If Small-Government Lovers Aren't Funny, What of Ron Swanson?
Ron Swanson, ladies and gentlemen.
Ever since 30 Rock and The Office jumped the shark 3 years ago, the funniest show on television has been Parks and Recreation. The show's greatest character is, by far, Ron Swanson. Since he is the greatest character on the funniest show on television, he's almost certainly the best comedic character on TV at the moment.
Ron is the head of the Parks and Rec. department in Pawnee, Indiana and Amy Poehler is his deputy director. The show has various progressive veins running through it in the same ways the Office and (more obviously) 30 Rock do ... they are on NBC after all. The main exception to this progressive leaning is Ron's character. Ron is a libertarian. He's a stated libertarian that often rants against big government. He invests in gold, is a gun owner, hates the UN, mocks hippies at health food stores, believes in freedom of religion, laughs at Canada, refuses to hire an assistant because it saves the taxpayers' money, and, when he finally does hire people, he makes sure that they are inept at their job so as to not increase the power of government. On Ron's desk sits a sawed off shotgun so that whenever people come to ask him for more government assistance, they have to stare down the barrel.
Ron also has a certain air of masculinity about him. He loves meat, demands "all the bacon and eggs a restaurant has," doesn't spend money on clothes, has a mustache, hunts, works with wood, pulls his teeth out with pliers, shops at "food and stuff" - a store equidistant from his home and employment, and can drink whiskey like no one's business.
Ron's philosophy of life can be summed up in his pyramid of greatness.
A couple months back, Ricochet member Thirsty Artist and I had a beer at a small Midwestern brewery. He remarked that the producers of Parks and Rec. probably intended Ron to be a parody and to use that parody to mock people who believe in small government and liberty. When Ron turned out to be the best character on the show, it probably both shocked and appalled them because people love a character that they are supposed to be laughing at. The audience should be laughing at Ron because he's absurd, not because he's awesome, of course!
The producers of the show probably intended Ron to be a parody in the same way that the masculine characters of Mad Men were supposed to be a parody of masculinity. As it turns out though, people are attracted to some of the more masculine aspects of Mad Men and of Ron Swanson, despite the producers' attempts at making them seem ridiculous. Television audiences have been robbed of almost all masculinity in popular shows since the late 80's so seeing a masculine character is both nuanced and attractive.
The producers of Parks and Rec shouldn't have been surprised at Ron's success because no great character - be he in a novel, film, or show - is a relativist and therefore not a progressive. People may say that they love relativism, but when the chips are down, or even when they have to choose to devote their time to something, they run from relativists. To a relativist progressive, it doesn't matter if Darth Vader was really evil, he was just the product of a Tatooine culture - the product of a single parent home living in poverty in a moisture farming region. Good, evil, these are just judgements after all, not realities - so stop being so dang judgmental, man. Relativism makes for lousy storytelling and no good character is a relativist.
Ron Swanson shrugs the pathetic relativist view of reality. He stands for something and that appeals to people. He's brilliantly played by Nick Offerman, a fellow University of Illinois grad. He's delightful and just plain hilarious.
The funniest character on TV is a libertarian -- see, so take that Emily/Diane/everyone else -- small government lovers are funny.
Check out Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation some time. Try not to vomit when Amy Poehler's character comments on her love of Joe Biden.