Parks & Recreation has come a long way from its genesis as a proposed spinoff of The Office. It’s certainly the best representation of how government works since The West Wing, an acknowledged inspiration along with The Wire.
So how is it that Ron Swanson, a Locke-style libertarian, is often presented as the voice of reason and/or sanity?
He believes all government is a waste of taxpayers’ money. He’s spoken of staying in government to help dismantle it from within or at least slow it down to a crawl. And yet, despite being philosophically 180 degrees apart, he shares a Lou Grant-like relationship with Leslie Knope’s Mary Richards. Why?
Because he’s not alone. His viewpoint is one of many on the show, and the others are allowed to disagree. Often, he winds up working for the greater good in spite of himself. Leslie brings out the better angels of his nature as he grounds her in the reality of how municipal government works.
Also note, there is no talk of political parties, nor will there be, according to executive producer Michael Schur. Good government isn’t about one or the other, it’s about working together. Ron illustrates that, despite his professed ideal form of government being one man alone in a room, doing nothing.
The high-wire act that Schur and company pull off so gracefully is in presenting Ron’s beliefs as worthy of respect at least, consideration at best. There is a logic to Ron’s positions, and even when Leslie--or the writers or we--don’t agree, we’re allowed to see his logic clearly. Better, we see how it might apply & adapt to a given situation. It’s why I prefer this to Wing--it presents a more nuanced & balanced government workplace.
Would that all civic discourse were as civilized.
As it happens, I live in a small Indiana town much like Pawnee. (The murals are spot-on, as are the festivals.) Their version of life here is uncanny, to say the least. If only we had Ron & Leslie out here…
Great description of the show's idealistic yet nuanced portrait of government.
"Good government isn’t about one or the other, it’s about working together. "
*Checks today's political headlines* Sigh...
Parks and Rec vs. Veep
"Also note, there is no talk of political parties, nor will there be, according to executive producer Michael Schur. Good government isn’t about one or the other, it’s about working together."
That's the same approach HBO's Veep is apparently taking. According to recent interviews with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, we'll never know which political party her VP is a part of (and we'll never meet the President).
But unlike Parks and Rec, Veep seems to go out of its way to present the opposite of "a nuanced and balanced government workplace." Moreover, it certainly does not promote the notion that "good government is [...] working together." Indeed, Veep's world (significantly, set in Washington, DC, not Pawnee) is bitter, calculating, and filled with spite (and loads of cursing. Ah, HBO!). It's the anti-Parks and Rec perhaps?
Enjoyed your post!
Three cheers for Swanson
I like Ron as a character but I also like the politics, or lack thereof, he stands for. He is the only character on the show with a professed political party, Libertarian, yet he is not made out to be a crazy atheist. I also like how the show doens't political parties even though it is about government. The show for all intents and purposes should be about political parties since it sourrounds a theme of government, but I like the fact that it instead focuses on how to solve issues as a group rather than in a bi-partisan fashion. Even though Ron is a self-professed Libertarian, and supposedly hates the government, he still offers good advice to Lesie and the other parks dept workers as more of a paternal figure. Ron represents a way in which Libertarianism can be seen from a less criticized angle.
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