Lately I’ve become obsessed with the show Parks and Recreation. I think it’s hysterical — and maybe part of that is because I work around government, and can relate the characters to people I’ve met. But it does make me wonder, is the show reinforcing negative stereotypes about government? For example:
1) Leslie Knope is a bright eyed bureaucrat, trying extraordinarily hard to make positive change for the City of Pawnee. However, she’s discovered the pitfalls of endless bureaucracy, and what seems like a simple project (turning a pit into a park) becomes endless long lines and red tape.
2) Tom Haverford is the stereotypical do-nothing bureaucrat. As described by Ron Swanson, “I like Tom. He doesn’t do a lot of work around here. He show’s zero initiative. He’s not a team player. He’s never wanted to go that extra mile. Tom is exactly what I’m looking for in a government employee.” Tom seems to spend most of his time making things more difficult for Leslie by intentionally doing things wrong.
3) Crowd-pleaser Ron Swanson is the anti-government character, who, ironically, is the director for the Parks Department. He strongly believes that big government is bad, and wants the parks department to do as little as possible. However, he’s so likable, you want to be on his side.
4) Jerry Gergich is an employee who seems to either do everything wrong, or if he does something right, nobody pays any intention and instead mock him into submission. Thus he is unable to make any positive change for the City of Pawnee.
In the classic TV show, Cheers, Cliff Clavin is the know-it-all postal worker who still lives with his mother. According to a Pew Research Center telephone poll (then the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press), Cliff was only 2% of respondents favorite character from Cheers. Cliff’s know-it-all attitude, while funny, also apparently makes him fairly dislikeable. The fact that he is always in uniform may reinforce these as stereotypes about postal workers.
Newman from Seinfeld is another famous — and highly dislikeable — postal worker. He makes statements that “postal workers are authorized to take lunch breaks that last three hours,” and that “no mail carrier has successfully delivered more than 50% of their mail (comparing such a feat to running a three minute mile).” Thus he is characterizing postal workers as generally lazy and not particularly good at their jobs.
So this has me wondering, do these shows reinforce negative stereotypes about government and its employees?