The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. This video is based on an piece I wrote on this site back in 2017. It covers my tips and strategies for resisting an authoritarian government. It wasn’t a battle plan for soldiers as much as it was a guide for ordinary people. In a world where authoritarians are always seeking more power, I thought this was a relevant issue to explore. I tried to craft it in a manner that wouldn’t require combat training and could be done by anyone seeking to both resist and survive. Enjoy!
Tag Archives: liberty
Every now and then, we encounter a story in the news that is outright egregious, but not the least bit shocking. There’s no question the details are awful. No matter how cynical or jaded you are, there are real injustices in this world. Innocent people are victimized in horrible crimes. A part of us wants to be outraged, but it’s just too unsurprising to get worked up.
I feel like we’ve had a lot of those stories over the past two years. I get the sense that a lot of people have just become so numb to horrible news.
Even so, we should still take notice when a terrible injustice is exposed, even if it doesn’t surprise us. That means that when another high-profile religious institution is found to be culpable in some egregious misdeeds involving sexual assault, we should still try and take interest.
Now, organized religion and egregious sex crimes aren’t new. They aren’t even that shocking anymore. Even if you consider yourself religious and strongly value your faith, it’s hard to miss the headlines that expose heinous crimes of sexual abuse and efforts to cover them up. It’s become so common and belabored that “South Park” does jokes about it.
It’s still serious and egregious. There are still real-life victims who suffer this abuse, but cannot get justice because the abusers hide behind religion and religious institutions. Regardless of your affiliation, I hope that upsets you, even if it doesn’t shock you.
For that reason, I also hope we can all share in the dismay and disgust regarding the recent revelations from Pro Publica about how Liberty University failed victims of sexual assault. If you haven’t read this recent report, I highly recommend doing so, but on an empty stomach. Some of the details are a bit graphic, but they’re still worth reading.
It’s a lengthy report that follows how multiple women who attended Liberty University, one of the most prominent Christian private schools in the United States, were sexually assaulted and the school failed to help them. In some cases, they were punished and shamed for the egregious sin of being victimized. It’s even more egregious than it sounds.
I won’t highlight every detail. Again, I encourage everyone to actually read the report. However, I will cite one excerpt that nicely sums up the environment that Liberty University created for victims of sexual assault.
Ten more former students told me they chose not to report their rapes to campus officials amid fear of being punished. “I knew I would face the blame for putting myself in that situation,” said Chelsea Andrews, a Liberty alum who said she was assaulted by a Liberty graduate student.
I hope it goes without saying that this is abhorrent. I also hope most reasonable people agree that we should be careful, understanding, and diligent when it comes to addressing accusations of sexual assault. I’ve said in the past that this can be tricky because sex crimes are difficult to prove and false accusations do happen, even if they’re rare.
In any case, lives can be ruined. People can be scarred for years because of what happened to them. We should definitely make an effort to improve how we handle these sorts of issues, but we should also actively work to not make things worse.
After reading this report, I won’t hide my underlying sentiment. By nearly every measure, Liberty University offers a case study in how not to handle claims of sexual assault. The fact it’s a religious school that touts conservative Christian values only makes it worse, not to mention hypocritical.
That also makes it unsurprising because, as we’ve seen, hypocrisy from organized religion is not that hard to find. However, this is a bit more personal for me because I actually know people who’ve gone to Liberty University. I’ve visited the area around Lynchburg, Virginia where the campus is based and have spent some extended time there.
That school is a big deal in that region. It’s hard to explain to people who have never traveled to that part of Virginia how big a presence they have. They’re not just another college within a college town. This is a university that is closely aligned with all things conservative and Christian.
It was founded by Jerry Falwell, a man who basically spent his entire adult life advocating for a Christian theocracy in America. That’s not hyperbole. Falwell and many like him actively promoted an ideology that sought to impose their brand of Christianity on every domain of American society.
That, in and of itself, should concern everyone who doesn’t want to live in a world devoid of fun, freedom, and anything remotely sexy. However, I’ve already touched on that thorny issue, so I won’t belabor it.
All you need to know is that Liberty University espouses an ultra-conservative brand of Christianity. That also means they impose strict codes of conduct on their students and faculty. I’m not just talking about rules against drinking, smoking, mini-skirts, and premarital sex. This is a school that forbids cursing, extended hugging, and R-rated movies.
