Thursday, June 26, 2014

Knope's Bold Idea

Parks and Recreation TV show poster
I just re-watched Season 4 of Parks and Recreation, in which Leslie Knope runs for the Pawnee, Indiana City Council. I had totally forgotten the interesting little disability story in Episode 17, which includes “Ramp Up Pawnee”, candidate Knope’s proposal to build a ramp on every set of stairs in Pawnee, in a bid to win the essential Senior Citizen vote.

Considering it is only one theme in an otherwise packed episode, there is a lot to chew on, especially for disabled people who can relate to wheelchair accessibility problems:

- There is the idea itself … that a local politician running for office would think that pledging to improve a town’s accessibility was a good way to win votes, so much so that her opponent felt forced to make a “better” proposal to address the same problem.

- On the one hand, it’s so unusual that the joke fits well into “Parks & Rec’s” absurdist tone. How many real-life politicians make physical accessibility improvements a key priority? It’s practically unheard of, and the completeness of Leslie’s proposal is as absurd as it is awesome.

- On the other hand, it’s not absurd at all. Seniors are an important voting bloc, and accessibility is potentially an important issue for them, not to mention younger people with disabilities. The fact that it’s kind of a joke on the show just underscores what an untapped opportunity it is in actual politics.

- Leslie’s opponent, rich kid Bobby Newport, counters with a “better” proposal … install lifts rather than ramps. I guess it’s better because it’s more expensive. The thing is, in most cases, ramps are easier, and lifts are a last resort when ramps are infeasible. Lifts are, generally, a pain in the ass. On the show, it’s just accepted that lifts are better.

- For some reason, I just love Leslie’s slogan for her ramp initiative: “Stairs are a young man’s game!” It’s not even very accurate, but I like that there’s a hint of pride to it … almost like saying, “Stairs are for chumps”.

- “Not enough ramps is the number three complaint among Pawnee seniors, right behind ‘Everything hurts,’ and ‘I’m dying.’” – Leslie

- When I Googled the episode, I found this fantastic website for the Knope 2012 campaign, including a page on Leslie’s proposal, “Ramp Up Pawnee!"

As has often been said, these brief story lines are a great way for TV shows to help “normalize” disability and disability issues.

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