Popular Culture Review Vol. 28, No. 2, Summer 2017 - Page 124

Reforming the Patriarchy in Pawnee, Indiana By Gina M. Sully, University of Nevada, Las Vegas Feminism, Gender, and Politics in NBC’s Parks and Recreation by Erika Engstrom ($42.95, 146 pgs.) Abstract: Erika Engstrom’s Feminism, Gender, and Politics in NBC’s Parks and Recreation analyzes what has been called the “most feminist show on television” through the neo-liberal feminist lens of the series’ protagonist, Leslie Knope. Engstrom’s analysis illuminates the strategies the series employs to normalize and celebrate liberal feminism’s values and to demonstrate that feminism is integral to a healthy republic. When I began to read Erika Engstrom’s Feminism, Gender, and Politics in NBC’s Parks and Recreation, I found myself perplexed. While I had seen only a few episodes of the series, it seemed to me that the series mocked Leslie Knope, and, by extension, her feminism. Engstrom, however, argues that the series celebrates and normalizes Knope’s feminism, and I wondered why her analysis and mine should be so different. So, I did what any good scholar who is looking for a reason to procrastinate does. I binge-watched the series, attending especially carefully to the myriad episodes Engstrom analyzes in nuanced detail. Using the language and analytical categories of Leslie Knope’s own woman-centered liberal feminism, Engstrom situates her discussion in the scholarly literature and considers conditions of production as wells as audience reception. As she lays her argumentative foundation, Engstrom establishes that a combination of prosaic story arcs, an “Everytown, U.S.A” setting (Engstrom 4), and “non-stereotypical” representations (4) of female characters combine to normalize Knope’s feminism as “‘feminism for everyone’” (Magdalena qtd. in Engstrom 4). She concludes that “the resulting message [of the series] is that gender equality can be and should be an implicit aspect of everyday life, including the civic and political spheres” (Engstrom 3, emphasis mine). The book’s structure and chapter titles gesture toward the language and analytical categories of second-wave feminist theories and methods. In chapter 2, “Pawnee, Portrait in Patriarchy,” for example, Engstrom scrutinizes Pawnee’s racist and sexist history. She describes some of the murals in Pawnee’s city hall, and analogizes them to Roosevelt’s publicly funded New Deal murals. Especially welcome is her inclusion of a link to a wiki where the murals are displayed. Engstrom argues that the murals do not merely represent Pawnee’s historical past, but instead represent “patriarchy’s mindset” (36). Acknowledging communal laughter’s bonding power, she 119