The representation of contemporary celebrity culture in Ricky Gervai's and Stephen Merchant's The Office and Extras

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Cunningham, Emma
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BA (Hons) in Film, Literature and Drama
Dublin Business School
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The objective of this research is to examine how developments in contemporary celebrity culture are represented in two situation comedies written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, The Office (2001-2003) and Extras (2005-2007). My aim is to prove how alterations to the traditional sitcom format, as made by Gervais and Merchant, have succeeded in transforming the sitcom from a benign entertainment driven format to socially engaged programming. I wish to prove that these alterations, which coincide with developments in contemporary celebrity culture, allow for a sustained critique of the behaviour and attitudes of both audiences towards those in the public eye, and the celebrities themselves in their quest for audience approval. The aim of Chapter One will be to assess the relationship between celebrities and consumers in the new celebrity culture of democratisation, to examine the effects this democratisation has on media audiences, ordinary people seeking fame, and existing celebrities who must change their relationship with the media in order to retain their merit-based fame. It will assess the moral and ethical concerns associated with ordinary people appearing on television, and explore public opinion as to how those appearing in the public eye should be treated. In Chapter Two, the evolution of the sitcom from passive, commercially driven entertainment genre to searching socially engaged programming will be explored. Chapters Three and Four will assess how Gervais and Merchant address all of the above issues in both sitcoms, and prove whether or not their characters have anything to say to voyeuristic audiences about their attitude towards those appearing in the public eye, to those members of the public who seek fame, and to those existing celebrities who court the media in order to retain their fame. An analysis of The Office will be conducted in Chapter Three and will centre around the ordinary individual who seeks fame on foot of the workplace docusoap in which he is participating, while Chapter Four will analyse Extras from the perspective of the existing celebrity who must compromise himself in order to retain his existing fame. This research will centre around theories of contemporary celebrity culture and fame, together with those concerning recent developments in sitcom. It will draw upon journal articles with a view to assessing critical opinion of the moral and ethical issues concerned with reality television, and entertainment driven fly-on-the-wall documentaries such as the docusoap, and will make reference to a survey undertaken by the Broadcasting Standards Commission which reflects contemporary attitudes to broadcasting regulation, exploring in particular public opinion regarding celebrities and those appearing in fly-on-the-wall documentaries. The conclusions that I wish to draw from this research are that through both sitcoms, the viewer is directly addressed concerning their insatiable appetite for voyeurism, their belief that those in the public eye deserve to be exploited, and their refusal to accept culpability for any fame damage occurring. Because of the fact that both The Office and Extras are fictional narratives in the sitcom genre, they have the ability to foster emotional engagement in the viewer that has the power to invoke guilt and viewer culpability for the position these characters place themselves in. The audience is forced to re-examine their attitudes and behaviour, and the fame hungry individual is taught that happiness can only be found through rejecting the world of the image, and opting instead for real, organic and loving relationships which offer the fulfilment that eradicates their monstrous characteristics and reveals the real, decent human beings that lie beneath.