Bureaucracy is a concept in sociology and political science referring to the way that the administrative execution and enforcement of legal rules are socially organized. This office organization is characterized by standardized procedure (rule-following), formal division of responsibility, hierarchy, and impersonal relationships. Bureaucrats serve their government or corporate employers by ensuring that all processes and actions under their jurisdiction comply with directed norms. In fiction, bureaucrats are often portrayed as impersonal or even rude, valuing the rules over any personal beliefs or attachments. Bureaucracy is common to both communism and capitalism.
- Inspector LaBrea is a government noise inspector who threatens to shut down The Muppet Show in episode 413, until he realizes that the guest star is his hero, Dizzy Gillespie. LaBrea is redeemed by having his own personality, and while his job may be in danger, the Muppets no longer need to fear him. (Also, he's not a bad saxophone player.)
- Bureaucrats were often depicted on Dinosaurs during its run, at various levels. The Job Wizard (in "Career Opportunities") provides Robbie Sinclair with only two career choices, which are determined by those of his parents. The Job Wizard always wanted to be a dancer, but lacked the personal wherewithal to ignore convention and follow his dreams. The Clerk from "The Son Also Rises" later displays another side of bureaucracy. He ignores Robbie and Earl's desire to challenge each other physically, and suggests instead well-crafted essays, with duplicate carbon copies. The Clerk's own submerged desires soon become evident, as the antagonism between Earl and Robbie excites and arouses his dinosaur nature, and he soon gladly referees their fight. The Clerk demonstrates the fundamental dissatisfaction that bureaucrats sometimes feel with the bloodless, impersonal nature of their jobs. Being a bureaucrat can be boring, and the Clerk needs more excitement than carbon copies can provide.
- Vogons are prime examples of especially evil bureaucrats. They destroy the Earth simply to build a hyperspace bypass, and ignore the pleas and cries of humanity because humanity hasn't filled out the proper forms (also because they are particularly nasty and sadistic). Vogons have enormous respect for forms and protocol, and their only attempt at personal expression, their poetry, is so incredibly bad that it can be used as an instrument of torture. Vogons, when faced with the suggestion of personal freedom and individuality, tend to simply ignore the choice, sometimes going so far as to push people out of airlocks into open space.
- In episode 110 of The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss, Fox in Socks and Mr. Knox have to navigate the Travel Center to claim their free trip to far-off Gazir. They must deal with many different civil servants in order to begin their travel, including the world-weary Travel Poobah.
- In the Fraggle Rock episode "Red's Club," Red starts down the slippery slope to bureaucracy when she becomes over-reliant on rules and regulations to form her club. Soon she learns that personal liberty suffers when challenged by authoritarian rulers, and that Fraggles don't make good bureaucrats.
- During Sesame Street Stays Up Late, Telly dresses as a bureaucrat. In an attempt to keep the old year from disappearing, he claims to be an official from The Department of Celebrating and Parties (ostensibly in Washington, DC). He forbids the New Year's Eve Party, claiming that, according to Section 43 of the Hoopla and Merriment Law (and the bylaws and inlaws), Sesame Street is in a "No-Party Zone." Telly may be one of the best candidates on Sesame Street to be a bureaucrat, with his almost obsessive love of organization and fear of change, but his disguise fails, as does his attempt to save the old year with unnecessary and bogus rules.
- Clive Cahuenga, the singing civil servant from episode 316 of The Muppet Show, is another dissatisfied bureaucrat. He wants to express himself musically, but his topic of choice seems personally unfulfilling. He has set The Municipal Vermin Abatement Code to music, which he sings twice, because he must do everything in duplicate. Clive Cahuenga wants art in his life, but he only ends up embarrassing himself publicly.
- Oscar the Grouch sets up a toll booth in Episode 0809 of Sesame Street. Everyone who wishes to pass must pay Oscar a jar of mud. (This demonstrates the learning concept of "Bureaucratization.") Oscar's toll booth represents the worst bureaucracy has to offer: a demand of a useless (but time-consuming to complete) object, in return for something previously free, plus brand new rules and regulations on top of that. However, Oscar's lifelong pursuit of personal freedom and individuality make him, like Red, a poor candidate for bureaucracy. We never hear about the jar-of-mud tollbooth again.
- In a week-long arc Sesame Street in season 22 (Episode 2836 through 2840), Gordon spearheads the cleaning and renovation of a vacant lot in the city. His early attempts at asking New York City to clean it are less than helpful. He and Oscar personally visit town hall, where identical Muppet bureaucrats redirect him to different departments before ultimately breaking for lunch. In the end, the city is unable to assist Gordon in any capacity beyond collecting the trash. He does, however, receive an award of honor for his efforts by then-mayor David Dinkins.