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Is Leslie Knope Corrupt?

By Alyssa Rosenberg  

"Is Leslie Knope Corrupt?"

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Commenter Greg Packnett, himself a legislative aide in the Wisconsin state Assembly, thinks so:

Leslie Knope is no saint. While she’s well-motivated, she’s still pretty corrupt. She regularly uses city resources to campaign, even going so far as to have the Parks & Rec Dept. give her an assistant in her official capacity so she can spend more time campaigning. I’m not conversant in Indiana law, but I’d be very surprised if that were legal.

Leslie Knope is a good representation of what corruption in public office looks like. Public officials using their official powers and resources to maintain office with the full knowledge and tacit approval and assistance of everyone around them because 1. everyone does it and 2. they believe in the causes and abilities of the officials in question.

That’s interesting, because Parks and Recreation has actually handled issues of public corruption before, and handled them with a certain amount of aplomb: when Tom goes overboard promoting Snake Juice, Chris makes him sell his shares in the Snakehole Lounge so he won’t be enriched by the event. Chris is very clear that Tom’s actions count as public corruption, and Tom, however reluctantly goes along, though he eventually chooses the private sector. And the show’s also presented Tom’s cozy relationship with the business community as ultimately kind of sketchy, even if it benefits the Parks Department on occasion.

I don’t really think that Leslie using her record in public service to run for office counts as public corruption. And the decision to hire Leslie an assistant was Ron’s, not Leslie’s — she didn’t even suggest it, the idea was entirely his. The question, I think, will be how she balances her continuing duties as an employee of the Parks Department and her campaign. And that’s a rich source of drama and comedy. Boss will pull out Hatch Act references in the next episode. Parks and Recreation could effectively satirize the tissue-thin walls politicians build between themselves and ethics violations — and it would be really useful to send up that hypocrisy and strive to do better instead of just wallowing in a perception that all politicians and public servants are hopelessly corrupt.

If Leslie Knope slips over into corruption, it would be a genuine tragedy. In her, pop culture’s created a genuinely unique character: a public servant and now a politician who really cares about the rules, for whom they aren’t just an impediment to the revolving door but a safeguard to a system she really loves.

‹ Intermission

Pop Culture and the Death Penalty Project: ‘The Green Mile’ ›

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