“The Office” and the Digital Age – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

“The Office” and the Digital Age

In a new book chapter, Associate Professor of Media and Society Leah Shafer examines the mockumentary chronicling of the fictional paper company Dunder Mifflin and the lives of its employees, and assesses the show’s impact on television comedies and modern American culture.

The book, The 25 Sitcoms that Changed Television: Turning Points in American Culture, edited by Aaron Barlow and Laura Westengard, explores the roles sitcoms occupy in reflecting their audiences and American society as a whole.

In Shafer’s chapter, “The Office: Broadcast Television in the Digital Age,” she considers the ways the U.S. sitcom The Office is situated “within the technologies and practices of the digital era, emphasizing the show’s meta-awareness, relationship to surveillance, and challenge to ‘authenticity’ as reflections of a uniquely 21st century shift in the television industry more broadly.” In contrast to the “cheerful lack of authenticity” of 20th century sitcoms, Shafer argues that The Office marks “a shift toward a different conception of the ‘reality’ being portrayed,” with its “hybrid format and mockumentary style” that “encourages viewers to form affective connections with its ironic depictions of ‘American banality.’”

Shafer’s work has been widely published and anthologized, appearing in journals including FLOW: A Critical Forum on Television and Media Culture, Afterimage and Film Criticism. Her scholarship on media studies pedagogy has appeared in The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy and Teaching Media Quarterly, and she was a guest-editor for a volume of Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier.

A scholar and artist, she was recently awarded a research residency with the experimental media art collaborative Signal Culture, and her experimental documentary Declaration of Sentiments Wesleyan Chapel has screened in juried film festivals and is cited in the recently published volume Networked Cinemas.​ She has helped organize local and national workshops on media studies pedagogy and has presented widely at conferences and symposia.

An HWS faculty member since 2008, she has served on many institutional and departmental committees. She holds an A.B., M.A. and a Ph.D. from Cornell University, and has taught at Ithaca College and for the Bard Prison Initiative, where she served as campus coordinator. Her courses explore the culture and history of media, including television, film, advertising and the Internet.