Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Going to the candidates' debate. . .

If you're not already a fan of Amy Poehler's genius creation, Parks and Rec, you should be! This season we follow our heroine, that earnest cheerleader for local government, Leslie Knope, as she runs for City Council against the doltish heir to the largest employer in Pawnee, Indiana (Paul Rudd). 

Last week's episode featured the candidates' debate.  I recommend it to anyone who is contemplating a run for office or working on a campaign. Leslie was more than holding her own until she was blindsided by a "bomb" lobbed by her opponent right before the closing statements. She talked her campaign manager into letting her go off script so she could speak to the issue that threatened to derail her candidacy. What I especially liked about this interaction is that Leslie, who had vowed never again to disregard the advice of Ben, her manager (and boyfriend), made a conscious choice to do just that. She threw away the playbook and went out on a limb --- but it was very clear that she was not extemporizing, not just speaking "in the heat of the moment." As she has said from the beginning, "I have been preparing for this campaign my whole life."

Now, I know this is TV, and the whole thing was scripted, but I found it instructive. "Speaking from the heart" can be a powerful strategy -- only IF you have been thoroughly prepared and are absolutely sure of what you stand for. That's a big IF! Too often I have heard, "well, I will just wing it" or, "I don't want to be over-prepared, then I will be inauthentic." And the images we see of candidate debates on TV and in movies only perpetuate the myth that it is possible, when you're in a corner, to come out swinging and knock your opponent down with your brilliance. But that doesn't happen. The character of Leslie that Poehler created has never not been prepared. That is why Ben reluctantly gave her permission to deviate from their plan in this episode. And though she is fictional, we can all benefit from Leslie's example. The deeper your preparation, the greater your latitude to "change it up." The pros know that. But they never let you see it!

The other totally goofy plot line in last week's episode provides a brilliant example of the lost art of storytelling. I won't say more, except that Andy's recreations of movies made me reflect on the wildly improbable success of Charles Ross' One Man Star Wars Trilogy. We all relish a good story, well told.

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