Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ron Swanson is a Man

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianityby Ben Howard

There is a man in this world.

A man who knows what he likes.

A man who likes dark haired women and breakfast foods.

A man who understands that fish is basically a vegetable.

That man is Ron Swanson.

In case you don’t know, and judging from the ratings you don’t, Ron Swanson is one of the main characters on the critically acclaimed sitcom Parks and Recreation.

Ron (played by Nick Offerman) is an incredibly interesting character in modern television because Ron is a successful male character who is neither a jerk nor an immature man-boy (think Barney from How I Met Your Mother or J.D. from Scrubs).

Instead, Ron is a dedicated libertarian who likes hunting and fishing and drinking whiskey. He has a wood shop where he makes harps and canoes. He likes meat served with a side of meat that you eat while watching a war movie. To borrow a quote from man-boy Nick on the rival sitcom New Girl, Ron Swanson probably smells like, “strong coffee and going to see a man about a horse.”

Recently, I’ve taken a special interest in depictions of masculinity in our culture. I’m 25 and find myself in that awkward transition from college-age quasi-adulthood to actual adulthood where I’m responsible, things matter, and I have to figure out where to buy a lamp or how to register a car with the DMV. One of the questions I've found myself asking during this transition is what exactly it means to be a "man" in my cultural context.

Is the definition of a man the stereotypical stoic father who knows how to fix cars and intimidate people with his stare? Is it a lawyer or a stockbroker? Is it a soldier? Warrior? Fighter? A new-age sensitive soul who knows when someone needs a hug?

Is it more important for a man to know how to shoot a gun or say, "I love you"? Do I need to know how to fix a water heater or plant a garden?

See, the fun of a character like Ron Swanson is that he lives by the code, "Be a man" as if it is really that simple. However, on closer inspection, it's a very specific definition of that gender role and one that is offset by all of the other "men" who are part of the cast. Are they less manly because they don't live up to Ron's lofty heights of manliness?

This is a topic I'm going to be exploring for awhile, and I'm open to any suggestions, conversations, advice, or anything else that might further the discussion. I really do want to know what you think about this issue, so comment, tweet to me, send me an email, call me, or just talk to me when you see me in person. I think this is an important conversation to have and I hope you'll join me.


When he isn't trying to undercover the meaning of being a man, Ben likes to skip through meadows and feel the wind in his hair. Ahhh. You can follow him on Twitter @BenHoward87 or email him at benjamin.howard87 [at]

1 comment:

  1. As random as it is, a friend of mine came across this blog and sent me the link. Lo and behold I know one of the authors! Hi Ben :) Anyway, I definitely think that we as a society have made boxes that genders must fit into. Men must either be "masculine" or they are gay. And women must be sexy and feminine, or else they are worthless. The importance of a person's character has been completely lost, along with the knowledge that we are all different. I don't think that's really where you were going with this, but there's my thoughts for now :) -Melinda