Pomp and Quirkumstance: Portlandia Season Two Airs Tonight, Air Your Thoughts

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 Brownstein and Fred Armisen holding a copy of Bitch
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:

Kelsey and Kyle MacLachlan
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).

by Kelsey Wallace
View profile »

Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

23 Comments Have Been Posted

I just think it's *so* close

I just think it's *so* close to being funny, but doesn't quite hit the mark. There are a few choice moments, but I really wish there were more.

A lot of people accuse me of having the 'too close to home' syndrome that you describe, but I'd like to point out that I LOVE British comedy that mocks Americans when it's done well.

The Brits do it very very

I have to agree with you on a

I have to agree with you on a lot (if not all) of this. I lived in Portland and find my emotions regarding the show to be mixed. It as at once both hilarious and myopic. I've also noted the show's somewhat tenuous relationship to feminism and queerness, though the thing that bothers me the most happens to be the same thing that always seemed nipping at my heels when I lived in the area - a lack of a dynamic and sustained critique of issues of race and difference on a broad scale (sans Bitch, of course). What I would love to see out of Portlandia is an exploration of how forms of discrimination are perpetuated by some of the stereotypes they put forth and the ways those issues are swept under the rug in many circles. And I don't want this to seem as though I saw a total lack of this while living in Portland (as I both heart and miss the area almost constantly, sigh); I was just surprised on a pretty regular basis at how almost openly some groups of people who I would've considered to be politically savvy and sensitive either participated in or lacked a critical perspective toward acts of subtle/ overt racism and classism. That's what I would selfishly want to see in Portlandia. Go there! Don't just reinforce stereotypes of the white hipster!

P.s. I am wholly jealous of your Dale Cooper photo. . . I will love him forever.

I totally agree with

I totally agree with everything you said PLUS I don't think the show is nearly mean enough. But hey didn't you see the completely racist harujuku girls skit in the coffee shop? It was unfunny too! I'm tired of everyone loving this show! I sound like a crank for NOT liking it. Maybe it's just too hard to parody something that seems like a parody already? I don't understand who the show us meant for either--I think its white self identified 'hipsters' who enjoy a very gentle ribbing.....

harajuku, manga/anime culture and feminism

i was hesitant to watch the

i was hesitant to watch the show because, like you, i tend to not want to like things, or at least think they are just being over-hyped, if they seem too popular at all once. i have to say though since i have watched a few episodes on netflix, it is funny and i think the stereotypes can be applied to hipsters and hippies outside of Portland. I have never been to Portland, but I have meet a lot of people the characters make me think of.

i like a show that can make me laugh out loud, and even though there are some misses in their jokes, for a vegetarian, crazy dog momma, tattooed, not quite straight married gal, who has lived in Kentucky, Ohio, and now Colorado, the characters and jokes are ones I can relate to and feel good about a lot more than I can with most TV shows!

I love it.

The closest I (a lifelong Denver resident) have come to Portland is an ill-advised courtship with a man who WOULD NOT SHUT THE EFF UP about Portland, and perhaps that's why my love for the program so far is unbridled. It's not very close to my home, but the experience I had with an individual who couldn't make it through one activity in Denver without being critical, superior, or in some way obnoxiously bringing the convo back around to Portland's cultural hauteur left a bad taste in my mouth that is only starting to wash out with the self-critical irony of Carrie and Fred. I do have a friend (lesbian, chef) who went to culinary school in Portland (an education paid by a trust, as I understand it) who thinks the show uproarious.

Even though the show could be more ethnically diverse (but what show couldn't?), I've interpreted it as kind of a television version of "stuff-white-people-like," where it intentionally lampoons activities that white people conspicuously appropriate (such as tribal flavored self expression and art). Life as a conscientious white person IS something that hits close to home for me, but I still think the show successfully remarks on what it means to "feel enlightened" yet still be an indulgent jerk. For example I love the sketch where they're so concerned about where their chicken Collin comes from that they want to SEE the farm before ordering their lunch.... and also the one where the couple is outraged about someone tying their dog up outside a restaurant ("Who Does That?")

To me these are remarks that often come up when I'm discussing the often at-odds issues of sustainable food production and affordable food production. People like me (who can't afford free-range, organic, local blah blah blah food at every meal) get tired of accounting for our diets as a socio-economic issue, not necessarily because we just love "low-class" food.

My take on the show is that it's a light-hearted reckoning; comments on not just people in Portland, but people in every city who have annoyingly superior mindsets because their parents' contributions to their indulgent "starving artist" lifestyles make it possible to pursue hobbies they pass off as jobs. They could have called it Denverlandia and I would have recognized friends, exes, classmates, colleagues, and even myself (in my grandma's customized winged vintage frames).

And I would have laughed and laughed.

Season premiere

I live near Asheville. I picture the self-proclaimed cool people of Asheville watching the show, taking notes, going back to various scenes, and nailing cold everything in the scene. I watch the show wondering how some people in Asheville wish that they could imitate the entire thing.

