Bear with me for this post, because my thoughts on this feel a little fragmented. I’ve been re-watching Parks and Recreation and reflecting on ways in which the show is similar to The Office. We’ve talked a lot in class and on this blog about Michael Scott’s ability to engage in what normally might be considered discriminatory language and behavior without actually being offensive, and the consensus seems to be that this is because Michael very obviously comes across as the butt of the joke– someone to laugh at, not with. This seems to be perhaps what makes the majority of his asinine comments understandable if not forgivable. I agree with this assessment; I think it’s pretty obvious to most people that Michael’s jokes stem mostly from a place of pure ignorance instead of malice or ill-intent, and this is part of what makes his character work.
With this in mind, I was thinking about how Ron Swanson’s character might function in a similar way. Ron’s character often engages in masculine/macho stereotypes, but he seems to do so in a way that comes across as lovable instead of offensive or harmful, as opposed to, say, the men in a show like Sons of Anarchy or The Newsroom. I think people like Ron’s character so much because he subverts and moves beyond definitions of masculinity that serve to place women beneath men. Ron’s character is set up to be fairly egalitarian, and it’s clear that he has respect for his women peers (particularly Leslie), even though he sometimes says things that I might not otherwise excuse from another character. Maybe that’s why episodes like “Pawnee Rangers,” in which Ron and Leslie’s gender-separate scout groups compete and then eventually combine, don’t feel like they perpetuate harmful or damaging sexist stereotypes.