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Feminist Media Review: Parks and Recreation

April 26, 2009

664_nup_134263_0205Of all the female comic actors to recently launch careers out of Saturday Night Live, I think my favorite is Amy Poehler. Not only is she talented, she is also a self-proclaimed feminist. Most importantly, her actions reflect her beliefs – along with friends Meredith Walker and Amy Miles, she recently launched the web series Smart Girls At The Party, a show that “celebrates girls who are changing the world by being themselves.”

Poehler’s ideology is also present in her new sitcom, Parks and Recreation. She plays Leslie Knope, the Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. Leslie’s aspiration is to reach the level of political fame and success of women like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. As she says in the pilot episode,

Government isn’t just a boy’s club anymore. Women are everywhere. It’s a great time to be a woman in politics.

On a feminist level, this show really excites me.  It’s the story of a strong, interesting, quirky woman in her attempts to climb the political ladder and create positive change in her community. It also features a strong supporting cast of women, including Leslie’s mother, also a government employee, and Ann Perkins, a concerned citizen who gets involved in local politics in the hopes of filling an abandoned pit near her home. This is a show that doesn’t just use its female characters as punch lines, but one that is deeply interested in their lives and their goals and achievements.

On a different level, though, Parks and Recreation worries me. It’s produced by the guys behind The Office, and the format is identical to that of The Office, from the faux-documentary style, to the lack of a laugh track. Parks and Recreation has yet to distinguish itself from its predecessor, which could be a problem soon. If it lacks its own unique direction, it risks cancellation – and this show is too important to fade into failed sitcom history. We need the portrayals of women that this show has to offer, and I fear that if it doesn’t develop a real voice of its own soon, it will be history before we know it.

Only three episodes of Parks and Recreation have aired so far, so it’s a little too early to tell where the series is going. But I have high hopes. Poehler is as funny as ever, and I really think that this show – along with her other work – could serve as an inspiration for younger women. I just hope it’s given its fair shot.

  1. Chloe permalink
    April 27, 2009 12:28 am

    I don’t mean to be nit-picky, but I don’t think the important part of the show is that Amy’s character is a “strong, interesting, quirky woman … [trying] …. to climb the political ladder and create positive change in her community.” Really, her character is dim-witted, is completely unaware of how her actions effect other people, and pretends that she’s more knowledgeable than everyone around her in order to hide her own insecurity. She isn’t trying to create positive change, she’s trying to make herself look good while doing as little work as possible. While this might sound like criticism of the show, it’s actually praise. She’s hilarious. And if we’re comparing it to The Office, Lelsie Nope is a lot like Michael Scott. Rashida Jones is like Jim, the better-knowing but unenthusiastic straight man. This show sort of flips the gender roles of The Office, which give hilarious women small supporting roles and the story lines and punch lines really revolve around the men. It’s important that Amy’s character isn’t the “strong, interesting woman trying to make change” because that just wouldn’t be funny.

    • Carrie permalink
      April 27, 2009 7:19 am

      You’re right, she is dim-witted and insecure, because the show’s a comedy, and it wouldn’t be especially funny if she wasn’t. However, I have to disagree with your argument that she’s just trying to make herself look good. There are plenty of career paths she could choose if all she wanted to do was climb the corporate ladder and look good among her peers — but she chose one focused on public service, and she’s passionate about it. And yes, she’s very much like Michael Scott (though, in my opinion, that might become a huge problem for this show, if they keep pushing that angle and don’t distinguish themselves from The Office soon enough), but Michael Scott is also a character who cares very much about his job and his colleagues. Just as neither Michael Scott nor Leslie Knope would be funny if they weren’t dim-witted, slapstick, exaggerated characters, they also wouldn’t be interesting if that’s all they were. Nobody would keep watching if they really believed that the characters lacked goodness and a genuine interest in fulfilling their goals (or, maybe some people would, but I wouldn’t). At the end of the day, television shows are successful when we can relate to the characters on some basic, human level. And that’s what I find to be most true about Michael Scott and Leslie Knope. They’re totally flawed, but they do care, and they do want to make a difference.

      There are plenty of shows featuring funny women. That’s not really the thing that interests me about Parks and Recreation. What interests me is that this is a show that has real potential to serve as a feminist voice in mainstream media. Is it possible that it’ll never fully go down that road? Sure. But the potential is there, unlike anywhere else I’ve seen, and that is what is exciting and significant about the show for me, anyway.


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