Basically, it’s the antithesis of a party school. People go here to be educated in conservative Christian traditions. That’s why they’ve often been closely aligned with the religious right in America.
Now, that’s not to say everyone who goes to that school is some uptight carbon copy of Kirk Cameron. Some of the people I know went to that school found ways to drink, smoke, and get laid while attending. They just had to be extra careful than usual.
After reading this story, I find myself wondering how many gross misdeeds happened in the shadows that never came to light. That same code of conduct I just mentioned made it next to impossible to responsibly address matters involving sexual assault. You could go so far as to say it demonstrates the worst possible way to handle such issues.
Think of it in terms of both context and theology. Here is this very conservative school that is extremely anti-sex in any way that doesn’t result married people producing more Christians. That means any sex act, be it consensual or forced, is a gross violation of that code of conduct they hold so dear.
Then, imagine being someone who was sexually assaulted. You can try to report it, but in doing so, you just admitted to having sex. Even if it was forced on you, neither the code nor the theology seems to take that into account. They might not be able to prove the accuser assaulted you, but they already can prove that you had sex.
That gives them two options. They have to spend time, money, and resources investigating the incident, not knowing whether they’ll be able to find enough proof to warrant prosecution. The other option is to just focus on the fact that someone admitted to having sex, assume they were somehow responsible, and make whatever excuses are necessary to close the case.
One requires a lot of work and investigation.
One just requires assumptions and reinforcing time-tested traditions about blaming the victim.
That’s why investigations at places like Liberty will often focus on what the victim was wearing, what they were doing at the time, and why they put themselves in that position. It’s cruel on a level that defies description, but for religious schools, there are plenty of unfortunate precedents.
For those working these cases at Liberty, they had every incentive to take the path of least resistance. It’s easy to just shame someone who had sex. It’s a lot harder to actually prosecute a crime. That same process also requires that the institute admit some form of responsibility for not protecting people.
If nothing else, this Pro Publica report only confirms what we’ve seen with plenty of other religious organizations. When it comes down to doing the right thing by the people they’ve failed or protecting their power/influence/tax free status, these institutions will do whatever allows them to keep doing what they’re doing.
It doesn’t matter if their preferred holy book gives strict guidelines on what is right and what is wrong.
It doesn’t even matter if basic human decency is enough to surmise that this way of doing things is a gross disservice to victims.
All that matters is protecting the institution and the power it wields. I definitely felt that when I visited Lynchburg. You could say a lot of things about politics and Christianity, but you could not say certain things about Liberty University. That’s just what happens to an institution that is given that much prestige.
Sadly, I doubt these revelations will change that. Liberty University already dealt with some bad press regarding some acts of sordid adultery and some financial scandals. However, this school will still find a way to keep doing what it’s doing. Not enough people care and the school just has too much influence, both on the region and on the nation.
At the very least, this story is out there and that could help inform anyone who is thinking of sending their children to this school. Even if you’re a devout conservative Christian, I hope the knowledge that this is how they handle matters of sexual assault gives you pause.
Whenever I talk about politics, I try my best to be balanced. Even when I talk about hot-button issues like abortion, which I’ve done on multiple occasions, I make a concerted effort to see the bigger picture.
That said, I don’t think I can make such an effort with the recent events surrounding the blatantly draconian Texas abortion laws. There’s a line between being balanced on an issue and just being cruel, callous, and dense. I get the impression that those supporting this law aren’t even trying to be understanding.
In case you haven’t bee keeping up, Texas recently threw a massive grenade in the abortion debate. This new law wouldn’t just make abortion illegal by restricting it to six weeks, which is before most women know they’re pregnant. It would remove all exceptions while also allowing private citizens to sue those who aid women in seeking an abortion.
If you care at all about women having any control over their bodies, general women’s health, and the health of children, this law should concern you at the very least. At the very most, it should disgust you. In terms of allowing the state to both micromanage and punish women for what they do with their bodies, this is pretty damn blatant.
Now, there’s a lot I could say about this law and this issue. I think I’ve made my own position quite clear. I generally lean towards pro-choice side of the issue. It’s not that I think abortions are great and should be celebrated. I just find the pro-choice arguments more consistent form a moral, legal, and ethical standpoint.
