Rewatching Dwight Schrute in the Age of Proud Boys
‘The Office’ used to be a way to self-soothe. Not so in 2020.
My brother and I loved watching The Office together in high school. We loved to talk like Dwight: authoritative and snooty and weird. We wanted a Dwight in our own future workplaces — a lovable weirdo, equal parts annoying, well-meaning, and disturbing. We loved how Dwight was always tense, always sitting up straight or running awkwardly, bounding up stairs or crashing cars.
Nowadays, I rewatch The Office when I’m sad or stressed. My boyfriend calls it my “comfort food” show: I put it on when I’m anxious, and I calm down. It has soothed me enough to detract from countless near–panic attacks.
For a long time, I saw Dwight’s desire to appear important as pathetic yet also sweet. He is, like me, very nervous. His nerves just show up in a different way.
For those who don’t know or who need a refresher, Dwight Schrute is the deeply awkward and earnest character in the American adaptation of the British show The Office. (His character’s British counterpart is named Gareth Keenan.) He is less concerned with selling paper than with defending his authority or protecting his co-workers from imaginary dangers. Known for wearing mustard-colored shirts and Coke-bottle glasses, as well as his tryst with the severe Angela from accounting, Dwight is alone in perceiving the world of Scranton, Pennsylvania, as a place full of action and danger. He is a personification of a particular kind of anxiety: a white masculine fear that’s nostalgic for a more conservative time. He will submit only to his boss, Michael (played by Steve Carell), the company’s hapless regional manager. Dwight’s personality is Mennonite-adjacent wannabe alpha male mixed with sincere nerdiness. He’s absurd, and actor Rainn Wilson uses an intense amount of physicality to animate him. Dwight is profoundly alive and alert to hazards — so much so that he ignores the social cues in front of him.
Dwight wishes to assert his manhood in convoluted ways that often backfire, like setting a controlled fire in a garbage can to force his co-workers to think through how they’d escape the office in the event of a catastrophic fire, or hiding guns, arrows, and throwing stars around the office as a…