I love the woman in the photo

I love the woman in the photo looking over Kyle's shoulder unhappily like she totally wishes she were the one taking a picture with him.

I "heart" Portlandia with no apologies

Even though I have never been to Portland (yet!), and while I agree with many things Kelsey said about <i>Portlandia</i>, I find this show to be much funnier and more enjoyable to watch than sitting through Fred Armisen’s <i>Saturday Night Live</i> every week (Ouch!). Yes, <i>Portlandia</i> is imperfect, but it seems that every show being produced under the system that is the “television industrial-complex” has persistent problems when it comes to producers/writers/show staff/cast/character diversity and portrayals of characters as tired old negative stereotypes. That said, we need to laugh at ourselves every so often, and <i>Portlandia</i> is one of those rare programs that is giving many of the “hipsters,” “white bearded men,” “aging hippies," and yes, feminists being skewered in this show permission to.

Racism = imperfect? O. Ok.

Racism = imperfect? O. Ok.

Honestly, I'm always up for a

Honestly, I'm always up for a good laugh. I found Porlandia and thought, "why not". Yet by the end of the first episode I was disgusted. I mean I enjoyed the part about the couple who went out of their way to check out the chicken they were going to eat. But what was up with the polygamist? Wasn't that creepy? I didn't think it was very funny. I shut it off.

I agree!

I'm a transplant-Portlandier (or whatever it's called) and I'm right there with you. The first 7 minutes of the show was amusing to me, by the end of the second episode I /despised/ it. I find the show to be mean-spirited and full of exaggerated portrayals and violent language. It will not be something I watch or support.

Um. For whatever it's worth

Um. For whatever it's worth Fred Armisen is actually mixed.

But hello passing privilege.

But hello passing privilege.

not ok

i wasn't going to comment on this, and I haven't read all the way through the comments so apologies if i'm duplicating this late in the game but this comment was really really upsetting to me.

the idea of throwing out a term like 'passing privilege' in a context like this is basically the equivalent of the mostly fictional schoolyard taunt 'that kid's acting white'. i don't know enough about fred armisen to know how he identifies or how he relates to the various cultures and ethnicities he is attached to by heritage, but you deciding that he doesn't look brown enough to you so he isn't brown is hugely problematic in large part because you're doing the thing that passing privilege is about ie defining someone's opportunities for action and access based on your perceptions of their race.

while i'm on a rant, and as a "quirky" poc, i actually really appreciate the fact that the show doesn't toss a couple of brown folks into the mix, but instead addresses the raced nature of the city by exaggerating it. rather than complain that portaldia doesn't have enough token brown folks in it why not complain about the fact that a primarily poc production would have a really really hard time getting made at all. why isn't there an oaklandia seems to me to be a better question than why aren't there any black dudes on fixies in the background of this show.

again sorry about the rant.

Well Mixed Means...Zilch

Race is not an indicator of the ability of a POC (People of Color) or non-POC person to write script or agree to act out uninformed or informed comedy including POC experiences.

Portlandia should def include the experiences of POC hipsters and it should stop including canned stereotypes of POC, especially black men and women thrown in here and there. It is lazy and I caught the bluff. Portlandia handles race no better or worse than Seinfeld, SNL, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Office, Parks & Rec, or Friends.

ie. It all sucks.

take it for what it is

I moved to Portland a year ago and found I fit in quite well, so a lot of the things Portlandia pokes fun at is pretty relevant to me. But it's a comedy show, not a reality show, so you just have to take it for what it is. I thought it was funny and weird, not necessarily representative of Portland. As a feminist myself, when they have poked fun at feminists, I found it mildly offensive but you have to admit some feminists (along with anyone in any counterculture group) are kind of ridiculous. I think it's good to laugh at yourself once in a while, because then it doesn't matter so much when other people do. That's just my thoughts on being a vegetarian feminist animal rights activist who hates corporations.

On the other hand, I can see how it might seem backstabbing or hypocritical, especially when they are representing the place you live and love. I have found though that people who are from here, a lot of them don't take it lightly. And I totally get that. But comedians do love to push people's buttons, and that's just what they're doing.

By the way - that's awesome you met Agent Cooper!!! I would have fainted.


I'm sorry. I've never been to portland. I live in Baltimore. The whole time I'm w.tching portlandia I am dying because of how true and close to home the show hits for me. Fem. Bookshops that are anything but welcoming sliing thetroat o its own movements. The, "this is over!" Counter rebellion. (Or.. you know.. your theory) I'm sure this is the same as any city that has a artschool and privledged white kids. Boo hoo. If it hurts. Its probabl true.

Wait. Other people agree with me.
This article is so over.

when i lived in p-town in the 90's.....

I wonder what they would have made the show about if it had been during that time. I guess looking in on the before-and-after during the nearly 2 decades I've lived in this town, I don't know what the huffing in all these comments is all about.

It cracks me up that there are people who are completely lost on the points in the article and seem impatient with the criticism that the town is depicted as a fairy tale town with no communities of color, no conflict, and no other demographic than the counterculture.