Since I’m a man and I can’t get pregnant, I know those words can only carry so much weight. I really do try to take the arguments made by the pro-life/anti-abortion side seriously. I even try to empathize with it on some levels. However, I can only do so much. I just can’t get around the fact that the anti-abortion stance cannot be enforced without undermining a woman’s bodily autonomy.
In that sense, I’m very much in favor of bodily autonomy. I wouldn’t want the state to force me to donate my blood or my organs to someone else against my will. That’s a hard moral and ethical line for me.
As bad as this law is, it’s hardly the end of the abortion debate. If anything, it’s likely a catalyst for more legal, political, and social battles. I expect those battles to get ugly. I expect the anger, hate, and vitriol to escalate and it was already bad to begin with. I honestly can’t think of an issue that stirs up this much heated discord and I’ve been to 4chan.
In the near-term, the front line of debate will take place within the courts. There are serious legal consequences for this law, both for the women involved and those who attempt to enforce this it. I think it’s likely that the Supreme Court will eventually hear another case on abortion rights. Depending on the details, it could very well end with a complete overturn of Roe v. Wade.
However, we’re not quite there yet. I know the implications of that have many women and pro-choice advocates feeling anxious right now. I sympathize with that. Unfortunately, there too many women in situations in which they cannot wait for the legal system to sort this out.
Until that time comes, I’d like to offer some basic advice to all those affected by this law and anyone who might know someone who’s effected. At the moment, the simplest thing you can do is donate to organizations actively fighting this law and helping the women in Texas who are affected.
New York Magazine put together a list of 20 organizations who are actively involved. Donating to just one of them won’t fix the issue, but it will help.
Also, the American Civil Liberties Union has already filed a lawsuit to combat this law. Regardless of how you feel about the ACLU’s position on other issues, they are very much on the side of protecting women’s bodily autonomy. Consider donating to them as well, if only for this issue.
Another thing you can do is educate yourself and others on the use of contraception. At the moment, emergency contraception, also known as the morning after pill, is not illegal under this law. However, given how anti-abortion advocates tend to oppose contraception as well, despite the obvious hypocrisy, expect it to be a target by anti-sex, anti-promiscuity advocates.
It’s critical that women affected by this law and others like it understand the morning after pill and how to use it. We also can’t expect the education system to do it. States like Texas already have notoriously sub-par and politically motivated agendas when it comes to sexual education.
In that sense, women in Texas should refrain from seeking information about sex and pregnancy from most public school teachers. They also shouldn’t get it from anyone affiliated with a religious organization or politicians, many of whom don’t seem to understand how women’s bodies work. In general, they should talk to a private doctor or at least one who doesn’t work at a Catholic hospital.
Finally, and most importantly, I would recommend that women in Texas make connections with friends or family who live outside the state. Those connections will be critical, should you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to seek an abortion. Some out-of-state health facilities are already feeling he impact of people taking this recourse.
I know that’s not always possible, especially for those lacking money or connections. That’s why it’s critical to make the effort while you’re not in that situation. Make a plan for yourself. Get other women to help you. I agree it’s not right that you have to make such a plan in the first place, but this is the situation. It sucks, but this is where we are.
The last bit of advice I’d like to give is to simply remember this law whenever you vote in the next election, be it national or local. I know that’s a bit oversimplified. I also know that states like Texas are very conservative and some prefer not voting over voting for a non-republican.
I get it. Our political structures are awful and messy. However, we’re stuck with them for now. The only reason politicians in Texas are passing laws like this is because they think they can get away with it and they’ll get enough votes to stay in office. The only way that changes is if voters prove them wrong.
Most polls state that the majority of people support preserving abortion rights. The best way to ensure the laws reflect that sentiment is to vote as such. I know it’s not an immediate solution, but for an issue this divisive, it’s important to take a long view approach.
I don’t claim to know how the abortion debate will change as a result of this law. I fully expect things to get worse and more heated before they get better. For now, though, this Texas law presents a major challenge. We have to be ready, willing, and able to confront it.
In the meantime, take comfort in the fact that George Carlin still summed this issue up perfectly years ago. Until someone does a better job, I’ll keep referring to this.
