OPINION

I’ve finally discovered Leslie Knope. Just when I need her the most

In our Trumpian world, Parks And Recreation is better than ever

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By Marisa Bate on

Hello. My name is Marisa and I’ve only just started watching Parks And Recreation.

There we go. I’ve said it. I know. Everyone else in the entire universe watched the show 178 years ago, when it first aired (or, more accurately, in 2009). I’ve seen the memes and gifs, and Ron Swanson’s face is strangely familiar. I know that Amy Poehler is a gift from God, a no-shit-taking hilarious woman-god who might turn up in a Naomi Alderman novel. I know that Masters Of None literally stole my heart for ever and its creator and star, Aziz Ansari – one of those American comedians who actually likes women – plays the lovably awful Tom. “It’s on the list,” I used to say to the kind of people who bore on at you to watch their favourite shows (just like I’m doing right now).

But, after finally finishing 11 glorious seasons of Frasier (my heart BURSTS just writing his name and, if you’re interested, please read this masterful piece on Marty Crane’s chair), I needed to fill the 10pm void – that little window before bed, when you’re done with the day, but you’re desperately trying to reclaim the 10 hours you gave to something or someone else, plus find a way to switch off your brain that is hot and whirring, like an overheated engine. And so I did what legions of people have told me to do for quite literally years: I began watching Parks And Rec and that’s when I met Leslie Knope.

And I thought it was going to just be Amy Poehler being hilarious, which it definitely is, but it’s also so much more than that. And it’s especially so much more than that in a Trumpian world, in a world where Hillary Clinton hides in the woods and, when she dares to come out, so-called liberal journalists tell her to go shut up and go back in the woods while they high-five Sean Spicer, catastrophically misunderstanding the notion of satire and making the phrase “Hollywood liberal elite” annoying relatable. Right now, the world needs Leslie Knope more than ever (not least as a prophetic handbook on how to handle Trump’s presidential sexism, which is exactly the type that’s riffed on in the show as the preserve of small-town men with big-time egos).

For those who have pretended to have seen it but haven’t, Leslie Knope works in local government and is the deputy director of the parks and recreation department in the small, fictional town of Pawnee in Indiana. Knope takes her job very seriously. She cares a lot. She treats a small town with the awe of an audience with the UN. Her office is filled with framed pictures of great American women from politics – including Hillary Clinton, of course. But unlike how many perceive Clinton (sadly), she is the single most likeable woman – real or imagined – I have *ever* come across.

Leslie Knope is kind of all of us –  or, perhaps, more accurately, maybe me. And not because I think I’m brilliant, but because she too is a woman trying to figure out a wildly confusing and unfair world

 

Leslie Knope is a woman trying really hard to make a difference. We’re meant to patronisingly mock her earnest feminism (as a judge at a beauty pageant, her scorecard included “the Naomi Wolf factor”). But her naivety (plus a lot of mixed metaphors and confusing anecdotes) is simply a comic device to underline the sexism, and as you’re howling with laughter, sexism is both exposed and reduced to absurdity. Leslie Knope’s endearingly earnest crusade for the town of Pawnee is achingly adorable – she means SO well, she tries SO hard and normally while not making much sense (even her rambling seems to nod to the stereotypes that women face). And, inevitably, her best-laid plans go wrong. But they go wrong not really because of her but, ultimately, because of the men around her and the hurdles she’s determined to cross. Like watching a three-legged kitten in a Wonder Woman costume, you’ve never cheered anyone on so much in your life.

And Leslie Knope is kind of all of us –  or, perhaps, more accurately, maybe me. And not because I think I’m brilliant, but because she too is a woman trying to figure out a wildly confusing and unfair world. She makes staggeringly huge mistakes, but they come from the best of intentions. (My line on my Tumblr account is actually “feminist; trying really hard, sometimes succeeding”, which is precisely what Leslie Knope would write if she had a Tumblr account.) She has a framed picture of Clinton in her office (HRC is my Twitter banner picture, which I was considering changing, but is now testimony to both Clinton and Knope). And she believes so much in women in politics that she refused to go on a date because the guy had never heard of Madeleine Albright (just as I would).

And not only do I look at Leslie Knope and think, “YES, you’re trying really hard, too!”, Leslie Knope is written *for* me. It’s like sitting with my friends in our very own Leslie Knope-esque women’s club (both for the earnestness and the levels of alcohol consumed) and laughing about/at men. But the writers of Parc And Rec are obviously waaayyy funnier. Parks And Rec is a glimpse into what life must be like for men nearly every time they watch a TV show/read a book/see a film/leave the house.

It’s not too late to watch Parks And Rec. Let Leslie Knope into your life. We need her right now – and we need to be as determined and hopeful as she is, and have as much blind faith as she does.

And I would love so, so much for Leslie Knope to know, at the very least, that a well-meaning woman in a small fictional town in Indiana is changing my world every evening, around 10pm.

@marisajbate

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