There are countless television shows that far outstayed their welcome, becoming almost unwatchable self-parodies by the end. The Drew Carey Show, The Office, and Scrubs are three extreme examples of this phenomenon. As series drag on, show fans become show writers and what ends up happening is effectively fanfic on screen. It’s why The Simpsons still makes the same jokes again and again.
Parks and Recreation isn’t unwatchable yet, but boy is it close. This is a shame. While the series was never great, it was still one of the most consistent sitcoms of the last decade. All the characters were nuanced and well-acted. The humor was on point. But now, in its final year, the writers seem to think that these characters—who don’t actually exist, mind you—are so intrinsically funny that just having them onscreen is enough to make the audience laugh. They’re wrong.
Yet there is another, more unique aspect to the show’s decline that bears noting: its transition to socialist propaganda. By “propaganda” I don’t mean merely something that furthers a political viewpoint. I mean spreading a specific worldview through deceit and hypocrisy. Spoilers ahead for the last season of the series:
1. It holds corporations and the government to different standards.
Socialists universally believe that governments are magic, that actions taken by organizations known as the state are intrinsically different from when taken by any other group. This dichotomy plays out very well in Parks and Rec. One major plot point of the seventh season is the fact that “Gryzzl” (read: Google) hands out free smartphones to everyone in the show’s hometown of Pawnee. But of course there has to be a trap, because corporations are always evil and up to something. And yes, hidden in small print in a binder-length user agreement is a tiny clause that allows Gryzzl to mine customers’ data.
What does this evil corporation want to use this data for? To give people presents. The show’s writers view it as an unspeakable evil that Gryzzl “reads” people’s data (though surely no human being actually read anything) and uses this information to send people exactly what they want, for free—not unlike Santa Claus. Meanwhile, the government does, in fact, access every single email and every single phone call and stores them all for future use. Only instead of sending us presents, the government sends in SWAT teams to break down doors and point guns on people. We have a right to privacy when it comes to the villainous corporations but no rights when it comes to the government, because the government represents society and you are part of society and if you don’t like it move to Somalia.
2. It implies that the masses should decide how property is employed.
Socialists of both sides of the aisle loathe the fact that people making free choices often choose differently than the socialists would like. At one point Leslie’s favorite diner is going to go out of business. She decides to hold a rally, lying to the crowd about the diner’s history and importance. “It’s called constructing a narrative,” she says explicitly. What that narrative doesn’t explore is why these same people hadn’t simply patronized their beloved diner more frequently. Most tragic is seeing anti-government icon Ron Swanson take the mic in complete repudiation of his character’s backstory. “JJ’s has very good breakfast food,” he points out, “so it should remain open.” It is hard to imagine that there exists a place in rural Indiana where “very good breakfast food” is less than five feet away from any given point, but that’s the absurdist nature of propaganda. Of course losing the diner will not cause the proprietor to lose his skills, and there is no reason he can’t reopen his diner elsewhere. There is a word for when incompetent businesses give way to competent ones: progress.
3. It teaches that it’s valid for the government to use deceit to get its way.
Gryzzl offers a local landowner $90 million for their land, which is to be turned into a local campus for the company. Leslie, however, has decided that the land would be better served by having it turned into a national park. The Gryzzl deal will bring construction jobs, tech work, and service employment to the area. A national park will bring mosquitoes, raccoons, and coyotes. The landowner finds Leslie’s bid of $0 less than persuasive, but because Leslie works for the federal government, persuasion and payment are not necessary.
Completely aware that she is full of shit, Leslie tries to use the fact that President William Henry Harrison may have had a cabin on the land as grounds to declare it a landmark. In other words, it is appropriate for government bureaucrats to fraudulently exploit the law in order to force results that they personally want. But this isn’t evil because government employees operate for the common good by definition.
4. It portrays being a politician as something admirable.
Socialists love a centralized state where as much power is concentrated in the hands of the ruling city as much as possible. They also hold political leaders in great esteem, viewing them as the saviors of their respective countries. So of course it is no surprise that Leslie’s husband Ben decides to turn his back on Pawnee and aim for a job as a congressman in Washington, DC. Sure, he’d been such a failure as a boy mayor in his former hometown that he drove it into bankruptcy and was subsequently impeached. Yes, that is the type of person who should be given a chance to manage people’s lives and decide upon such minutiae as wars, education, and healthcare. Competence is irrelevant as long as you have good intentions and further the goals of the party. Problems? Why, it’s Bush’s fault and/or thanks, Obama!
5. Our dear leaders offer five-year plans for everyone’s benefit.
In what is either a bit of trolling or a piece of obliviousness, Leslie gives April an “Official Five-Year Plan” for her future. Five-year plans were the basic hallmark of socialist politics, both in the USSR and the PRC. They were as much a symbol of those nations as, say, the State of the Union is of ours. Much like the geocentric models of celestial motion, the socialist five-year plans were constantly in need of revision. As these countries found out, their lack of a pricing system and its concomitant signal made calculations of supply and demand impossible. This led to the disastrous economic externalities and shortages for which socialism is so famous. In what I hope but doubt was a wink to the audience, Leslie is herself forced to revise April’s five-year plan within the very same episode. Even in the fictional world of Parks and Rec, the brightest and best-meaning socialist wunderkind is still unable to make economic reality conform to her arbitrary diktats.