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Friday, February 27, 2015

Thanks for the Waffles*, Pawnee (*and by Waffles I Mean Wisdom)

Unless you live under a terrible rock, you probably know that the Parks and Recreation series finale was this week. 

One of the most beautiful things about this show, and a true indicator of the creative talent involved, is its subtlety. Parks and Rec was always about something, but it didn't throw it in your face. It was layered beneath the brilliant jokes, the sly social commentary, and the slow yet steady development of its characters. And then suddenly you were like, "Oh, shit. I feel something." Those sneaky bastards.

Once this show found its voice after a rocky first season, it had oh-so-much to say. It had things to say that I think are pretty groundbreaking. I truly believe the world would be a better place if it were a little more like Pawnee, Indiana. Here's why:

1. Different people can work together and make progress. Ron Swanson: Government Employee. Libertarian. Lover of meat and woodworking.  Even though Parks and Rec often hilariously and flawlessly mocks American politics and movements, I don't believe Ron Swanson was really meant to be satire. Actual conservatives loved him and no one is laughing that they're not getting the joke. So... how did he and bleeding-heart optimist Leslie become such good friends (and then enemies. And then friends again [spoiler alert])? WELL. They acted like adults, aka the polar opposite of our actual public servants and lawmakers, that's how. And they got shit done. My mind just literally exploded at the thought of that happening in real life. I am now dead.

2. Women are people. Women (especially women of color) are inexcusably underrepresented in Hollywood. When they are represented, they tend to be portrayed as stereotypes without any real personalities of their own. An alarming number of popular movies and TV shows fail to pass the almost comically low standards of the Bechdel Test. The women in Parks, though, exhibit authority, have fleshed-out characters that don't ascribe to stereotypes, and everyone in the world of Pawnee, most notably the men in their lives, have zero problem with this. None of them are sidekicks. None of them want to compete with each other. None of their lives revolve around finding a man or getting married. It's almost like women are complex humans and can actually be portrayed as such on popular entertainment.

3. Leslie owns her awesomeness. A lot of "strong female characters," and women in general, tend to define themselves by their flaws for various reasons: comedic relief, to relate to others, to avoid being criticized. Leslie does not. Leslie had flaws, of course, and they were often exhausting for her friends and family. But she was unapologetically confident in her abilities as a public servant and her absolute certainty in her bright future. Leslie made the city of Pawnee angry. In the real world, Leslie's refusal to play down her passion, her drive, and her confidence are what get women labeled as "bossy," "bitchy." and whatever new horrible names the Internet likes to make up when it feels threatened. The real world is terrified of confident women like Leslie. But we all love it when women view themselves as loserly frauds who don't really believe they can ever do any good, that their success is just a facade. They feel the need remind people that "Don't worry, I'm not too awesome. You don't have to be intimidated!" Well Leslie says "fuck that," (implicitly, this is network TV) and, by extension, has given every other woman permission to do the same. Women are allowed to own their talent, drive, passion, and contributions without a disclaimer.  But it is important to remember that you might be recalled. Even in Pawnee, people are threatened by just about everything.

4. Friendship is most important. Parks and Rec is about relationships. ("Find your team." Excuse me while I sob forever.) Pretty much every main character started out begrudgingly tolerating Leslie's admirable - though at times overbearing - commitment to her friendships. But they eventually opened themselves to her and others - even though that's a really hard thing to do - and were always better for it. The characters may fight, question each other's life choices, or pretend not to care, but they ultimately support each other through some rough, real life shit: losing a job, getting married, moving to another state, having kids, starting new businesses, running for office. Leslie made up a freakin' holiday to celebrate her lady friends! She's a friendship maverick and if everyone tried to match her love for her friends - well, we'd all have a lot more throw pillows with our faces stitched onto them, which is never a bad thing... right?

On Tuesday night, I spent the evening watching the series finale with my friend family, eating bacon and waffles, and celebrating the beautiful ending to a show that means a lot to all of us. Watching the beloved cast of Parks and Rec saying goodbye and leaving Pawnee made me reflect on the changes in our lives - over the past few years and those in our future - and it made me feel a little better. Change is scary. I suck at it. Even losing a favorite show makes me feel a little empty. But if Leslie Knope is ready, so am I.

1 comment:

  1. I really want to watch that show, I have heard so many good things about it.


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