Not long ago, the idea of any politician running on a platform of decriminalizing marijuana was unthinkable. By not long ago, I mean only 10 years. It really is remarkable how much things have changed on this particular issue. It’s no longer a fringe issue for Libertarian candidates and hippies.
These days, most politicians won’t pay too high a price for saying they’re fine with decriminalizing marijuana. If anything, favoring its continued decriminalization is now a liability. It’s legal in so many states and has so much public support that supporting continued criminalization is on par with supporting gay marriage bans.
It’s just not popular and could tank an aspiring candidates career before it even begins.
We’re getting to a point where marijuana is no longer a hot-button issue. It’s almost past the point of no return in that regressing at this point would be more trouble than it’s worth. However, there’s always a place for social issues in politics. It’s just a matter of time, trends, and circumstances.
Now, like weed before it, we might be seeing a new social issue fill that void. This time, it’s decriminalizing sex work. It’s something I’ve talked about before. I’ve even speculated on how it’s likely to affect other social trends. It seems some of that speculation was accurate.
According to The Appeal, there’s momentum building for decriminalizing sex work in New York City. It’s gotten to a point where it’s now an issue in this year’s race for Manhattan District Attorney, one of the most important legal positions outside the federal government.
New York State appears to be on a trajectory of expanding the rights of sex workers. On Feb. 2, the state repealed its “walking while trans” ban, an anti-loitering law that critics said the police were using to harass trans New Yorkers. Many advocates are pressing for the passage of legislation that would decriminalize sex work.
But most of the candidates seeking to be elected as Manhattan’s next district attorney this year don’t want to wait for the legislature. If they win, they say, they would take the DA’s office entirely out of the business of going after consensual sex work.
Six of the eight declared candidates told New York Focus and The Appeal: Political Report that they would stop prosecuting charges involving sex work, whether against people who are selling sex or against buyers.
The relative consensus is a measure of how quickly attitudes on sex work have shifted since even 2019, when only one out of seven candidates for Queens DA, Tiffany Cabán, supported the full decriminalization of sex work. A coalition of activists, known as Decrim NY, launched in 2019 and has strenuously championed change since then.
For those who don’t live in New York or follow their politics, it may not seem relevant. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small issue in a political sphere with a limited scope. However, that’s how all issues begin.
Same-sex marriage was once a fringe issue. In the late 90s, it only affected a couple of states that started by offering benefits for domestic partnerships. It was not full-scale legalization, but it got the ball rolling. Once one state took that step, it snowballed from there.
Sex work probably won’t follow the exact same path, but there will be similarities. It just has to start somewhere outside the most rural parts of Nevada. Manhattan, one of most densely populated areas of the Country, would be a very high-profile site. If just one of these candidates can succeed on this issue, then that opens the door for others.
It helps that attitudes towards sex work have changed significantly in recent years. On top of that, decriminalizing sex work has become closely associated with reducing the stigma and harassment of the transgender community, as they often are disproportionally targeted under the current laws.
In addition, the very concept of sex work has changed considerably in wake of the pandemic, as indicated by the rise of those utilizing sites like OnlyFans. Those changes aren’t going to be automatically reversed once the pandemic is over.
There are many factors in play with this issue. It’s an issue that affects sexual attitudes, minorities, poverty, feminism, and so much more. That issue is sure to change even more once things like sex robots enter the picture. It won’t happen all at once, but this could be the beginning. Where it goes from here, only time will tell.
We currently live in a golden age of villains. Between Thanos, Erik Killmonger, the Joker, and Walter White, there has been a veritable surge of complex characters who also happen to be compelling villains. While there’s still a place for the kind of pure evil that Disney villains have relied on for years, this trend in a more refined brand of villainy feels both refreshing and overdue.
I’ve written extensively on villains before. As a lifelong fan of superhero comics and movies, I’ve consumed, contemplated, and scrutinized hero/villain dynamics more than most. In doing so, I’ve noticed plenty of trends. Like most aspects of popular culture, it’s always evolving. Very few themes and details remain constant, especially when it comes to antagonists.
