I have a complicated relationship with Portlandia. To start, I was born in Portland and I still live here, and I want everyone in the world to know that it’s a great city with more to offer than coffee and bearded white dudes, so I am psyched that it is getting national, positive attention. However, Portlandia does little to challenge stereotypes about Portland and instead reinforces them by mocking bearded white dudes drinking coffee, causing my Facebook friends from the east coast to message me out of the blue, reminding me to “put a bird on it!” (I hate birds). And like others of you, I wish Portlandia was more critical of Portland and of white hipster culture in general, because a lot of race and class privilege is required before you can sit around all day watching Battlestar Gallactica and have audiences get the joke instead of telling you to get a job.
Carrie and Fred were really nice about this photo and were not at all creeped out when I asked them to pose for it (I don’t think).
Portlandia kicks off its second season tonight on IFC, and lots of people are psyched. In me, this triggers what I like to call the Napoleon Dynamite effect, where I have mixed feelings about something and then find out that everyone else loooves that thing, causing me to hate it in rebellion against their love (see also: The Radiohead effect).
Some of my apprehension comes, of course, from being mocked/portrayed on national television. As a privileged, glasses-wearing person who works for a feminist media organization and makes clothes for my rescue dog, I’m willing to admit that Portlandia hits a little close to home sometimes. Like, if I were a cop in Baltimore would I really love The Wire? Probably not. However, I do think that Portlandia misses the mark in a lot of ways, and not just because I can’t take a joke. As a commenter pointed out in an earlier post on the subject, by only portraying white, privileged people doing quirky things, Portlandia perpetuates the stereotype that only white, privileged people can do quirky things. This is a problem, and in a perfect world—like the one Portlandia claims to portray—we’d get to see people of color pickling things and biking around to microbreweries. You know, the way they do in real life.
In its portrayal of feminism, Portlandia is also a little tricky. On the one hand, it’s a popular show that films scenes in an actual feminist bookstore! And feminist riot grrrl Carrie Brownstein is a creator and star! On the other hand, feminist riot grrrl Carrie Brownstein makes fun of feminism on Portlandia, and not always in the “laughing with you” way.
All that being said, Portlandia is an interesting show to pay attention to, if only for the conversations it can spark, and I really want to hear your thoughts on it. Also, I have to be really honest here and say that I attended a Portlandia press luncheon a few months ago and everyone was nice beyond belief, and they all seemed to genuinely love each other and feel really good about the show they produce and the people involved (57 out of 60 of whom live in Portland), which makes me rethink that Napoleon Dynamite effect a little. And I got to meet
Agent Dale Cooper Kyle MacLachlan there, which as you can see from my face in this photo was more than a little exciting for me:
He told me that HE likes Twin Peaks too! What are the chances?!
So, are you going to watch the Portlandia season two premiere tonight? What are your thoughts on the show? Share them in the comments (but don’t you dare tell me to put a bird on it).