Life isn't always difficult. That might not be good for the human soul.
When we have space to relax, we can spend time on things that don't matter much – to us, to the world, to each other. We might make friends, but without exceptional circumstances, those friendships will be brittle, always about to break.
If we lived the way we do today, but did it hundred years ago, we'd all be considered hermits, only getting all our friends together even once a week. Oh, don't bother Old Man Jeremy, he only spends time with people on Saturdays. Even in Walden, Thoreau talks about how much he loved having friends visit. It was a big part of the book. Having a sincere purpose, with values and goals approached honestly, does unbelievable good for friendship. And life generally.
So, of course, in the wide-ranging canon of American culture, there's a depiction of modern life where people have relatively trivial focuses. More than enough of it, really. To get the sense of community you'd expect, it also needs the more extreme events – things that raise the stakes so that people develop bonds. It's beyond what reality could bring – there are whole episodes about multi-leveled lies and conspiracies. There's even a subplot about how things are so unbelievable that one of the group is suspected to be mentally troubled for seeing it clearly. The whole setting defies normalcy, because if your focus is mundane, nobody would create the types of bonds the tone requires.
Let me tell you what community college would be, for the people getting pointless degrees without diligence or care: frustratingly banal. They'd make no good friends. They'd have no real fun. Without a true purpose, you can't even have a proper diversion from that purpose. Without constraints, we lead a life full of us lying to ourselves about everything: who we are, the future, and how we might relate to others. We are more loosely tethered to a society that must contain us. So, of course, hilarity would ensue – if you can outrun the ennui.
Setting aside the commentary about the institutions that gather up this type of person – not driven, but desperate to avoid being "unambitious", with enough slack to spend years training for something they probably won't be able to do at the end – the show is quite good. It's funny, and every trope you could imagine is featured – the episode where they woo the spoiled rich kid addresses the above theme very well. And the ultimately failed romantic subplots perfectly chart out the inherent difficulties in closeness – while the more trivial intimacy of sex is handled pretty much the way you'd think. The stakes are too low to avoid it.
I think I might have been too lucky, or maybe too austere, giving myself too much slack. It's really not important that a given day is particularly productive, and I don't think that's good for character, happiness and friendship. So there's more I can improve.
But what we can learn from this silly show? I think we can learn how to rely on others, how building stories together is so important to group identity, and how people nobody really likes can be essential to how a group gets along. But most importantly: how our low expectations of ourselves and others get codified into the places we spend the most time. The perennial low expectations and presumed failure of everyone at Greendale is (largely) celebrated, but never ignored. It's a place that saps people of drive and consumes achievement wholesale, even as it gives them the sense of belonging they need as outsiders. It's a place that thrives on people with no where else to go, and in the modern day, that means people who can't do something the rest of the world finds useful – and that doesn't make them a bad person, per se – but it also doesn't make excuses for them. It just acknowledges them.
I think that's important to remember, when we think about complacency. It can be comfortable, if we're in one of those places, because it gives us something we need more than almost anything: a place to belong. Even if it costs us everything else.