Sunday, January 29, 2012

You Had Me at 'Meat Tornado'

Everyone has a hero.

The choice is generally dependent on an individual’s age, lifestyle, social status, economic status and pop culture interests, but it’s true nonetheless. It can be a superhero, an athlete, a celebrity, a rock star, a public figure, a family member, a family friend or a deity. Seeing as how it’s a personal decision, a hero can really be anyone.

Mine is Ron Swanson.

I know what you’re thinking: He’s fictional. He’s a television character. Heck, there are probably a lot of people that have never even seen Parks & Recreation and therefore have no clue who Ron Swanson is. (These people are awful.) But it’s all irrelevant. He’s a perfect hero. He’s Ron Effing Swanson.

Why not one of my parents? I have amazing parents, but referring to them as “heroes” doesn’t begin to do justice to the time and effort they had to put in just so I could become a slightly tolerable human being.

What about God? Same deal. The designation of “hero” doesn’t do nearly enough to describe all that God has done for me. That’s why we call him God.

To me, a hero is more someone that we look up to and idolize in some way, while knowing that this person probably doesn’t care too much or concern themselves with us as individuals, or even know who we are at all. It’s not insensitive, it’s just the characteristics of being a potential hero – they are probably going to be far too famous or important (or fictional) to acknowledge every single person that looks up to them. And the best kind of hero is one that lives forever.

The term “superhero” is not a misnomer. These are a collection of (artificial) superhuman beings defined by their immortality and propensity to always do the right thing in the end. Every kid wants to be Superman or Batman or Spiderman at one point or another, because they recognize the inherent and ever-present good in each of them. In fact, despite the obvious childishness in venerating a fictional character, this is actually one of the most mature and culturally cognizant decisions that young people will ever make. It’s when they begin idolizing those that actually exist that they will inevitably be let down. To err is human. To make a mortal your hero will only lead to disappointment.

I love Bob Dylan. I’ve been known to refer to Dylan as “The Greatest American Hero.” But he is not perfect, and he has been known to disappoint (have you ever listened to Self Portrait?), even if on rare occasions. I could say practically the same things about Michael Jordan, another mortal that has been deified by people of my generation. These are amazing men that have done many great things. But in the end, they are merely men.

Ron Swanson is more than that – or I guess, in a sense, less than that, but it still benefits him all the same. Portrayed by Nick Offerman on Parks and Recreation, Swanson is the Director of the Parks Department for Pawnee, Indiana. He’s also a Libertarian that despises government and believes the very department for which he works for is entirely unnecessary.  He revels in poor management, bureaucratic stalemates and anything else that slows down the government. He thinks everything should be privatized, adopting a Chuck E. Cheese model for how the government should operate (“Drop in a token, go on the swing set. Drop in another token, take a walk. Drop in a token, look at a duck.”). He even says his ideal concept of government is, “One guy who sits in a small room at a desk, and the only thing he’s allowed to decide is who to nuke.”

But that is what Ron Swanson believes, not why Ron Swanson is awesome. In fact, his personal and ideological beliefs have nothing to do with his heroism; it is in the way that he conveys these things that make him awesome. Even the staunchest liberal cannot deny the phenomenon that is Swanson. He transcends ideology, philosophy and religion (his views on religion?: “I’m a practicing ‘none of your (bleeping) business.’ ”). He transcends greatness.

I could spend pages upon pages and Youtube links upon Youtube links on the best Swanson quotes out there, all of which would simply reinforce my qualifying of him as a hero. Whether it’s his love of steak and breakfast food, his Pyramid of Greatness (“Skim Milk: avoid it”), his best pick-up line (“I think you would make an incredible brunette – Ron Swanson”), the fact that he only cried once during his entire childhood (when hit by a bus at age seven), or the single greatest speech in the history of mankind – it’s all just fuel to the “Ron Swanson is amazing” fire. He’s a man’s man, the straw that stirs the drink, the Arthur Fonzarelli without the frills and flash. He is cool without even trying, which we all know is the coolest kind.

And despite his obvious and explicit distaste for emotion, compassion and human interaction in general, he’s a man that discretely cares for those close to him. He has a beautiful and mutually respectful friendship with Deputy Director Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler). He has a paternal protectiveness and adoration for April Ludgate, a mentoring interest in Andy Dwyer and a quiet appreciation for Tom Haverford. As much as he despises government regulation, he’d do whatever he could to help his co-workers (especially Leslie) without expectations of anything in return. He’s as covertly considerate as he is explicitly awesome.

But the most important thing about Ron Swanson, and the main reason he is my hero, is the fact that he will never give way to any disappointment. Similar to the superheroes we all idolized when we were young, Ron Swanson is fictional, living on forever in the new and repeated episodes of Parks & Rec. He won’t die or fade away or fall into the same traps as the mortal men of our society. He will always be there for the other fictional characters around him, will always ultimately do the right thing, and will never not be awesome, even when he isn’t acting or trying to be. And in all of that, he will never let me down.

He’s Ron Effing Swanson.

Thanks for reading

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