That said, there’s one trend in villains that has remained somewhat constant over the course of my lifetime. It’s also a trend that I see as intensifying, albeit in a subtle way. Some of it coincides with the growing complexity of villains in popular culture, but most of the trend precedes the current era of superhero-dominated media. If anything, superhero media helped accelerate it.
While most villains and heroes rarely identify with a certain political affiliation, it’s usually not hard to discern how most would vote in a contemporary election. I would even argue that it’s easier to surmise what a villain’s political leanings are compared to that of heroes. Take any villain from the past 10 years of movies, be they superhero or otherwise. Chances are a vast majority of them would identify as conservative.
Now, I understand conservatism is an exceedingly broad term. It has a dictionary definition, but as a political philosophy, there are many sub-sets, divisions, and variations. From fiscal conservatives to social conservative to neoconservatives, there are many wildly different ideologies that still identify as conservative. A few actively clash with one another.
Those complexities aside, there are some core tenants associated with conservatism and it’s those very tenants that make it such an effective basis for villains. Chief among conservative values is the idea that traditional norms, institutions, and values be maintained. Change isn’t actively dissuaded, but it is viewed with caution and suspicion. To be conservative is to affirm the status quo, to some extent.
That’s all well and good if the status quo is beneficial to everyone. It’s not so preferable for those who either fail to benefit or are actively screwed over by that same status quo. Since there has never been a society in history that has achieved perfect prosperity for everyone, regardless of their minority status, there’s bound to be people who get left behind.
In our own real-world history, we’ve seen people from those disaffected groups organize and fight the status quo to better their lives. That struggle has played out in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the movement for women’s rights, and the LGBT rights movement that’s still going on today. Those who oppose these movements tend to have, broadly speaking, conservative leanings.
Look at the groups that opposed the Civil Rights movement.
They all espouse rhetoric that would put them at odds with Superman, Captain America, and most other superheroes who value justice, truth, and peace. For some, their talking points sound like ideas that only villains in the mold of Lex Luthor would agree with. While not all of them identify as overtly conservative, the standard principles are there.
Anything too different from the status quo must be wrong or evil.
Anybody too different from the people everyone else in a society must be bad, evil, or devious.
Any idea, trend, or movement that is disruptive or deviant in any way is something to be opposed.
It doesn’t just manifest in superhero movies or underdog stories, either. Look at a movie like “Footloose.” In this story, the people who ban dancing are uptight, dogmatic, religious zealots who likely voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984 when this movie came out. They were the antagonists of that story and the kids, while not overtly liberal, dared to defy them.
It can even manifest subtly in other media. In kids shows like “Recess,” “Hey Arnold,” and “Rocko’s Modern Life,” the most common antagonists are uptight authority figures who have no tolerance for new ideas, big changes, or anything remotely fun. It’s hard to imagine any of these characters voting for someone who builds their slogan around change, reform, and reinvention.
They like things the way they are. Most of them benefit from the current system and will naturally seek to preserve their place in that system. While they won’t always see themselves as villains, it’s difficult for them to come off as heroes. You can only be so heroic when your side is closely aligned with predatory business practices, fun-hating religious zealots, and unabashed war-mongers.
That’s not to say it’s impossible for liberals to be villains too. It does happen and it can be done very well when done right. I would argue that Erik Killmonger in “Black Panther” was more in line with an extreme liberal revolutionary who didn’t just want to pursue change. I would make a similar argument for Ra’s Al Ghul in “Batman Begins.”
These characters didn’t just seek to change society from its current unjust state. They sought to violently destroy it and rebuild it from the ground up. That kind of liberalism exists in the real world and it can make for compelling villains.
However, the number of villains who align with the politics of Killmonger are far fewer than those who would align with the politics of Lex Luthor. In general, it’s easier to resist change rather than embrace it. It’s also necessary to some extent for those to resist change to be uptight authority figures who are okay with coercing others to maintain traditions. Logistically, the villains in many conflicts must be conservative.
Now, that’s not to say that villains will always lean conservative in popular media. What it means to be conservative changes over time. If you were to listen to conservative rhetoric 50 years ago, they would sound very different. They might even sound liberal by today’s standards.
The same goes for liberalism of previous eras. It hasn’t always been closely aligned with the politics surrounding minority rights, income inequality, or political correctness. The liberals of the 1920s would likely clash with the liberals of today. That’s just part of the ever-evolving nature of politics.
