Sunday, January 23, 2011

Whither Portlandia?

Having watch one episode -- the first one, I think -- I thought Portlandia was funny here and there, but its flaw lies in its having anchored itself to Portland. While watching, I kept thinking, is this really a distinctively Portland phenomenon they're parodying? Is Portland the only place in the USA with people who are uptight about the ethics / politics of food served in a restaurant? Or the only place with lefty business establishments that can't quite decide if they're engaged in commerce or not? Really?

I kept thinking of, say, The Drew Carey Show. Did Clevelanders object to some of the material in that? Who knows? Who cares? It was centered on Carey and the other characters rather than the realities of Cleveland at the time, so it didn't matter if viewers could recognize or relate to its references to that city, nor did it especially matter if they held true. The same holds for, say, Seinfeld and New York City, or Scranton and The Office, and so on.

Portlandia has boxed itself in to a need to be pretty close to the mark with its portrayals of Portland's foibles, whereas parody and 'close to the mark' don't play well together. If they'd called it Hipster Town, they could have done all the same jokes in all the same settings and it wouldn't matter whether or how much it diverged from presenting Portland's distinctive qualities and flaws.

I do not mean to say that calling it "Hipster Town" would necessarily rescue the premise or the material based on it -- hipster is just a word that left-liberals use to give themselves permission to bitch about other left-liberals using the same terms conservatives use -- a way to parrot FauxNews-style reductionist, know-nothing swill without earning the contempt of civilized human beings. (Cf.).

Yawn.

(via Portland Mercury)

2 comments:

JEFFREY SCONCE said...

I would have to say, based on this one episode, that Portland and Austin, Texas are isomorphic replications of one another. Let's throw in Madison, Wisconsin while we're at it.

Dale said...

@Jeffrey Sconce, I've heard the same thing suggested, though I wonder how well it holds up. Austin and Madison seem to be the quaint little places that make Texas and Wisconsin slightly less embarrassing places to be from. The whole state of Oregon is a quaint little place in its own right, at least as viewed from the huge continuous dilapidated front porch of dueling banjoists known as "the flyover states." On this view, Portland is just its source of adorable quasi-urban grit.

Or so I assume. If I bothered to leave the Portland area with any regularity, or interact with people outside it other than to belittle their Facebook statuses, I might have a clearer perspective on it.

Really, though -- clear, even-handed perspectives are for suckers, no?

Thanks for the comment.