I love Community (except for most of season 4, of course). Episode 6 of Season 5 touched on one of my favorite themes in fiction – the final basis of all power is the ability to do violence to others.
The episode follows Annie as she explores the bureaucratic anatomy of Greendale Community College. Greendale’s power structure is diffuse, with many small pockets of specialized power in a delicate balance. It’s an interesting (if brief) examination of motives of the powerful, and the repercussions their desires have on the populace at large. But that’s just the set up for the really interesting conflict.
The power balance in Greendale is tense enough that Annie can’t get her cork-board approved, so she decides to circumvent the entire system and simply install it herself. This is, of course, completely unacceptable to the powers that be. It is a challenge to the existing authorities, allowing it stand means a huge loss of credibility for those at the top. Why should anyone respect the Dean if his rules can be broken at a student’s whim? The actors below him will no longer be reined in by his authority and the resulting power struggle could cripple the whole school (well, moreso). So the Dean dispatches Hired Goons to take down the corkboard, as his prerogative as the recognized head of the Greendale Leviathan.
And here’s where it gets really interesting. Annie physically attacks the Hired Goons. Because when it all comes down to it, power structures are just ways of organizing how much violent force any particular coalition can muster. Leviathan is left with a choice – crush the opposition, or demure. Leviathan has much bigger goons and would almost assuredly win this direct physical confrontation. And demurring is always undesirable, as it weakens the Leviathan’s ability to credibly threaten others in the future. However in this case the opposition is more than just some student rabble. Annie is a founding member of a strong student coalition which has spent the past 4.5 seasons growing in influence in Greendale. They are admired by the student body, and have previously shown themselves able to spark or douse riots. They have allies within the greater community, and Annie has shown herself adept at navigating and wooing the Greendale power structure. Up until this point they have been nominal allies of the Dean, turning them into enemies would be unwise. Moreover, there is the possible intervention of the greater leviathan of State & Local Laws to consider (whose views on the matter are uncertain), and the Dean is sexually attracted to one of the other founding members of the group.
The Dean calls off the attack. Annie’s coalition is willing to fight and make this victory too costly for its rewards. And importantly, Leviathan has shown its teeth, and reminded those watching that anyone who wishes to challenge it needs to at least have the power base of Annie’s group.
(also, Annie has just (unwittingly?) made herself a bigger player in the Greendale power game. If this was a political show I’d be thrilled by the implications :) )
However, despite all the alliances and influence to consider, what it boiled down to in the end is who had the greater ability and willingness to do violence to the other side. The Hired Goons flexed their muscles. Annie jumped on one and beat him, and rallied the other founding members of her coalition to literally stand at her side in a wall of angry fists. It was their willingness to spill blood that was the decisive moment of their triumph. This is the sort of story I adore. The anger and desperation that pushes people to say “No more.” The point that turns them from participants in the façade of civilization, to people who demand the lies be thrown aside and the true violent nature of power be done to them as proof of dedication. That tipping point where the hand is called, and the real priorities of everyone are laid bare.
It was wonderfully done, especially for a 22 minute comedy show.