The Televangelist: How Community Makes Pillow Fights Matter

“There are people who say, ‘I don’t get it. So it was a pillow-fight.’ To which I say: You weren’t there.” —Shirley Bennett

Let’s admit this up front: Community has a formula. In their most popular and acclaimed episodes, they take a small-stakes event (such as a paintball match, a game of dungeons and dragons, the disappearance of chicken fingers from the school cafeteria) and treat them as if they are life-or-death matters. But the fact that it’s a formula doesn’t make it any less profound. Community manages to illuminate a central hidden truth about human relations: Small things matter.

We like to compartmentalize our lives into major moments that matter, and then lump together the rest of the moments. We think of the rest as throwaway moments — trivialities that matter only a little. It’s in these moments that we get careless. We thoughtlessly text, speak, consume, and react, unaware of the inevitable way those things can come back to haunt us. The recent “Pillows and Blankets” episode of Community takes its cues from those Ken Burns documentaries you tell yourself you’re going to watch on PBS but then can’t manage to make it all the way through. Most notably, they mimic the narration technique in which actors read excerpts from old letters, only these excerpts come from e-mails and texts.

These are considered by most to be trivial forms of communications — as are the accompanying emoticons and half-formed sentences. But when these correspondences are read in the context of the great pillow fight, they feel weighty. Every word has implications — not for entire nation, but for relationships.

Rather than asking us to ogle at a national crisis or extreme circumstances, Community demonstrates the crucial importance of the drama we all experience every day. When we argue with our friends, when we blow someone off, when we act selfishly, we often fail to realize the impact those things can have, not only on those directly involved, but on those around us. Troy and Abed may be the ones arguing, and their awareness is definitely limited to the fight they are having with one another, but this episode is all about the implications of that fight and the way it spills out into their study group and the school itself.

Sure, the scale is absurd, but that’s only to match the absurdity of Troy and Abed’s argument — the way in which their divisiveness affects the entire school feels entirely real and justified. Their immediate friends are forced to pick sides, underlying motives are exposed and exploited. When resolution comes, it comes as a result of Jeff Winger being forced to acknowledge the nature of Troy and Abed’s friendship: mundane and silly, but undeniably epic.

That’s Jeff Winger’s big takeaway from his entire time at Greendale Community College: Things don’t have to be big to be important. Jeff may have had dreams of being a big-time lawyer, but he’s got all sorts of opportunities to make a difference where he is. And so do we, if only we can learn from Jeff’s mistakes, and get over ourselves.

About Richard Clark

Richard H. Clark is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has a Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, Ky. He is also the managing editor of Gamechurch and a freelance writer for Unwinnable, Paste, and other outlets.
E-mail: clarkrichardh [at] gmail [dot] com.
Twitter: @deadyetliving

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Loved this episode. It was beautiful way to remind us that though our lives don’t seem as dramatic as the great historical events unfolding around us, the core elements of drama on a large scale are just as present in the smaller scale of our everyday lives.

    Community has really captured what G.K. Chesterton said in his terrific essay, “On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family.”

    ” The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us. “

  • Kiel

    Dang, Ben. That was deep.

    Rich, I love when you write about Community. Awesome.

    I sometimes wonder if we read too much into what they’re doing with this show and if the people involved really are invested in sending these messages we’re taking away from it. I mean, it almost seems like they have to be, right? But what if they’re just trying to make a funny show? Both times I’ve read one of your Community articles, I feel like they MUST be intentional about it. Which is pretty cool.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Kiel – I agree. I think there is some semblance of intentionality going on. I would also say, though, that often times it is possible these things aren’t intentional – still, they’re principles and truths so ingrained in the human experience that they find their way into artistic endeavors despite the author’s intentions. I think this is the case for TV, film, games, music, etc. So I think it’s equally valuable to point out and write about even if the writers of Community would read this and be like “Wait what? huh?”


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