Spotlighting Student Work #3: A Sitcom Samson & Delilah

Tonight, we have an interesting look at the popular sitcom Parks and Recreation, and the Samson & Delilah parallel that it can be said to contain. The author we have with us is Aucklander Emmanuel Ortiz. Here’s a bit about him.

I was born and raised in Auckland, I am doing a law and arts conjoint, with a major in politics and philosophy.  I would love to work in an area where I can help people and I am interested in pursuing a career in politics where I can help improve equality. I took Theology 101 because I am very interested in how religion influences our society and the course was highly recommended.

Now for the essay. Sit tight folks.

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Parks and Recreation Opening Title Screen.

Parks and Recreation’s Samson and Delilah

Emmanuel Ortiz

Parks and Recreation (2009 -2015), a television situational comedy created by Michael Schur and Greg Daniels, tells the story of the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana (Daniels & Schur, 2009). Situational comedies are not typically associated with biblical stories; however, Schur and Daniels (2009) have created a refreshingly modern twist of the Samson and Delilah story through the implicit use of the original characters and themes. In this essay, I will discuss how Ron Swanson and his ex-wife Tammy act as Samson and Delilah ‘type’ characters. I will also explain the similarities and differences between the Parks and Recreation pair and the original biblical duo by comparison of the episodes where they are featured to the writings in Judges 16, as well as ideas associated with them across popular culture.

Ron Swanson, portrayed by Nick Offerman, acts as the director of the parks department and one of the main protagonists of the show. Recently, Ron Swanson has gained a cult following due to his unique personality, deadpan voice, thick moustache and memorable one-liners. Throughout the show’s seven seasons, Ron’s character has been steadily developed. Initially, all we know of Ron is his identity as the parks director, his hatred of large government and distaste of the Parks Department (Daniels & Schur, 2009). Later we learn of his love of fishing, hunting, camping, woodworking, football, alcohol and women (Daniels & Schur, 2009).

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Ron Swanson Portrayed by Nick Offerman on a hunting trip.

Ron and Samson share similarities due to parallel stories, which I will explain later in this essay, but, their personalities and actions on the surface have nothing in common. However, when considering the time periods both men lived in, they are more similar than they appear. In Samson’s time, the war between the Israelites and Philistines was raging, and the world was filled with conquest, war, famine and death (Derck, 2017). Throughout Judges 13 to 16 we read of the tales of Samson, teeming of stories which imbue awe, such as Samson slaying a lion bare-handed and killing a thousand philistine men alone. He was the last biblical judge, a military leader during critical periods and was feared/praised for his enormous strength (Derck, 2017). We know that Samson is aware of what gives him his strength, his long braided hair, which channels God’s power through him (Judges 16:17, The New Revised Standard Version). These traits of physical strength and violence were considered masculine at the time, with Samson stating himself that his strength made him unlike any other man. He was elevated above the rest.

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Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness

Comparatively, Ron Swanson lives in an era of peace, with the most significant conflict being Pawnee’s rivalry with the neighbouring town Eagleton. In modern times, the need to kill enemies and commit acts of violence is not required, resulting in personality and interests acting as the venues of masculinity. Ron partakes in typically masculine activities such as camping and hiking and also displays personality traits associated with masculinity by society and popular culture such as independence, assertiveness and machismo throughout the series (Daniels & Schur, 2009). Ron exhibited these traits from early childhood, where he worked in a sheet metal factory at the age of 9, married his former Sunday school teacher at 15 and moved out of his parents’ home. Ron is also very particular and proud of what he considers masculine and has created a diagram called the Swanson Pyramid of Greatness, which includes everything he believes one needs to be a man (Daniels & Schur, 2009). In Ron’s eyes, not following these traits would make you “lesser” of a man.

The critical similarities between both men aside from a parallel story is from their adherence to typical stereotypical masculine traits of their respective eras. While Samson’s defining features were enormous strength and violence, Ron’s distinguishing features are his masculine personality and actions. These features are both respectively and stereotypically male characteristics of their times, and both individuals use their masculinity to define themselves. These definitions of masculinity make us wonder, what is Samson without his God-given strength or Ron without his masculine persona?

Opposed to Ron is Tammy Swanson, portrayed by Megan Mullaly, who is Ron’s ex-wife and the Deputy Director of Library Services (Scully & Miller, 2009). When Tammy first appears in the episode “Ron and Tammy”, she attempts to claim Lot 48 for the Library Services Department to build a new library. Ron then expresses his hatred of his ex-wife with Leslie, his subordinate, calling Tammy a “devil woman” and “destroyer of all happiness in the world”. Leslie then confronts Tammy, where unexpectedly, Tammy gives her Lot 48 without resistance. Tammy then convinces Leslie to bring her to the Parks department to settle her differences with Ron. This conversation results in Tammy seducing him over breakfast and the pair having sex in a motel room. Ron is then left in an infinite state of lust for Tammy and nearly trades Lot 48 to Tammy for more sexual favours. Ron is prevented from proceeding further in the trade by Leslie who talks him to his senses (Scully & Miller, 2009).

