Things aren’t always what they are cracked up to be

Relating to my previous post, there was an excellent illustration of things aren’t always what they seem, on a recent episode of the sitcom Parks & Recreation.

In it, Leslie Knope traded her city council office — the only one with a private bathroom — with another city councilman in order to gain his vote to extend the swimming pool hours for the swim team.

Knope wanted the swim team to learn a lesson in ‘government working for you’. You guys wanted something. You came to me – a city councilwoman. I championed it. You got what you wanted. 

Knope didn’t want them to know about the horse trading she had to do get their extended hours.

Somewhere in our early years we seem to develop a high regard for the political process. Maybe that’s inspired by the idealistic interactions like what the Pawnee swim team had with Councilwoman Knope.

Had the swim team been exposed to the true dealings that got their extended pool hours, they may come away with a different regard for the political process.

Parks & Rec

Amy Poehler at the premiere of Baby Mama in Ne...

Leslie Knope

I recommend watching this season of the TV show Parks & Recreation.

This show has a talented group of actors and writers and a good assortment of characters that makes it fun to watch.  It also has some interesting political satire that’s picking up this season as the main character, Leslie Knope, played by SNL vet Amy Poehler, makes a run for city council in Pawnee, Indiana.

Knope’s main opponent is Bobby Newport, son of the town’s rich guy and all around good-looking buffoon.

In a recent episode, Knope’s campaign has been gaining ground in the polls, so Newport’s Dad fires his campaign manager and brings in a Washington DC campaign and politics professional, leaving Knope and her campaign manager/boyfriend way out of their depth.

Knope meets the DC campaign manager and they hit it off and is then taken aback with how ruthless the campaign manager is in the public forum and how nice she is behind the scenes. In the public forum it’s like watching LeBron James play against an aspiring high school talent.

Leslie is getting into politics to make a difference. For the DC campaign manager, it’s just a sport. What’s said and done in the public forum for the DC pro isn’t real. It’s just meant to look good to voters.

In one scene, Knope tries to win over the senior vote by promising to construct Rascal (powered scooter) ramps at all buildings with stairs. The DC pro promises her candidate will build electric elevating lifts and the crowd goes wild.

Later, even the DC campaign manager admits the electric lifts are not practical or cost-effective, won’t be built and the ramps are a better idea, but none of that matters. It’s all about which candidate is perceived as giving out the most goodies.

The sad thing is that it is an excellent political satire.

We All Work For Each Other

There was a nice bit of good and subtle writing on the TV sitcom Parks and Recreation this week.

Ron Swanson is the head of the Parks Dept.  His admin assistant, April, quits.  There’s a shoe shine stand in the Pawnee city government building manned by Andy, who happens to have a good relationship with April.

While shining Swanson’s shoes, Andy tells him, “You have to get April back.  If April quits, I quit.”

Swanson says, “You don’t work for me.”

Andy replies, “I don’t, nor will I ever.”

Then Andy goes back to happily shining Swanson’s shoes and Swanson relaxes because he likes to get his shoes shined by Andy.

The main joke here is the awkward exchange.  It helps to know the characters to understand that humor.

To me the subtle joke was even funnier.  There may not have been an intended subtle joke, which would make it even funnier to me because that would mean even the makers of the show didn’t catch the irony.  But, I have to believe that the extra second or two the show focused on Andy shining Swanson’s shoes was intentional.

What was the subtle joke, you might ask?

While Swanson declares that Andy doesn’t work for him and Andy agrees and states he would never work for him, what exactly is he doing?  He’s working for him.

He’s shining Swanson’s shoes.  Swanson voluntarily hires Andy every time he decides to sit in Andy’s shine chair.  And Andy works for Swanson every time he voluntarily decides to shine Swanson’s shoes in exchange for the few dollars he charges to complete his work.

I thought this was funny because not recognizing this is common.  We pay others to do things for us so frequently that we take it for granted and don’t even realize we’re doing it.  We hire and fire people from our lives every single day.

When we decide to buy something, we’re hiring the people that brought us that something.  When we decide to not buy something, we’re firing them. This is the essence of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand.  It directs a great deal of the activities that take place in our country.