ll give you a brief overview. Belonging to The Office and Parks and Recreation respectively, these men are equally the most hated characters of their shows. And no, not the most hated by their viewers. Simply put, Toby and Jerry are the punching bags of their offices. And for no reason at all, everyone seems to like them. Toby, on one hand, is monotonous, seemingly bland, and is passionate for, of all things, human resources. At Dunder Mifflin, a paper selling company, he spearheads the HR department at the Scranton branch. Ever since season 1, for no apparent reason at all, Toby has been the butt of regional manager Michael Scott’s jokes. Perhaps it’s because of their differences: Toby is safe, whereas Michael is impulsive, immature, and according to Wikepedia, “unaware of basic social norms.”  Often times Michael’s jabs at Toby are at him as a person. “I hate so much about the things that you choose to be” Michael exclaims to Toby in Season 2, not only acknowledging that Michael is intolerant of Toby’s decisions, but his mere existence is upsetting to Michael. Despite Michael’s criticism, Toby just seems to absorb it, never fighting back. And his face, like always, depicts no emotion whatsoever. Toby’s characteristics are so profound that, oddly enough, his name has unofficially become an adjective to describe someone like him. On the other hand, Jerry, the “Toby” of Parks and Rec, is a happy man. He loves his job, mainly doing the busy work for the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana. Interestingly enough, he has an excellent home life: three daughters, and a beautiful wife who, to his co-workers surprise, is played by Christie Brinkley. You’d think Jerry’s peers would be green with envy. But in fact, he, like Toby, is disliked for no reason, mocked ad nauseum, and above anything else, unlucky. In the 19th episode of season 2, “Park Safety,” a drawing is held within the parks department to decide who will change the hummingbird feeders in Pawnee’s parks. Each person is supposed to write their own name for the ballot; instead, everyone writes Jerry’s, because no one wants to do it. Inevitably, Jerry gets chosen. After completing his task, he ends up in the hospital with a dislocated shoulder. He tells everyone that he got mugged, when in reality, Jerry he fell into a creek attempting to retrieve a breakfast burrito he had dropped. Of course, his peers made fun of him for it to no end. Between Toby and Jerry, the amount of bullying is off the charts. We see it in each and every episode of these shows. It is characters and shows like these, that could perhaps normalize bullying in high schools and workplaces alike. “I think that in our current society we look to television personalities and media figures to influence the way we behave” said Ms. Lawrence when I reached out to her about bullying on television. “I think that when we see certain bullying or verbally, physically, and sexually abusive behavior on television it, in many ways, sends the message that it is okay to behave that way in our own lives.” This doesn’t mean The Office and Parks and Recreation intend to harm people. But rather it highlights that, as humans, we are prone to follow examples. As a result, shows like these certainly influence our behavior. Perhaps us viewers may find ourselves becoming Michael Scott—criticizing someone for no apparent reason. Perhaps we find ourselves becoming Jerry Gergrich or Toby Flenderson— the butt of our friends’ jokes. Lawrence’s final message was that, in these times, we have to recognize reality. “I think that it is important to realize that television, especially sitcoms, is a fantasy land and not real” Lawrence continued. “I think that the differentiation between television and reality is critical.” Keep watching The Office and Parks and Recreation, there is no harm to it. But remember, our lives are molded by these shows more than we know. Don’t let yourselves become Michael Scott. Yes, he is a legend; I recognize that. But no one has ever, ever wished to be a Toby. Just don’t make someone the Toby to your Michael, my young grasshopper. ]]>