I know it’s very late ’90s of me, but I still enjoy watching the NBC comedy television line-up on Thursday nights. Especially 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation. Not only do they both feature strong female protagonists, but they’re both actually laugh out loud funny. On a network that allows Whitney and Wipeout to both exist, this is pretty impressive in itself.
While I’ve always identified with the socially awkward writer in Liz Lemon, I’m starting to realize that Leslie Knope’s the better role model. Liz Lemon’s life path is the one I fear I’ll take, Leslie Knope’s is the one I want to take. For every depressing “oh Liz Lemon” scene, there’s one “gosh darnit, you made it happen!” Leslie Knope scene.
As I get more and more into my professional life and further and further away from my college years, I’m learning that you either go with the flow and constantly hope for change or you can reach for your goals and make them happen. I know it sounds cliche, but the longer you spend in the real world and the longer you sit at Sunday brunches listening to your friends complain, the more these cliches prove to be true.
With a few extremely rare excetions and well-placed Youtube videos, no one’s going to approach you to change your life. There’s no magic boutique in the West Village that sells awesome one-size-fits-all job & relationship combos.
Leslie Knope, the deputy director of parks and recreation in Pawnee, knows that. Despite having a relatively unimportant job with little respect and little prestige, Leslie works her ass off to do the best job possible and to do it with a go-getter attitude usually reserved for young advertising executives in movies. She enjoys her co-workers (even when they don’t enjoy her) and she enjoys her career. In fact she’s so passionate about improving Pawnee that she runs for city council in season 4.
Meanwhile, Liz Lemon, who has the career of a million womens’ dreams, seems miserable. As the head writer for the late night show, TGS with Tracy Jordan, Liz struggles to gain respect from the people around her as well as her mentor, Jack Donaghy. Even he’s often disgusted and disappointed by her life choices.
The show’s six seasons in and we know nothing about Liz Lemon’s hopes and dreams and ambitions. Over the course of 6 seasons, her life’s been a series of failed relationships and adoption applications. Despite all the glitz and glamour and the A-list celebrity boyfriends, Liz’s life is starting to get depressing.
As much as I identify with Liz’s life right now and as much as I consistantly put food in front of relationships and other social commitments, I don’t want to be a Liz. (Anymore than I wanted to be a Miranda in high school.) I want to be a Leslie. I want to be someone who lives life with a passion and with a meaning, who can articulate my goals. I want to be someone who people respect and admire and want to support. I want to surround myself with the Ben Wyatt’s and Ron Swansons of the world and not with the Kenneth’s and Lutz’s.
I know they’re just TV show characters and I’m fully aware that neither one says “choose me as your role model!” But that doesn’t mean I can ignore the messages they’re sending me every week. 30 Rock says you can achieve all your hopes and dreams and still be miserable. While Parks and Rec says you can always keep reaching for something bigger and something better and you’ll find ambitions you didn’t even know you had.
I know it’s corny. But I’m starting to realize that I’d rather live a corny life complete with fulfilling cliches, rather than stand back like Liz Lemon as a cynical observer. While I’m not going to stop watching 30 Rock or stop taking Dr. Spaceman’s medical advice, I am going to stop taking it as a compliment when people say, “oh you’re a writer with brown hair, you’re such a Liz Lemon!”
Because I don’t want to be a Liz Lemon anymore, I want to be a Leslie Knope.