I took a course called Youth Cultures last semester (absolutely phenomenal) and one of the assignments was to write a pop culture analysis using one of theoretical approaches. I choose to analyze the earlier seasons of Parks and Recreation through the lens of the interactional theory, which is basically how people in the show and how people watching the show interact with it.
I figured since I just informally posted about P&R, I’d add my paper for more of a scientific look at the sitcom.
(I promise I won’t only post about Parks and Rec)(Even though I’m obsessed)
“Parks and Recreation first made its way onto the air in 2009. With a simple six episode first season, the show still currently runs one season each fall, beginning its fifth only two weeks ago. Filmed in the typical style of a reality show, a camera closely follows around the public officials of the barely noticeable town of Pawnee, Indiana. Focusing on the second season, the characters are perfectly manufactured to create an eclectic group of caricatures. Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), the head of the Parks and Recreation department, is a loony and single 30-something with an obsession with the history and future of women in politics. Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) talks a big game, constantly bragging about his “hot wife” when really he’s still as desperate as he was in high school. Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) is about as sane as the human race can get, yet she still accepts all the other bizarre characters for who they are. In this season, she also experiences a lot of test drive relationships. Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) is Ann’s low-life ex-boyfriend who secretly lives in the pit that the department is trying to fill to make a new park. Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider), one of the other men Ann dates, is the charming, handsome city planner, who treats his job like a joke. April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) is a 19 year-old intern who gets through the day by manipulatively causing drama in the workplace, all while obsessing over her gay boyfriend. Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) plays another infamous role in the show, his character most recognizable with the media. He’s a simple man with the strangest outlooks on the government and the greatest mustache. Each and every character of the show gets mixed up in each other’s business throughout the entire series until they all come together. The purpose of Parks and Recreation is to entertain an audience. While a few key episodes teach a lesson, and the creators bathe in the money they’ve made, the major point of its appearance on primetime television is to give people something to talk about.
The interactional theory of popular culture implies that the reason for success is through word of mouth. For today’s society, it’s easier to say that a lot of talk of a certain film, TV show, or musician is through online traffic. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter allow users to repost trailers, articles, or even full album links for all their friends to see. Parks and Recreation is one of those shows that everyone can talk about. When a show is a hit, it’s half the fun to post what you thought of the new episode in a Facebook status, or use a recurring hashtag to keep up with all the quotes on Twitter. Most shows now have hashtags at the bottom of the screen while the episode is playing, so that viewers can all use the same one. The interactional theory persuades the audience to promote the show without even directly asking them to do so.
A lot of Parks and Recreation’s audience watches the same shows otherwise. With a time slot right after The Office, many watch both shows every Thursday night. Other shows, such as Party Down or 30 Rock seem to fancy the same type of audience. Without an actual label, shows like this are their own little category in the world of television. This grouping of shows allows fans to talk to each other about all of them, which could lead to further conversation about the actors and their outside work. Considering Amy Poehler’s dedication to Saturday Night Live in the past, fans have followed her career and now watch Parks and Recreation. The fan-base flows with the comedian, just like Tina Fey brought a lot of traffic to 30 Rock from SNL. Guest appearances from favorite actors from different shows boost ratings and are almost a thrill for fans. Adam Devine of Workaholics is making a guest appearance on the new season of Community this fall, and that’s a huge deal for a lot of fans, myself included. The comedian, Louis C.K, appears on a few consecutive episodes in season two of Parks and Recreation, expanding the audience even further.
The creator of Parks and Recreation, Greg Daniels, also created the hit series The Office. The two shows share many similarities, the most obvious being the fact that it follows around a group of co-workers, documentary style. The characters are filmed communicating with each other as if the cameras are not there, but they are also each individually filmed with their own commentary. Both shows are filmed in a reality show format, which even grabs the attention of reality show fans. Those who dislike reality shows even respect The Office and Parks and Recreation as a form of mocking what they think to be trashy reality television. Knowing how far The Office has made it, currently in its ninth and final season this fall, it’s no wonder Daniels created Parks and Recreation. The show is an obvious step in the direction of success. Viewers are already sitting in front of the TV, still laughing from the new episode of The Office, so they stay tuned and get 23 more minutes of laughter with Parks and Recreation. Even if one watches the new The Office online, the new Parks and Recreation pops up right after. It’s almost inevitable to miss Parks and Recreation as a The Office fan.
Unlike Boy Meets World or Full House, Parks and Recreation does not have a life lesson spelled out by the end. But there are minor pieces of advice in various episodes. Old fables from decades ago all use defined characters to teach a concrete lesson. If the characters of Parks and Recreation lost all of their quirks and were simply stable personalities, the show would be functional. But since all of the characters have a slight insanity to them, the audience can use their imagination to relate to the social situations from episode to episode. Viewers can essentially relate to one character, yet they may find that they know someone else like the complete opposite character. In “Practice Date” of season two, Leslie becomes a nervous wreck over a first date, which many can relate to. Sure, the episode is utterly unrealistic, considering Leslie’s a loon and lists about ten odd things that have happened to her on a first date, including popping Ambien instead of Tic-Tacs and a date wearing 3-D glasses the entire time. I don’t know a single person who’s experienced such traumatizing first dates firsthand, but the extremity of it all makes the viewer think that they might have it easy. Instead of directly teaching a lesson, the idiocracy of the situations pushes the viewer to consider their own hypothetical take on how to handle such bizarre scenarios.
The interactional theory of popular culture works like overlapping circles. Each circle is almost a promotion for the show, and with so many circles from specific actors to relative sitcoms, any show can spread like wildfire. Simply talking with your friends or sharing your list of favorites can expand the fan-base of any movie, TV show, and musician. But in 2012, it’s incredible to notice that social media plays a huge role in the success of any product of popular culture. Parks and Recreation wasn’t created as a cash crop. It was created so that the right audience could respect and appreciate the work of the creator, writers, special guests, and actors.”
If you’re still reading this, you might appreciate the newest addition to my room (all thanks to my best friend):