Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Parks and Recreation Supplemental Post: Chris Traeger

Via Buzzfeed
Despite the fact that I don't really like Rob Lowe* as a person, I absolutely adore Chris Traeger and his character arc throughout the series. The writers could have just left him as this obnoxiously optimistic, health-obsessed dudebro without an ounce of self-awareness, which for a comedy probably would have worked, but Parks and Rec is not your normal comedy. It constantly challenged gender roles, and Chris is a perfect example of this.

His first appearance at the end of season two had him paired up with Ben, and the two took on the stereotypical roles of disappointed parents; while Ben was the disapproving father, Chris took the supportive, positive mother type to new heights, bubbling with enthusiasm and deferring to Ben when things got more difficult to discuss. Again, while the show could have just stuck with this formula, the writers revealed that it was more of a survival thing based on the characters' respective personalities. While Chris was literally addicted to positivity - more on that later - Ben was so focused on succeeding because of Ice Town, and because of that, neither was able to accomplish anything. Ben and Chris' strengths made up for their weaknesses, and they successfully saved several Indiana cities from bankruptcy, ultimately ending up in Pawnee where they both meet their significant others.

I think I mentioned this in the actual challenge, but Chris' ability to cry - and be vulnerable, in general - was so refreshing to see, and he brought that out in others. Well, not Ron, but that's Ron. He will openly weep at beautiful words and touching gestures, he discusses his own struggles with depression and anxiety with inspirational honesty, and he is genuinely thankful of any compliments, coming from any gender, instead of becoming weird or defensive. I didn't exactly click with Chris like I did with the other characters** at first, and it wasn't until after Millie Gergich broke up with him that he finally seemed like an actual person. Hearing Chris' backstory - he wasn't supposed to live as a child due to a blood disorder - did frame his positive attitude better, but then the show went and looked at it in a different light: Chris suffered from mental illness.
Via Uproxx
This is probably one of the smartest things Parks and Rec ever did, or else Rob Lowe would have outgrown his welcome and probably would have left well before Chris and Ann moved to Ann Arbor or wherever. His addiction to almost bullish sanguinity was his downfall. He was more prone to depression and anxiety, which for a long time was hidden by his cheery demeanor, because he could not handle any other emotions other than happiness. They were foreign, bad things to him that would prevent him from being the first person to reach 150 years of age or run enough miles to get to the moon. I felt a kinship with Chris when I realized that he and I both were blinded by our own dedication to being positive. I couldn't see my abusive relationship because I wanted it to be good; he couldn't see that age would come for him, despite all his efforts to slow it. And then we were blindsighted by grief and depression when reality bared its teeth at us.
Via Pinterest
I'm not where he is at the close of the series (well, at the close of his arc; I don't count the series finale because his and Ann's appearance was so brief), but I'm getting there. And seeing his improvement over the course of several seasons - and seeing that it was portrayed not just for laughs but also as a real examination of what healing can look like - bolstered my own belief that, yes, I can get better. I can wake up without a ball of anxiety resting in my stomach; I can get through the day without having a PTSD episode; I can find and foster healthy relationships without the nagging feeling that someone is trying to manipulate me. Now may not be the time that all of that happens, but it will come. Oh, but it will come. And then I'll be unstoppable.


* Politics aside, I just get a skeevy feeling from him, which goes back to his having sex with a 16-year-old back in the 80s.
** This does not include Mark. Because fuck Mark.
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