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Community, College, and the Lost Life Story

The Blog’s Split Personality

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Well, it’s time to get this rolling again, and I figured I’d start with something light, and save the heavy stuff for a later post. I don’t watch much television, but one of the few shows I’ve followed religiously is NBC’s Community. In case you didn’t hear, it recently got the axe shortly after its fifth season wrapped. It’s tragic, but hardly surprising. It had always been a cult show, and the last three seasons had each ended with the show’s fate up in the air. But this is hardly a post simply complaining that a T.V. show I liked got cancelled. Rather, I’ve been struck with how its now-incomplete story starkly parallels the uncertain future of my particular demographic’s career and education.

Our protagonist.

First, let me get the exposition out of the way. For the (hopefully few) people that don’t know, here’s the breakdown super quickly: The show was set at a fictitious hole-in-the-wall community college named Greendale. It initially followed an amoral ex-lawyer named Jeff Winger (seen above), disbarred for faking his degree, as he attends the school in an attempt to earn a real degree as quickly and easily as he can. It quickly became an ensemble piece, though, focusing on the offbeat antics of the members of his study group, each season representing a year of school in-universe. The show relied heavily on meta humour, obscure references, and plot lines that could verge on the surreal, making it a hit with a certain segment of internet culture, but less so with a general audience. Probably its greatest success was actually managing to not let the serious human factor, and a proper ongoing storyline get lost amongst the strangeness.

As mentioned above, the show frequently found its fate uncertain. Fearing cancellation, the third season worked hard to wrap as many character arcs and plot lines up as it could (including Jeff finally developing a conscience), and give the series a possible finale. This was repeated with the fourth season, with an extra layer of finality: Having done his four years, Jeff graduates, and prepares to move out into the world. While the show was no longer entirely about him, the initial protagonist completing the thing he set out to do also worked as a stopping point. But they got picked up again, and here’s where it gets interesting.

Season 5 was starkly real for myself. To put it bluntly, none of the central cast had been able to make it in the real world. Jeff left the school intending to work as a legitimately moral lawyer for the needy, and found himself ruined, curb stomped by life. Similarly, the rest of the central cast  also failed to achieve their dreams in one way or another, either entering jobs they didn’t want, or going nowhere in life. In the end, they’ve all failed to launch, haven’t made it in the outside world, and all decide to reenrol in Greendale. It’s very much portrayed as them leaving harsh reality for the comfortable womb of college.

That’s the eerie parallel, that made the season itself both compelling and hard to watch. That’s where I am, and that’s where most people my age are: Leaving the place of schooling full of potential, and finding the real world inhospitable. I’m not the only person my age re-enrolling because they feel they have no choice. Their education didn’t serve their purpose, and their careers failed to take off, or went horribly sideways. It was a starkly realistic turn, and as someone who’s gotten more than a little tired of the idealized image of post-secondary education most media seems to present it in, it was refreshing, if grim. If you were my age, or in my demographic, the show was now very much About You.

The thing is, I don’t know how this is going to turn out, and I suspect the people around me now also do not. And that’s why ending where they did was particularly harsh. This season didn’t have a faux-ending, but was just another year. As a result, we don’t get to see them offer a solution to the problem, save that they’re still there, taking (or teaching) classes, unable to escape the orbit of school and transition into independence and adulthood. While I don’t expect a show to give me answers, it’s symbolically disheartening when the work simply leaves the fate of its characters up in the air, without offering concrete answers to how they’ll continue to proceed through life. Essentially, they’re frozen in the same spot as myself, and the work ending there is unusually poignant to a person anxious about the conclusion of his own story. Indeed, if we follow the tethercat principle, who’s to say they’re not now trapped in college for the rest of their lives?

Unless you take Abed’s closing remarks seriously.

Anywho, when we next return, onto something a bit more serious.

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