Much to the delight of fans everywhere, NBC-TV has ordered up a sixth season of Parks and Recreation. Come fall, this entertaining and intelligent sitcom will surely attract an even wider audience who admire Leslie Knope and the other strong females of Pawnee, Indiana. Here’s the rub: the show is dominated by women, but it perpetuates a behavior that can be particularly harmful to them. Now that the show is on hiatus, this may be the time to influence the writers and producers of the show to cut down on the excessive drinking scenes. Are you listening Amy Poehler?
Many viewers of Parks and Rec are impressionable young women who admire Leslie, Ann Perkins, April Ludgate and the other females. Often, these characters drink to excess. Most people consider a glass of wine or two to celebrate an event or wind down after a long day totally acceptable. In fictional Pawnee, Leslie and the others get so drunk they can barely function. Women in the real world who get wasted suffer long term health problems and other damaging consequences including unintended pregnancy, sexual assault and accidents. How can we forget the 16-year old intoxicated rape victim in Steubenville? Or the inebriated woman who was raped in New Hampshire by a cab driver? Last year, a drunk California girl was sexually assaulted at a party and later killed herself due to humiliation. These stories, all involving female alchohol abuse, are becoming much too commonplace. While some people understand the dangers of excessive drinking, many young girls do not. It is well documented that teens who drink early are at a higher risk for alcoholism later in life. Females are particularly vulnerable. A recent CDC study reports that one out of five high school girls binge drink, while one and eight women (18+) do the same. About 23,000 women die each year from alcohol abuse and related injuries.
Yes, Parks and Rec is a TV show and can’t alone be blamed for risky behavior. But story lines about getting inebriated are irresponsible. Intentional or not, glamorizing excess alcohol intake sends the wrong message. My 14-year old daughter and I love the show, so I try to work with it. During a commercial break, I’ll warm her about the dangers of intoxication, as well as the importance of drinking responsibly when she’s 21. Hopefully Ann Perkins will cut down on the booze, because she is trying to get pregnant, I tell her.
Some of the cleverest and most entertaining sitcoms have featured someone who drinks. Remember Karen Walker on Will and Grace? And who isn’t amused by Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development? Or Saturday Night Live’s drunk Uncle? These people are usually dismissed as flawed, so they aren’t really setting an example. Ron Swanson’s ocasional shots of Scotch are just part of his rugged persona on Parks and Rec. But to have the female leads drink to the point of slurring their words is gratuitous. The show already has everything — originality, well-timed comedy, great story lines, well-developed characters and an uber-talented cast.
So producers and writers of Parks and Rec — while you’re enjoying the summer, here’s something to think about: Instead of the booze, bring on more waffles and whipped cream! I’m sure Leslie Knope would love that more than anything.