Portlandia–Portland as a flannel-clad slacker’s Paradise

(c) Scott Green / IFC

by Nils Grube

At Portlandia – a new comedy series made its debut this January on IFC –  the two protagonists Fred Armisen (comedian of Saturday Night Live and the creator of the series) and Carrie Brownstein (guitarist and singer of the Portland based and 2006 broke up rock band Sleater Kinney) present in six episodes with six different couples of characters their comic version of the counterculture of Portland, Oregon.  Portlandia shows Portland as “a flannel-clad slacker’s paradise where young people go to retire”, a place where the dream of the 90’s is still alive – whatever this means – just have a look at the series introductional video clip:

It is always a risky proposition when anyone tries to codify the spirit of a proudly independent, nonconformist scene” mentions Dave Iztkoff in his article for the New York Times . But Portlandia has found a good way to deal with that.

As a musician and co-director of  the nonprofit feminist book store and community center In Other Words (by the way also the  setting for a scene in the first episode) Carrie Brownstein is also kind of Portlandia: “She’s going to be careful in the way she represents us because, inherently, she’s part of the community,” said Julie Park-Williams, a board member of In Other Words. “She comes from a place of trust.”

On the other hand the creators of Portlandia not really intend to give real view on Portland. “It’s not funny or that interesting to make a documentary about Portland,” Carrie Brownstein said. “One’s interpretation of it is far more magical and curious than what actually exists there.”

“Can a City This Self-Serious Take a Joke? “ That is the question William Yardley tries to answer after the kick off of the first episode of Portlandia. From his point of view there are differences between the inside view on the city and the nation wide image. “For years, many residents here have reacted with practiced apathy and amusement toward the national fascination with Portland. Outsiders and media critics have glowed over everything from its restaurants to its ambitious transit system of streetcars and light rail.“ The TV show pick up this image and exaggerate it: “Yet with Portlandia, the flattery has given way to mockery, however gently executed, of this liberal city’s deliberate differentness.”

Portlandia is hardly Portland.

The show has limits as social science, sure. Even if many parts of Portland could feel like “one big group hug” (Yardley) and the city has drawn in recent years a disproportionate amount of young people: Portland is – like many others cities –  also a place which is struggling with government budget cuts, manufacturing losses and the housing downturn.

“I love this show because this is how real born Portlanders look at all of you that moved here since 1998” one person wrotes in a comments forum in The Oregonian. Certainly the latest Portland enthusiasm is as ridiculous as most trends. But Armisen and Brownstein have found the best format to bring this unlikely hype about the uneventful of the city to a wider audience.

More about Portlandia and possible connections to the “real” city:

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