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“Yes we can, even though we say Knope”

by Ethan Tussey

by Christine Becker for IN MEDIA RES

In a frustrating piece of New York Times television criticism (redundant?), Jon Caramanica backhandedly describes Parks and Recreation as representative of “the meme-ification of the sitcom,” featuring digestible and reducible humor to encourage fans to meme, hashtag, and gif their approval. In a typically insightful response, Alyssa Rosenberg tackles Caramanica's implied notion that what’s on both TV and computer screens is simplistic and fragmented, at best displaying “semi-intelligence.” In contrast, Rosenberg praises the show’s humor as coming from a place of “deep character development and great writing,” encouraging similar creativity from fans: “make your audience wish they were that smart — and then go out the next day to prove it.”

I would add another catalyst for extensive Parks and Recreation fan production: the show’s optimistic tone. It’s simply really fun being a fan of the show, and I propose that it fosters inspired fan responses partly as a result of mixing character depth with an uplifting spirit. The clip offered here is an example. Hip-hop artist and TV fan Adam WarRock created an EP of songs devoted to Parks & Rec, and this one is my favorite. American politics have become insufferable, and both Leslie Knope and this song’s lyrics provide an inspirational (albeit imaginary) antidote to the toxicity that surrounds us.

A very short list of other fan-created works that relate to this idea include Infinite Drunk Ron Swanson, who will remain delightfully drunk and dancing for as long as the web itself exists; a resolution declaring the official name of the Parks & Rec fanbase as “Weirdos who care," including such statements as, “Whereas: The cast, crew, writers, and showrunners are full of sunshine and happiness and inspire the fandom;” crossover credits and images with Doctor Who, a show from a much different genre but with similar spiritual DNA of wanting to please; and Swan Ronson, just because. There is also bountiful fan fiction, including a very NSFW but fascinating piece of April/Andy podfic, in which “Andy learns about different ways of interpreting feminist ideas. Through sex.” I doubt that's what the writers meant to inspire with the show’s favorable depictions of women’s studies, but the bold idea at the heart of the podfic story wouldn’t exist without the generous richness of their work.

Knope 2012

Adam WarRock's Knope anthem

from Knope 2012 (2012)
Creator: Adam WarRock
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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