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Feminism, Gender, and Politics in NBC’s «Parks and Recreation»

Erika Engstrom

Widely hailed as one of the best feminist-oriented series on television, NBC’s Parks and Recreation (2009–2015) presents a multifaceted text for examining the incorporation of feminist ideology into its storylines. This book analyzes the various ways the series presented feminism as a positive force, such as the satirical portrayal of patriarchy; alternative depictions of masculinity; the feminist ideology and political career of main character Leslie Knope; the inclusion of actual political figures; and depictions of love and romance as related to feminist thinking. A much-needed treatment that adds to the literature on feminism in media and popular culture, this book serves as an ideal resource for instructors and scholars of gender and mass media, women’s studies, and media criticism by investigating Parks and Recreation’s place in the continuum of other feminist-leaning television programs.

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Chapter 1. Primetime Feminist Strategies: The Case of Parks and Recreation


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The half-hour sitcom Parks and Recreation debuted on NBC in the spring of 2009. It ran for seven seasons, concluding in the spring of 2015. The situational setting of this half-hour series is the Department of Parks and Recreation in the small fictional city of Pawnee, Indiana, which serves as a small-screen venue for telling big-picture stories, especially the story of the optimistic and pragmatic Leslie Knope and her cadre of coworkers and friends who work together to make their town a better place. This betterment includes not only the improvements to the parks and recreation of Pawnee, but in the lives of its citizens. The potential for progress becomes especially salient when considering the overtly feminist beliefs of Leslie Knope, played by Amy Poehler, and her tangible efforts and achievements regarding gender equity for the people of her town and, by extension, the world presented on television and the one lived by its viewers. Poehler herself personally identifies as feminist, and produces a web series titled “Smart Girls at the Party,” which promotes the achievements of young girls (Rosenberg, 2012). In addition to her lead role on Parks and Recreation, Poehler also is credited as a producer.

Most of the show’s episodes center on the dealings and goings-on, special projects, and daily tasks of the city employees. The description found on NBC’s web site for the program states: “From...

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