“The Office” on the High Seas

Ousted Navy commander who starred in crude videos comes off as a kind of clueless Michael Scott of the military

Michael Scott is an entertaining TV character, but would you want him as a boss – or leading you into combat?

Viewing newly revealed raunchy comedy videos taped aboard the USS Enterprise in 2006 and 2007 reminded us, in an admittedly odd way, of watching episodes of "The Office."

Much like the show, the videos show a boss – Navy Capt. Owen Honors, then the aircraft carrier’s second in command – who casts himself as a would-be comedian starring in his own show. And like Steve Carell's classic character, he often comes across as more clueless and crude than funny.

The humor ranges from the sophomoric (a simulated scatological stunt too disgusting to describe) to sexist frat boy nonsense (a goofy “chicks in the shower” skit) to the vile (the spewing of anti-gay slurs). The shenanigans cost Honors his post as commander of Enterprise Tuesday.

Now there's little argument that the 6,000 sailors and Marines attached to the Enterprise, which is deployed to trouble spots around the world, need to blow off steam once in a while. A commander willing to poke some harmless fun at himself in the occasional video would seem to be a morale booster.

But ultimately the boss sets the tone and has power over underlings, which doesn't make for an equal playing field of humor – particularly when women and homosexuals are the target of many of the jokes.

Honors, in one respect, isn't clueless. He knows his shtick isn't for everyone – but he seems to forget that he’s in charge and is playing to what is, in effect, a captive audience.

In a video posted by The Virginian-Pilot, which broke the story, Honors starts by citing complaints about his past comic escapades – and advises any “bleeding hearts” who might take offense to “just go ahead and hug yourself." He included an anti-gay epithet in his opening monologue, which suggests it might take a lot more than the welcome end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell to change the attitudes of some military leaders.

Michael Scott, of course, is a fictional character, but he's resonated in part because too many of us have had to grin-and-bear our way through dealings with painfully unfunny bosses like him. The character also has endured because Carell imbued Scott with a likability and vulnerability that will be missed when the actor leaves the show at the end of this season.

Honors apparently is popular enough to spur many of his sailors to defend him, most notably on Facebook, and his case seems destined to spark a new national debate over whether he was a victim of political correctness. The bottom line is that he won’t be aboard the Enterprise when it ships out this month to support combat missions in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, check out the video below, and decide for yourself whether the Michael Scott of the high seas deserved to lose his day (and night) job:

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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