I am a huge fan of NBC’s Community (for the purposes of this blog, let it be noted that all references to Community will not refer to season 4) and it has come to my attention recently that nowhere on the internet can I find anyone coming to the conclusion that I have come to regarding the similarity between Abed Nadir and Don Quixote of La Mancha. With that said, please enjoy my first blog post.
Nothing escapes Don Quixote. It was my high school literature teacher who once told me that he believed that traces of Miguel De Cervante’s great work, Don Quixote can be found in all good literature. That’s really saying something. Don Quixote is my favorite book at the moment and since I finished reading it, I’ve been finding similarities to it in not only literature, but also movies, television and other art forms as well. Most notably, I have found, is the character of Abed Nadir on NBC’s Community.
“Shame on you people. It’s not our job to help Abed grow up. Abed doesn’t need reality. Abed is a magical elf-like man who makes us all more magical by being near us. All we had was dumb reality before we met that man, and he’s made all our lives better than reality. ” Although it sounds as if this quote could come right from the mouth of Sancho Panza who is the “Sidekick” to Don Quixote, it is not. Those were the words of Troy Barnes speaking of his best friend Abed Nadir. One way Abed resembles Don Quixote in that he lives in his own reality. Abed Nadir, like many other literary and pop-culture icons has a Quixotic nature. Quixotism, as created by Cervantes in Don Quixote is defined by a strong imagination, the ability to change his situation to better suit needs, and finally the realization that in some way they are a character in a story (among other qualities).
Before I talk about Abed, I feel like I should explain how I see Don Quixote embodying the qualities that I listed. The most obvious of Don Quixote’s traits is his strong imagination, and in the book there are some very comical situations which Quixote runs into because of his imagination. In the beginning of the book, Don Quixote has an encounter which will likely be remembered forever as the most iconic of all of his adventures. Don Quixote and Sancho ride near some windmills and, though Sancho explains that they are in fact windmills, Don Quixote’s imagination takes over, causing him to be “so convinced they were giants that he did not hear the shouts of his squire.” Don Quixote acknowledges that Sancho sees windmills and explains that he cannot see giants because he is not “well versed in the matter of adventures.” Only a man with the most eccentric imagination could see a windmill as a giant and furthermore explain why only he can see it. Don Quixote has such a strong imagination that he has lost the ability to see past his own imaginings and therefore can only rationalize with true reality on the terms of his own imagined reality.
Not only does Don Quixote have a wild imagination, but also the ability to use his imagination to change his reality. Don Quixote loves chivalry, but when he realizes that the current state of chivalry is dead, he sets out to be a knight himself in order to bring back that noble cause on his own. Wearing a helmet and riding a horse are not enough for Don Quixote. His entire version of reality must change in order to fulfill his quest for chivalry. Don Quixote cannot have the exploits of a knight in his own day and age and so he adjusts his situation to align with his imagination, thus forming a worldview of a knight errant. For example, he sees almost every inn as a castle, a group of traveling friars as enchanters with a captive princess, and an innkeeper’s daughter as a princess just to name a few. Through the largest portion of the book, Don’s personal reality is changed by his desire to be a knight. Don Quixote often pays a high price to keep up this reality as he is constantly being beaten to a pulp (we must remember that Don Quixote is not actually a trained knight, but rather a weak old man). Through trial and success, Don Quixote keeps up a worldview of chivalry which ultimately costs him his life. Abed is similar in that he is constantly being socially ostracized by his friends and enemies for keeping up his pop culture reality. He is constantly being called “a computer” or just flat out “You have asbergers!”
In the beginning of the second part of Cervante’s great work, Don Quixote comes to the interesting realization that he is a literary character (Whoa… meta meta meta, Anyone?) Although he does not break the fourth wall and speak to the reader, as does the author, Don Quixote knows that his adventures have been recorded in great detail in the first book, which we as the reader have just finished. This understanding leads Don Quixote to a second realization, which is that there will likely be a second book. This mind bending twist in the story is one which we can see reflected in modern culture as well. Don Quixote knows there will be another based on his current adventures coming in due time. This knowledge causes him to follow the “rules” of chivalry which he knows so well from his extensive readings of tales of knighthood and chivalry. When Don Quixote realizes that some enchanter is recording his adventures, it further compels him to pursue the arts of knight errantry. He knows that if someone is recording his every move, then he must act in such a way that reflects the ways of a knight errant. This self awareness is one of the most interesting devices that Cervantes uses in his great comedy.
Abed displays all three characteristics of Don Quixote, which I have noted previously. He has a strong imagination, he changes his situations to fit his imaginations, and is somewhat self aware. Although Abed does not address the audience directly (except in the documentary episodes), he often compares daily happenings to television and movie tropes and pastiches, saying things like, “Is this going to be a bottle episode? I hate bottle episodes” or “This situation is just like The Breakfast Club.” Abed constantly uses his mediocre surroundings as a set piece for his elaborate television fantasies which he sees as reality. He knows that if he is a television character, then there are certain rules to follow in order to maintain his pop-culture influenced reality. Abed also has an entire room in his apartment, called “the dreamatorium” dedicated to housing his imaginary adventures. If this doesn’t show his imaginative side, then I don’t know what does. If Cervantes was to write Don Quixote today, you would likely end up with a character much like Abed, and this is proof that Cervantes has created a timeless character.
It is widely accepted that Abed Nadir is the driving force of Community’s quirky nature, and without him the show would not be nearly as interesting. For this we have Don Quixote to thank, or rather his creator Miguel De Cervantes. Don Quixote saw a hole in the fabric of his culture and took it upon himself to rebuild the art of chivalry. Using a wild imagination, a self fabricated reality, and a self awareness not displayed so well in any character before him, Don Quixote set out to have an adventure. The result is a book which has defined many books and characters after its creation. Replace chivalry and the adventures of knights with tv and movies and you get Abed. Abed sees our reality as being the broken system that it is, and replaces it with his own because, in his words “TV is better than reality.” He even goes to great lengths to turn what could be a normal pulp fiction themed birthday and turns it into an entire My Dinner With Andre meal with Jeff where both of them end up pouring out to each other their deepest secrets. Although, Abed’s confession is all a sham composed in order to keep up the parody he’s doing with an unaware Jeff. This is one thing that Community does so well compared to other sitcoms. The pop culture references are not just their for the sake of themselves but rather they are there for a reason which is to be part of the larger narrative of the episode or season as a whole. These “parodies” are also one of the reasons why community could be called postmodern masterpiece (But that’s a whole different idea that I don’t want to get into right now). Perhaps one last larger comparison is due, which is that Abed is obviously influenced by Cervante’s entire work due to the fact that the book is in itself is meta-fiction. This relates to why Abed is constantly calling out the fact that the situations he is in are tv related or just “meta.” All this goes to say that Abed is a Don Quixote for (in his words) the “post-post-modern” world.
I don’t pretend to understand everything about Quixotism, Postmodernism, or meta-fiction, but I do watch a lot of Community and every re-viewing of an episode further convinces me that it is the smartest show on TV. I want to use this blog to hopefully hash out more reason’s why I love the things I like. In this way, I hope to validate for myself the opinions I have for liking things like Community, Inglorious Basterds, Videogames, comics, and even Disneyland to name a few. I hope you enjoyed reading this, and I hope you come back for more.
John Nissen IV