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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 6. Parks and Recreation in the Continuum of Feminist Television


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In the world of Parks and Recreation (2009–2015), the backstory of Pawnee vis á vis U.S. history creates a parallel universe that offers a symbolic platform upon which to examine what its text tells us regarding the state of the nation as well as the state of gender relations today. As discussed in Chapter 2, its extra-narrative texts, such as the murals of Pawnee’s city hall, enhance the visual and verbal material of the televised series; this additional aspect of the series provides further venues for the critical viewer to make connections between the funny stories presented to a mass audience and the commentary they make regarding the human condition, American history, American society, and the way that society was and still is organized. While the program may mock Pawnee’s patriarchal hegemony, as personified by clueless male city council members and through its anti-women laws, it does not mock small-town life, a quality cited as a way the series differentiates itself from other shows set in non-urban environments (Stevens, 2011).

As indicated by the examples of research cited in Chapter 3, there appears to remain a continued adherence to dominant masculine ideology, such as the devaluation of the effeminate male and positive reward structure associated with reaffirmation of masculine ideals. The “New Man” poses a template for the reconstruction of hegemonic masculinity, one that contributes to ← 127 | 128 → rather than...

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