It was a warm, lazy afternoon, and the BBQ was going splendidly. We joked about the strange antics of our parents, and then one person blurted out, “My mom is really good at dressing up like Dwight!” Bursts of laughter ensued, and I joined along even as I groaned inwardly. I knew what would happen next. I reached for a pita chip, took a hefty dollop of hummus and leaned back in my chair, physically removing myself from the conversation. It happened. And it lasted for a good ten minutes.
“The best episode is the one where…“Are you crazy? It’s definitely the one when…“I mean, that one was funny, but the one right before that…A dozen episodes later, and after some pretty poor imitations of Dwight himself, conversation trailed off.
For those of you who don’t know, Dwight is a character in “The Office,” a pretty popular television show. And that was all I knew at the time because I don’t watch “The Office” (gasp, I know). As a result, I can’t contribute to a discussion of the best episode of “The Office” or talk about my favorite character or gossip about the latest plot twist. Usually this isn’t a problem, but when conversations take a turn towards “The Office,” I feel the tremendous pangs of social isolation as I sit and wait for a change of topic.
I always wonder if I should fake it. Should I laugh along with everyone else? Should I loudly agree with an, “Oh em gees, yeah, that episode was so funny!” Or is it better if I sit in silence until someone notices and asks me incredulously, “Wait. You don’t watch ‘The Office?!’” When I quietly murmur, “No,” I feel like I’m admitting to murder. In response, I usually get a look of pity, as if the person wants to console me for the tragedy that must be my life without “The Office.”
Luckily, these conversations can’t go on forever. In this particular scenario, the conversation soon began to wind down. In preparation for my recovery, I sat up in my chair, ready to reenter the fray. But the conversation was suddenly revived by an allusion to “30 Rock,” another TV show. I slumped back again with a new pita chip in hand. I know that Tina Fey is in “30 Rock,” and I know I like Tina Fey. That’s all I know.
It’s happened to me before and probably to a lot of other people — suddenly everyone around you is talking about some TV show that you don’t watch. I once sat patiently with just two of my friends as I listened to them talk about the finer points of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” for quite literally 15 minutes before they figured out that I looked bored. It’s happened to me with “Modern Family.” And “Glee.” “And How I Met Your Mother.”
You’re probably thinking, “Wow, it sounds like you should just go watch TV.” And maybe at this point in time, that’s true. These days, television is probably the thing we have most in common after the weather. Remember how, back in the day, people would jumpstart their conversations with comments about the weather? Ah, the good old weather: we’re all in it, we’re all watching it and feeling it, enjoying it or hating it together.
And that brings up a pretty general point — as social creatures, we like commonalities. We like meeting people and quickly identifying shared interests, opinions and preferences. That’s why we stay away from topics like religion and politics. Do you meet someone and promptly announce your thoughts on abortion? Probably not.
Rather, it makes more sense to meet someone and comment off-handedly on that last episode of “The Office.” You’ll both think it’s funny, you’ll bond over your shared interest and then you’ll be lifelong friends.
I’ve experienced that joy on rare occasions. One time, a friend loaned me the first two seasons of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” promising that it was the funniest show he’d ever seen. It was decently funny, but nothing to make me fall out of my chair or anything. But you know what was better than watching the show? A couple of times, the show came up in conversation with other people. Those few precious moments, in which I could jump in enthusiastically with my favorite episodes and characters and plot twists, were pretty fun. No more alienation, no more faking knowledge of something in order to impress other people. Those were some glorious times.
An even more glorious conversation, however, followed the previous two at the BBQ. In fact, conversation took the best turn I could’ve hoped for — someone brought up my column! There it was: “The Office,” “30 Rock,” and then “Marks My Words.” And there they were, multiple people jumping in with comments about different columns of mine, feeling a sense of camaraderie in their shared knowledge of all those words I’d composed.
It was pretty cool — for several shining moments, “Marks My Words” had attained some semblance of campus pop culture status. And I certainly didn’t feel very excluded from the conversation. It was all I could’ve hoped for in the past few months of writing. Thank you, readers, for making it happen.
Miriam thanks you for reading her column this volume! Feel free to email her with any thoughts, comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org!