Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Parks and Recreation

Parks and Rec is a popular show producing seven seasons. The main character is an enthusiastic government employee named Leslie Knope. She is wildly successful at her job and dreams of eventually being the president. This show is a conundrum when it comes to feminist perspective because it presents two very different women seeking love. Leslie is most often an oppositional character, while Ann is consistently a preferred character.

While both women are constantly seeking relationships, Leslie's relationships don't conflict with her self-esteem. In fact, all of the men Leslie dates either end up dumped on the side of the road or rejected because she recognizes herself as a worthwhile woman. Ann, on the other hand, consistently changes her personality to match her current boyfriend's, as is demonstrated in the clip below.

Eventually, however, Ann finally comes to terms with her predisposition to change depending on her love life, stops dating, and decides she wants to have a baby. While this change might present Ann's transformation to a preferred character, Ann's struggle to find a sperm donor is lengthy and difficult due to the need of a man to produce the sperm. Thus, throughout the series, Ann is unable to achieve her desires without the help of a man. 
Leslie, despite her lack of successful relationships, constantly sticks up for herself, as is demonstrated in this clip. 

Ann tries to persuade Leslie to seem sexier and more interesting, but Leslie is true to herself even though it is a little bit strange. In fact, whenever Leslie seems to be abandoning her power position during the series, she almost always abandons the man before she abandons her job. The only exception is when the normally rules-abiding Leslie begins dating her boss in secret. When they are found out, and Leslie is forced to attend a grueling ethical hearing, her boyfriend (Ben) ends up taking the fall and resigns in disgrace in order to save Leslie's job. This is one of the only times Leslie is truly saved by a man throughout the series. They end up getting married and having children.

While Leslie being saved by Ben could be considered a preferred event during the series, this is the only event in the series in which Leslie isn't able to save herself from her mistakes. Obviously a more in-depth study of the series could argue that this is an occluded preferred reading, but a deeper analysis of Leslie Knope's relationships bears further study.

Discussion Questions:
Do you think Leslie is an oppositional character or a preferred character? Why?
How would you analyze Parks & Rec in a pop culture analysis?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Bailee!

    As a fan of Parks and Rec while it actually aired, (not a bandwagon follower, but an original season-one watcher) I never considered the show a piece of popular culture. It is interesting how we can try on different perception lenses as we travel through life.

    My first lens came from the perspective of a part-time working mother of a young child. Parks and Rec provided the brief moments of comedy that I craved. I felt it had a more "cerebral quality" than some of its contemporaries, like How I Met Your Mother. Each personality on the show offered an extreme version of a basic characteristic that we often see in our interactions with others. The over-the-top portrayals provided the opportunity to relate to the idea a bit, but then to laugh at the absurdity. It was good times.

    Today I discovered that the popular culture analytical lens chips away at the care-free entertainment aspect of viewing sitcoms. I never really thought about the representation of women on Parks and Rec before, but as I read your points, I found myself agreeing -- until I watched the clips you provided, and then I was laughing again. So even in the midst of contemplating your well thought-out arguments, the research part of my brain was quickly kicked aside to make room for the enjoyable witty banter.

    Perhaps I shall present a question of my own: Can the study of pop culture squeeze the uncomplicated joy out of television, music, movies, and other media that were created to simply insight a giggle?