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Ron and Tammy Swanson at Breakfast from the episode “Ron and Tammy”

In her next appearance in the episode “Ron and Tammy Part 2”, Tammy continues her efforts to ruin Ron’s life when she hears at a party that Ron had broken up with his girlfriend Wendy (Kapnek & Gate, 2011). Tammy then uses her powers of seduction to lure Ron away and the couple proceeds to have a night of drunken public sex, criminal activity and marriage in jail. Unfortunately for Ron, Leslie is away on business and is unable to halt Tammy’s influence on him. During the night Ron changes dramatically, losing his cool and calm demeanour, signature hairstyle and entire personality. No longer is Ron the great masculine man he once was, he is now a braided haired, loud, psychotic, kimono wearing, sexual deviant (Kapnek & Gate, 2011).

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Ron and Tammy Swanson in jail from the episode “Ron and Tammy Part 2”.

In the biblical text, Judges 16 does not tell us much about Delilah. We know she is from the Valley of Sorek and had been paid by the Philistines to learn Samson’s secret (Clanton, 2013). We also know she is a persuasive, persistent and determined woman based on the events of the original tale.  However, in popular culture, Delilah has been described as a vindictive, seductive and treacherous femme fatale, but compared to Judges 16 there is no explicit mention of these traits (Exum, 1996). These traits are attributed to Delilah with no supporting evidence and have been concocted through media. Authors such as Clanton have argued that Delilah has been painted in a negative light to adapt biblical narrative for people to identify with for an underlying agenda (Clanton, 2013).

These two episodes discussed above demonstrate how Ron and Tammy follow a parallel story to the biblical text. In Judges 16, Delilah repeatedly attempts to persuade Samson to reveal his secrets, similar to how Tammy tries to get back into Ron’s life throughout the series. Delilah then finds out Samson’s secret, his hair, which once removed he will become powerless. Similarly, Tammy reveals Ron’s weakness, his sexual lust for Tammy, and once Tammy has influenced him, he is left powerless as well. However, in Ron’s case, his power doesn’t stem from physical strength or murderous ability, but instead his personality. Repeatedly throughout the show, Ron has spoken of traits which he is proud of and believes in making him masculine (Daniels & Schur, 2009). After Tammy’s influence on Ron, he loses those traits which he and the audience believes to make him masculine and great.  Samson’s physical power and Ron’s personality are both lost at the hands of a Delilah or Tammy, removing their masculinity and leaving behind two men who are “like any other man”. This trope has been repeated throughout popular culture and is one of the few parts of cultural afterlives of Samson ‘types’ that is somewhat accurate to the original biblical text (Derck, 2017).

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Tammy Swanson portrayed by Megan Mullaly, suggestively fingering a bread roll while staring at Ron Swanson.

Throughout these episodes, Tammy has shown her biblical Delilah characteristics of persistence and determination through her multiple attempts at thrusting herself into Ron’s life and numerous attempts at ruining it (Daniels & Schur, 2009).  Whereas the characteristics typically attributed to Delilah through popular culture of being sexual, seductive, vindictive, manipulative and a dangerous woman are expressed through Tammy’s seduction, extortion, and ruining of Ron and his life (Exum, 1996).  Overall Tammy can be described as a Delilah ‘type’ character who also follows a very similar Samson and Delilah story through her exemplification of biblical and popular culture Delilah traits.

In conclusion, Parks and Recreation contains a pair of Samson and Delilah ‘type’ characters who follow a Samson and Delilah ‘type’ storyline. The resemblance to the original story is so similar that it appears the writers intentionally wrote these characters as modern Samson and Delilah. The characters display characteristics which are attributed to the duo from the biblical text and popular culture; thus providing the viewers with an enjoyable hour of television through a modern implicit re-telling of the legendary biblical tale.

 

Bibliography

All biblical text references in this essay are from the New Revised Standard Version.

Clanton, D. W. J. (2013). Daring, disreputable, and devout: interpreting the bible’s women in the arts and music. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/auckland/reader.action?docID=601801&ppg=76

Daniels, G. (Producer), & Schur, M. (Director). (2009). Parks and Recreation [Television series]. New York City, New York: NBM

Derck, M. (2017). Keeping up Appearances: The Impossibility of Samson’s Heterosexual Performance. The Scholar & Feminist Online, 1(14.2), 1-2. Retrieved from http://sfonline.barnard.edu/feminist-and-queer-afro-asian-formations/

Exum, J. C. (1996). Plotted, shot, and painted : cultural representations of biblical women. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com

Kapnek, E. (Writer), & Gates, T. (Director). (2011, February 10). Ron and Tammy: Part Two. [Television series episode] In D. Daniels (Producer), Parks and Recreation. New York City: NBC.

Scully, M. (Writer), & Miller, T. (Director). (2009, November 5). Ron and Tammy. [Television series episode] In D. Daniels (Producer), Parks and Recreation. New York City: NBC.

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