Ron Swanson is a man's man. He embodies all that is considered male in modern society. Joe Berkowitz (2012) described him as “the epitome of masculinity without being a caricature. He has pronounced political views, without being preachy, he has a mighty, walrus-like mustache…he gets laughs for behaving in a way that the audience recognizes he would behave. We know this man.”
We know this man because Ron Swanson engenders what we typically believe a “real man” to be by supporting masculine hegemony through the liberal feminist perspective. On the television show Parks and Recreation, Ron Swanson, played by Nick Offerman, is the director of the local Parks and Recreation department in small town Pawnee Indiana. He also happens to be anti-government, a theme that is played for laughs throughout the series. His counterparts in the Parks and Rec department are a diverse cast of characters including Leslie Knope (Amy Poelher), April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza), Tom Hatherford, (Aziz Ansari), Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt), Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe), Donna Meagle (Rhetta) and Jerry Gergich (Jim O’Heir).
Largely an ensemble comedy, the show centers around Amy Poehler’s character Leslie Knope and her attempts to improve her beloved community of Pawnee Indiana. She is a devoted public servant, though she frequently faces just about every form of adversity that can be thrown at a female public employee including strong undercurrents of sexism, she and her female colleagues are shown to be capable though sometimes misguided public employees. For the most part, Parks and Recreation supports second wave feminism. Women are given equal responsibilities and Leslie Knope eventually rises to the highest government positions surpassing all the male characters while they offer their full support. In fact, it is the female characters on the show that get most of the work done.
Ron Swanson, Leslie’s boss, is the most patriarchal character on the show and possibly in any modern comedy series. He fully supports and respects Leslie for her undying work ethic, devotion to her community and drive to serve. Though he resents her attempts to pull him into her schemes, Ron is her biggest advocate and he is the only character on the show that Leslie goes to when she needs real support or advice.
Though the series revolves around the work environment. The few scenes that are shown in the residences of the employees shows a cultural feminist perspective for skills like cooking and cleaning. Tom Haverford is particularly obsessed with hygiene, home decor and fashion. Chris Traeger is a fantastic cook and an exercise fanatic and Ben Wyatt is shown as a loving though somewhat neurotic boyfriend to Leslie Knope. April Ludgate, Ron’s secretary engenders many stereotypical male characteristics including an aversion to housework. She would rather eat off of a frisbee and play video games than wash a dish.
However Ron Swanson, arguably the backbone character of the show, is the stereotypical heterosexual male. He is everything masculine hegemony would support a man to be. He is stoic. He only eats meat and side dishes that support it. He practices fine woodworking. He has strong beliefs about freedom, personal responsibility and bacon. In fact, he has even written a book on the subject of manhood. It contains one sentence, “Be a man.”
All of what Ron Swanson feels and believes can be viewed in his Pyramid of Greatness, which he teaches to his youth basketball team.
He is self disciplined, old fashioned and hard working, or so he says. He never seems to actually do any work for the Parks and Rec. department and instead tries to make the government he loathes and “inefficient as possible.” However he is seen working in other ways through his “manly” craftsmanship.
His only weakness appears to be his inability to stand up to the Tammy’s in his life, women who oppress him. His two ex-wives Tammy One and Tammy Two and his Mother, Tammy. In fact, one of the most classic comedic episodes is when Ron flees from Tammy One with a go bag he keeps in the ventilation system for such an occasion.
The largest reason Ron Swanson is such a popular character is because he is the epitome of masculine hegemony. He is what men want to be in an archetypical form. This hegemony is also supported through the other male characters on the show. They are a diverse group with many feminine characteristics. All of these characteristics are shown to be less desirable than those of Ron Swanson. Jerry’s sensitivity and support of his beautiful wife and family is seen as weak and he disliked for comedic effect for no apparent reason. Tom’s love of fashion and fine things is seen as frivolous and his business ventures that tend to support more stereotypical female commodities fail. Chris Traeger’s sensitivity and obsession with health give him the appearance of being kind and positive but clueless. Ben Wyatt and Andy Dwyer both men in the primary romantic relationships on the show are shown as more emotional and vulnerable than their partners making them submissive. All of the less traditional characteristics are seen as lacking.
When anyone in the office needs real assistance or support they turn to Ron. Though he is definitely all male, he is respectful of women. He is an old fashioned romantic and believes in equal pay for equal work. He is dichotomous which makes his character even more desirable. He supports a liberal feminist perspective while supporting masculine hegemony. Which makes him the ideal man for both men and women. He embodies all that is considered male in modern society. Though many of his masculine traits are played for laughs at the end of most episodes a character goes to him for support or sage advice. At the end of the day the women might be doing the work but they go to Ron to hear “well done.”
1.) Do you agree that a character can both support masculine hegemony and a feminist perspective?
2.) Why do we find characters with stereotypical gender traits amusing?
3.) Do you believe the Swanson Pyramid of Greatness supports masculine hegemony?