I’ve never been a fan of the idea of wanting to emulate a character on a television show or in a movie. In general, I think it’s best for us to be happy with who we are and to strive to be a better version of that self. I think that wanting to retreat into the life of a fictional character is weak and unfortunate.
…until I met RON SWANSON!
I did not watch Parks & Recreation when it was on television. I only recently started watching it on Netflix (commercial free…beautiful!), but I was immediately addicted to it. From the beginning I loved Ron Swanson, the crabby, cantankerous, steak-eating, whiskey-drinking, cigar-smoking, government-slashing, guy-every-liberal-despises-because-he-represents-everything-they-despise, real “man’s man” Director of Parks and Recreation for Pawnee, Indiana. His constant poking at his Deputy Director, government-loving liberal idealist, anti-pragmatist Leslie Knope, was satisfying to me on many levels. As I continued watching, however, I discovered that there was far more to Ron Swanson than met the eye. He was not the typical two-dimensional caricature of the mean old conservative who wants to poison water and cut off grandma’s Social Security check who usually finds his way onto television series. He is one of the most satisfyingly ironic characters in the history of television.
If I were only allowed one word with which to describe Ron Swanson it would be “zen.” What first came across to me as an underlying seething anger at almost everything and almost everyone is, in fact, just the opposite. Swanson is completely self-confident, self-assured, and self-actualized. Rather than being angry, he is simply comfortable enough in who he is and what he believes that he does not require either affirmation or confrontation with other people. His rule that no conversation can be longer than 100 words is not rooted in aversion to communicate with other people, but a fundamental belief that people spend too much time talking and not enough time doing.
Okay, maybe zen is not the best word with which to describe Ron Swanson. How can a man who dislikes as many things and people as he seems to dislike, and who is angered by as many things as people as he is angered by be considered even close to zen? Consider this: Swanson is only angered by things and people he believes run counter to his foundational life principles–which happens to be MOST things and people because, in his own words, “I’m a simple man. I like pretty, dark-haired ladies and breakfast foods.” But, even when he is angry enough to take the plaque he received for being the Pawnee Government Employee of the Month award winner, cut it into pieces with a skill saw, burn the pieces, and bury the ashes on the side of the road just across the Illinois State Line, it is a righteous and short-lived anger. Zen or not, he is fiercely loyal to himself and the (admittedly few) people for whom he cares.
In his heart of hearts, Ron Swanson truly wants what is best for his friends. While he does not show emotion readily–“Crying: acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon”–he does not need to because, as with his belief about conversation, he believes the best way to show people he cares for them is to do something for them. Despite his inherent loathing of any government-funded project, Swanson went to bat for Knope, a woman who believes the government can and should solve everything, time and time again when she was unfairly attacked. He sold one of his four cabins, for which he’d been made a generous offer, to the ever-morbid April and her hapless husband Andy for eight dollars and a stolen asthma inhaler so that they would have a place to go and be alone. Ron Swanson, for all of his gruff, is a caring and loyal friend. . .to the few he has.
I started by calling Ron Swanson one of the most satisfyingly ironic characters in the history of television. That he is. When viewers of Parks & Recreation are first introduced to the man, it seems that he is and will be the antagonist, the villain, the nemesis; he does play that role at times. But, each time he calls someone or something out for being inefficient or stupid, he does so because he believes that there is a better way. He does so because he wants better for people. Ron Swanson is not truly motivated by hatred and selfishness. He is motivated by confidence and high expectations.
Dear God, make me Ron Swanson. Amen.
Now. . .for your viewing pleasure. . .The Best of Ron Swanson Super Cut!