For the time being, though, being a villain in popular culture usually means being conservative to a certain extent. Conservatives are more likely to be the rich, greedy business people who would gladly burn down a rain forest or exploit slave labor to raise profits. Conservatives are more likely to be the rule-loving, fun-hating, curfew-enforcing religious zealots who wouldn’t mind electing theocrats with every election.
These types of individuals are far more likely to be villains in a story. At the very least, they’ll side or tolerate the villain. It’s easy to believe that those who side with the religious right and well-connected rich people will generally oppose a selfless, likable protagonist. From a narrative perspective, these kinds of villains are better in that we tend to root for heroes who oppose authoritarian bullies like that.
Again, it’s guaranteed that political and cultural trends will likely change what it means to be conservative, liberal, and everything in between. For the time being, if you were to bet on the political leanings of an antagonist, the odds are mostly in favor of that antagonist being conservative.
The following is a video I made for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World, on the eve of the 4th of July. It pays tribute to the ultimate patriot, Captain America. It also covers on what it means to be a patriot a time like this. I hope it gets everyone in the 4th of July spirit. Enjoy!
Is It Us Or The Politicians? How “Parks And Recreation” (Hilariously) Explores Corruption And Those Who Enable It
Throughout the history of television, the best shows are often the ones that resonate with audiences through different eras, cultures, and places. It’s one thing for a show to be a hit when it’s on the air. It’s quite another for a show to still have appeal many years later.
Within that rare collection of TV shows with that special level of appeal, “Parks and Recreation” is in a class of its own. It started as a generic rip-off of “The Office.” It eventually developed into one of the most beloved and endearing TV shows of the past several decades.
Personally, it’s one of my all-time favorite shows. The recent reunion special only reminded me how much I loved it. I’ve gone out of my way to praise it in the past, from highlighting the respectable ideals of Ron Swanson to celebrating the joyous spirit of Leslie Knope. There are many more lovable characters on this show that are worth highlighting. I could write entire articles on the secret appeal of Jerry Gergich.
For now, I want to highlight another element of “Parks and Recreation” that I believe has become much more relevant lately. At the rate we’re going, we’ll come to see certain themes in “Parks and Recreation” as prophetic warnings, of sorts. It might not be as prophetic as “The Simpsons,” but it’s still critical, given the current state of affairs.
To understand the importance of those themes, take a moment to think about politicians. I’ll give everyone’s inner Ron Swanson a moment to endure the nausea. What ideas and images come to mind when you think of politicians? What’s the most common perception that most people would agree with? If you walked up to a random person, they’ll probably describe politicians as follows.
They’re all corrupt.
They’re all crooks.
They’re all power-hungry.
They’re all evil.
They’re all arrogant.
They’re all narcissistic.
They’re all greedy.
They’re out to steal our money/land/guns/rights/whatever someone happens to value.
It’s easy to have negative perceptions about politicians. To their credit, they do plenty to affirm those perceptions. You don’t have to look hard to find cases of laughably corrupt or downright evil politicians who couldn’t care less about their constituents. It’s enough to make understand where Ron Swanson is coming from when he brilliantly chastises government.
That said, there’s another side of the story that rarely gets explored. A big part of the comedy in “Parks and Recreation” stems directly from how it explores the challenges that governments face. It doesn’t avoid cases in which government officials behave in deplorable ways. It also doesn’t avoid the role the voting citizens play in enabling those same officials.
It’s the lesser known, but equally distressing aspect of government corruption. It’s not always the case that they just muscle their way into positions of power. In fact, it’s not that uncommon for these deplorable human beings to be legally elected to office. Some don’t even need to rig the vote. They’re able to win within the existing democratic institutions.
That’s the case for multiple politicians in the world of “Parks and Recreation.” Some characters are so laughably scandalous that it’s easy to forget that some of them were inspired by real-world events. However, this only compounds the underlying issues that the show explores, both directly and indirectly. At the heart of those issues is a simple question about the nature of government corruption.
Is it us, the people, or the politicians who foster corruption?
It’s not a strict either/or question with a clear answer, but it’s one that “Parks and Recreation” does more than most shows to explore. Take, for instance, the chaotic town hall meetings that the department holds in multiple episodes. Just look at how the citizens of Pawnee conduct themselves.