I understand that it's not a reality show, but then why is it a show about Portlandia? Why not just make up a town name even if Portland inspired the concept?

As a woman of color I feel invisible enough in this town, without having to think of the friends of mine who have been scattered by gentrification to the outlying areas or across the river to Washington state, and this show is a reflection of the town that it became after major gentrification transformations of the early 2000's.

Am I missing out?

I haven't had the chance to watch Portlandia yet, what with the no cable situation and very little interest in television.
But this is one that a really good number of friends have told me I need to watch.
Obviously, that never happened.
But I can't help but feeling like Im missing out on something after reading the wide array of comments here. Maybe not something good, but something.
or not.
Feeling ambivalent.

A Warm Cup of Vulva Love

Critiquing the Critique

I couldn't disagree more. I think Portlandia is highly aware of itself and manages to generate a really witty and often hilarious critique of white privilege within the framework of dominant liberal culture. The Harajuku skit was meant to make fun of American stereotypes of foreigners. It really had very little to do with Japanese people in my opinion, and more to do with the Americanized notions of Japanese culture. In other words, it was making fun of Americans. It is also important to note that Fred Armisen's mother is Venezuelan and his father is half Japanese, so I wouldn't necessarily call him "white." Also, Carrie Brownstein is bisexual and from a Jewish family, so... there's that.

The "Battlestar Galactica" scene that you refer to actually does tackle a racial divide in it's mockery of the character's trivial preoccupation when the two characters find themselves in the home of "Ronald D. Moore" who they mistake as one of the producers of the show by the same name. In the episode, "Ronald D. Moore" is actually a middle-aged black man who has no idea what they are talking about but agrees to help them write a new episode of Battlestar Galactica. So in that case, he does in fact participate in their quirky world, in spite of his wife's disapproval of their presence.

In any case, I think Portlandia is really meant for people liberal-minded people who can laugh at eachother and at themselves, applying humor to a culture that they may observe or may actually be a part of. There's a lot of self-critique happening and I think the evaluation of the show here is a little hyper-critical. One person claims that it "hits too close to home," and the next claims that it's a culture that "hasn't existed since the 90's." Everyone is of course entitled to their opinion but I think Portlandia is on point.

Funny because it is true

I really like the show for the most part. I think it is hilarious except sometimes when it is just not. But that is definitely not because I find it offensive at all. As a person of color who has lived in Portland I have to say that most people ARE white and Anglo Saxon in fact. It is the whitest city west of the Mississippi. When I first arrived I was surprised by the lack of racial AND cultural diversity despite hearing from several people that "Portland is sooo diverse." (I think they meant to say liberal.) It was shocking to me that there were very few defined ethnic neighborhoods. If there were to be a bunch of people of color on that show I would think that it was false and they were pretending that Portland is something that it is not. There is also a large part of the population that is between 25 and 35 years old so if I saw an array of ages, again I would think that they were falsely representing.

Despite the lack of diversity I still love Portland. It is a little bubble of "perfection" and I really enjoyed being in that bubble for the time that I was. Yes people were frequently shocked to find out I spoke a second language in my home growing up. Yes there were people that used ironic racism around or referencing me. Alternatively there were people that pretended our differences didn't exist, which I also find odd. But back here in a city that has a neighborhood for every country, I have had hipsters who try to inform me about my culture because they've lived in certain neighborhood for a few years or a few months. So what are you gonna do?

I love this review because

I love this review because its almost as if it was written by a character on the show. "I really almost like it but it's a little too popular and it's not critical enough of the white privilege and male oriented society."

Seriously they should make a sketch out of this review!

Race & Television: Portlandia Just Doesn't Get How to Do POC

In response to "for what it's worth he's mixed" (Armisen) and the overreaction to a comment on Armisen's passing privilege:
1. Fred Amisen is not black and he is 1/4 Japanese
2. Many viewers will likely see him as a white character
3. Being MIXED or a "PERSON OF COLOR" actor/creator/comic/paid entertainer....does not mean you ARE NOT
* a sell-out
* incapable of making funny and complex commentary on race and/or class inequity
* uninterested in pushing any envelopes of canned TV stereotypes of minorities
* making sense of stuff progressive POC people make sense of

The comment "for what it's worth he's mixed" is as useless as the "all my friends are black/white" comment.

Smart TV on race and class can be created by any self- or school- educated person or group of people.

Also, I'd love to see quirky hipster POC portrayed on Portlandia precisely because they DO EXIST and I would like to see the complexity and indeed comedic moments of existing as a POC hipster/quirky person intelligently portrayed.

There are moments in Portlandia that I notice the lack of skill the writers have for addressing race at all, which is why I have believed that I would rather watch an all white show versus a nearly all white show that features canned portrayals of angry ugly black women and lazy loud black men. Portlandia IS guilty of this ie. Battlestar episode...which is why I think maybe they should keep it all white if the writers can't handle real life situations and characters.

I watch with a cringe on POC handling just as I cringe for all other whitewashed everything on TV that marginalizes the marginalized with no representation or misrepresentation.

Add new comment