The Dwight Schrute Theory of American Culture

How Rainn Wilson’s character on ‘The Office’ reflects our current leadership crisis.

This piece was adapted from Russell Moore’s newsletter. Subscribe here.

This week on my podcast, I talked to Rainn Wilson, the writer, actor, and comedian who played the character Dwight Schrute on The Office. (For the first time, my kids insisted on attending a recording of The Russell Moore Show.)

As he and I were talking, I started to realize that Dwight might explain how we’ve arrived at this scary moment in American life.

In his (amazingly good) history of the television show, The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, journalist Andy Greene tells of a fierce debate that broke out among the writers and producers of the show. When Steve Carell, the actor who played Michael Scott, left the show after seven seasons, the team had to decide which character would replace him as the “World’s Best Boss” at Dunder Mifflin Scranton.

“I did not think Dwight should be the boss because I think Dwight is not as benign as Michael Scott,” recounts one of the writers, Aaron Shure. “He’s like this weird amalgam of Mennonite and Star Trek nerd.”

“I also didn’t want Dwight to be empowered because I was afraid he wouldn’t be funny anymore with power,” Shure says. “It’s funny if he sets the office on fire and blowtorches all the doorknobs. But if he did that all day long without any sort of check on his behavior, it would be terrifying.”

By contrast, writer Danny Chun argues that responsibility might have changed Dwight’s character for the better. “To me it felt like he was going to do some insane, inappropriate, horrible, and cruel things, but he may now suddenly be forced into a position …

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