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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 2. Pawnee: Portrait in Patriarchy


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Set in the fictitious city of Pawnee, Indiana, Parks and Recreation locates itself in what one might call “Middle America.” The Midwest conjures notions of sensibility, “all-American values” such as the value of hard work, community and civic pride associated with small towns, and a “middling” version of the US—not too Eastern, too Western, too Southern, or too Northern. According to Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America, the companion book to the series attributed to its main character, Knope, Pawnee’s 2010 census reported a population of 66,218, plus or minus 5,000, and a median household income of $38,360 (Knope, 2011, p. 3).1 In this sense, Pawnee becomes a metaphorical setting for “America” and the persona associated with this national identity: it is a city neither very large nor very small, and it is populated by mostly regular folks.

As a comedy that centers around city government workers and the effectiveness of the state to ensure the general welfare of its citizens, Parks addresses contemporary social issues in many episodes. These serve as the impetus for conflict between the well-meaning efforts of those in government and opponents to changes that would jeopardize their interests. Looking to improve the lives of those she serves, Leslie Knope the public servant takes on social issues ← 19 | 20 → associated with physical health, such as obesity (Episode 2.15, “Sweetums”) and sex education (Episode 5.4, “Sex Education...

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