What is television, but a meditation on a theme, to which you return every week? Community is gone for now, but hopefully it will be back, and if I may serve as a Community apologist for a moment, I would like to talk about the meditation of Community.
I have talked to and read from many people that dislike Community and describe it as a live action Family Guy, stringing together pop culture references ad nauseum in lieu of a plot. I disagree with this viewpoint, but I understand that it may come from a place of differing mythologies. I posted a screenshot from episode 3x01 because it is exemplary of my point. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a film which I have meditated over many times and have attempted to tease apart the layers of meaning in its final scenes. Having personally worked over the narrative on my own, I have come to various conclusions about the transcendent journey that the character must take to arrive outside of himself and watch himself die, so that he may see his part in the larger whole of humanity and all existence, to be reborn as an enlightened being. By tying Jeff into this story with a few quick scenes, the writers of Community have immediately started speaking to me regarding what their goal for Jeff is in this story and what his journey should be, but I do not know yet if Jeff will follow the same path of the film, they still have something more to say about what the film meant and how it applies in this situation. This economy of language through pop culture mythology allows so much more to be put into a 22 minute show, if I speak the language. Some references, I admit, I do not get on first viewing. I understood that they were referencing Dead Poets Society in episode 1x03, but I had not meditated on that film, and I did not know what the writers wanted me to understand when everyone stands up on their desks and one person falls down. So, I watched Dead Poets Society, and suddenly, after investing an hour and a half, that 3 minute scene in the show reveals several more layers of meaning than the one sight gag I had gotten from it on first viewing. They are not using new archetypes, but then neither are the pieces they are referencing, the point of these metaphors is to talk about larger concepts and to provide a point of entry for your personal exploration of the concept. What Community does so well is say “ok, you know about the death and rebirth and seeing the planet as a whole that the space fetus goes through in 2001, but now look at how that concept also applies to interpersonal relationships and group dynamics here.” Once it evokes the memory of the mythology that you have meditated on and you are in the realm of the indescribable idea that you have worked through personally, then it anchors that to the character and combines it or contrasts it with another idea. If you remember the end of episode 3x01, Jeff emerges from the 2001 reference as the lead character of The Shining. So not only are we taking Jeff who should be an enlightened space fetus now, and having to immediately recast him in the role of a violent Jack Torrance and figure out the implications of that, but we are also reminded that both of these are films of Stanley Kubrick, and so, we are asked to examine the themes of his characters from an auteur standpoint. There is no mention of Eyes Wide Shut, Full Metal Jacket, The Killing, or A Clockwork Orange, but the mention of Kubrick by contrasting two of his films embodied in the same character, brings to mind the ideas of group dynamics in relation to the individual within the group in those 4 films, and that was what we were exploring in this episode to start with, so many more layers were added by that one change, depending on your previous meditation on Kubrick’s work.
When Community combines these mythologies well, it really is a masterful show. The point of meditation to which we are returning every week with Community then is that pop culture is our current mythology and what these meditations on the mythology mean to us.