Some of these people are just obnoxious. Others are downright malicious. However, every one of them still votes. They’re the ones who ultimately decides who gets elected and who wields the power in their city. As a result, the many absurdities surrounding the fictional city of Pawnee tend to reflect that sentiment.
Throughout the show, the citizens of Pawnee aren’t depicted as exceptionally informed. They often make unreasonable, absurd demands. They’re quick to react and cast blame on others. They hold government officials to impossible standards. Even genuine, sincere public servants like Leslie Knope get attacked for not delivering, even when their requests are unreasonable and/or misguided.
On top of that, many of these same people are easily swayed by corrupting influences. In Season 5, Episode 2, “Soda Tax,” Leslie works with her good friend and competent nurse, Ann Perkins, to implement a soda tax that would curb the sale of exceedingly unhealthy soda consumption. It’s based on a real-world proposal. It addresses a real-world health issue. It’s the kind of thing you’d want a caring government to address.
Even so, the Pawnee Restaurant Association restaurant lobby rallies the people against it. Even though it passes, it ultimately plays a part in Leslie being voted out of office in a recall election during Season 6. That means her reward for trying to do public good is to lose her job while those mired in multiple sex scandals continue to hold power.
Take a moment to think about the bigger picture. In every season in “Parks and Recreation,” Leslie Knope conducts herself as an ideal politician who simply wants to do good for her community. She has to fight, tooth and nail, just to get elected in Season 4. Even when she does good by her citizens, they still vote her out.
Leslie dares to tell the truth and be honest with the people. Others, like Jeremy Jamm and Bill Dexhart, simply tell people what they want to hear and/or hire the right people to manipulate the public. They don’t force the public to vote a certain way. They don’t even rig the votes because, in the end, they don’t have to. The people are swayed by the necessary forces and vote accordingly.
Now, you can make the claim that the people of Pawnee are more gullible than most and, as the show often depicts, it would be a valid observation. They still have the power of the vote. They’re still the ones who ultimately make the choice to elect or depose public officials like Leslie Knope or Jeremy Jamm.
Politicians do all sorts of shady things with their power, but that power is still contingent on the will of the people, to some extent. Are the people not somewhat responsible for enabling the corruption that they so deplore? The plot and themes of “Parks and Recreation” don’t attempt to provide a definitive answer, but the show makes a relevant observation that has become even more relevant in recent years.
There are multiple real-world cases of people voting against their own interests for reasons that often confound outside observers. Even an alleged child predator managed to get 48.4 percent of the vote in his state in running for the United States Senate. Even though he lost, the margin for his loss was so narrow that it’s disturbing to think that people are willing to put a man like that in a position of power.
That’s not to say that the people who voted for such a deplorable human being are bad people. Chances are they either didn’t believe in the allegations levied against him or simply voted for him out of loyalty to a political party. Given the limitations of the democratic system, sometimes people are simply left with two bad choices and have to pick the one that’s least awful to them.
Limitations aside, the fact remains that very few of these corrupt politicians would be in positions of power if people just didn’t vote for them. Even if they had power, they wouldn’t have much influence if those same people didn’t support them, even if they aren’t overly corrupt. It’s why politicians often pander to their base supporters so much. They need that support, even if they’re corrupt.
Since “Parks and Recreation” went off the air, people have only become more politically divided. The rhetoric on both sides of the political spectrum has gotten increasingly extreme and the COVID-19 pandemic only made it worse. Both politicians and the voters are guilty of conducting themselves as arrogant assholes. Thanks to the internet and social media, this conduct is being captured for everyone to see.
There’s a lot of ugliness to go around in politics. Part of what made “Parks and Recreation” so endearing was how it forged humor in that environment. In doing so, it also shed some light on the absurdities surrounding politics, democracy, and society in general. It didn’t hide from the flaws. The show even magnified them in many cases.
As real-world politics gets uglier and meaner, the insights within the characters and plots of “Parks and Recreation” may prove more impactful in the long run. The show will always be funny, if only for the moments involving Ron Swanson and Jean-Realphio. It’ll give us a chance to laugh at how corrupt elected officials can be, but it won’t hide the fact that we still voted for them.