Parks and Recreation Season Finale: Is 'Parks and Recreation' Socialist?


I awoke Friday morning by rubbing the crust from my eyes and then proceeding with my daily routine of checking my emails and then browsing the web. Some news, some gossip. Nevertheless, a bad habit that can waste hours at a time for me. Yet, that day there was one headline that caught my attention, a headline that made me actually inquire aloud, “Who is the jackass that wrote this piece?” Socialism on the Small Screen: On Parks and Recreation was written by an aspiring jacobin, Matthew Gannon, and oh, what a load of guff he typed.

He proclaims:

“The show has always been a bastion of mainstream American progressivism – progressive taxes, social liberalism, anti-corporatism…”


His babbling continued:

“…this mainstream progressivism has begun veering even further left. A notable case was the March 14 episode, titled Bailout, which blossomed into an unexpected, and perhaps partly unintentional, exploration of socialist politics and posed some subtle but profound questions about the role of government in society.”

Sure, I guess.

Maybe my facile intellect missed the whole spread the wealth agenda the creators were pushing. I decided to re-watch a few episodes to see if there was any credence to Gannon’s claim. My conclusion, no. Parks and Recreation is not about politics, it’s about entertainment.

The aforementioned, Bailout, seems to be Gannon’s most durable argument. In this episode, a local video rental, Pawnee Videodome, is forced to put up its shutters and close shop because of the lack of business. Gannon’s contention is that Amy Poehler’s character, Leslie Knope, attempts to employ capitalism to save Pawnee Videodome by nagging “Everybody rent something…” and when that fails, the solution is to grant Videodome with tax exemptions by way of historic landmark status; basically meaning the business would receives subsidies for that title. Libertarian hero Ron Swanson, portrayed flawlessly by Nick Offerman, of course objects to the proposal by calling it a “socialist hellscape.” Knope deploys the subsidies anyway, but the ruse backfires, and transmutes the bohemian video rental into Pawnee Videodome: XXX Adult DVD Emporium.

Gannon declares:

“… the bailout didn't work because, by the logic of Parks and Rec, government and business just don't mix when profit is the goal.”


Gannon proceeds:

“… Leslie abandons capitalism and liberal democracy, and goes for democratic socialism.”

The government decides on collectivism and provides weekly movie screenings to its citizens free of charge.

Yay! The arts have been saved by the government!

Gannon conveniently forgets reveal the final scene where instead of screening the twee musical, The Sound of Music, the XXX flick, Too Big To Nail is shown in its place. Perhaps that's an illustration about the flaws big government supplies? No, it’s just the punch line.

Gannon attempts fortify his thesis by asserting that if we nationalized the video industry it would be:

“a cheaper, more democratic, and ultimately more sustainable solution, and avoids the problem of having to hunt for capital and squeeze a profit out of unprofitable resources.”

Like Hitler did with Nazi Germany? See, I can use hyperbole too.

Gannon crafts an effort to display another example of Parks and Rec peddling far left views. He briefly mentions the episode Soda Tax, where at a public forum Leslie Knopes proposal on taxing sugary beverages is met with criticism like, “All taxation is theft,” and “Whether or not I pay income tax is none of the governments business.” Both of these sentiments are finished of with a gag by the way. The scheme is met with some support as well, with a woman claiming her husband gained 100 pounds in three months by gulping down giant sodas and stating, Consequently, we haven’t had sex in ten years,” and when inquired about the time gap she states, “Well, we have lots of other problems.” My favorite support comes from Hemmingway’s doppelganger, “I think we should tax all bad things like racism and women’s vaginas.”

Two of these caricatures do evoke Tea Party Members, yet we can also laugh at the statists support too.

Rather than a covert operation to publicize socialism, perhaps the creators remain topical by employing actual events and responses to certain issues. Although, Gannon concedes that the defense of government is silly in Parks and Recreation, I still sense he fails to spot the irony. Politics, by definition, is division, and where there is a divide there most likely will be conflict; a common ingredient sprinkled into storytelling. There’s a valid reason why the characters Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson are polar opposite in personality and politics, it gives the writers ample opportunity to generate conflict. Any Knope victory isn’t a victory for socialism, it’s just a resolution to an episode and not a solution for our government to follow. Plus, I doubt the salaries are equally distributed to the cast and crew.

At times, entertainment is just that, entertainment. Not everything humorous has subtext rooted deep within their jokes, especially not Parks and Recreation. I would tell Matthew Gannon to kick his feet up and enjoy Parks and Rec like any capitalist, socialist, or anarchist would. He can analyze Karl Marx at a later time.