Quicklet on Portlandia Season 2 (TV Show)

by Jonathan Kaufman Nathan

What's in the book?

Quicklets: Your reading sidekick!

    • About the Show: How a Couple of Grungy Slackers Grew Up To Be People Who Make Fun of Grungy Slackers
    • About Portlandia's Creators
    • General Summary
    • Episode-by-Episode Summary and Commentary
    • Portlandians: Recurring Characters of Portlandia
    • “We Can Pickle That!”: Portlandia Reimagines Its Own Themes Of Authenticity, Prevarication, and the Passage of Time
    • Fun Facts
    • Sources and Further Reading

Description

ABOUT THE BOOK

“I like to describe Portland as a city with a lot of self-esteem, filled with people with a lot of self-doubt. Portland is a really kind place, with all kinds of people who will go to tyrannical lengths to show you how kind they are, to the point that it actually feels kind of mean. I think a lot of our characters are trying to navigate that.”

Portlandia co-creator Carrie Brownstein, quoted in The Daily Beast

“You remember the 90s, when everyone was pickling their own vegetables, and brewing their own beer? People were growing out their mutton chops and waxing their handlebar moustaches. Everyone was knitting and sewing clothes for their children. People were wearing glasses all the time, like contact lenses had never been invented.”

“Wait, are we talking about the 1990s?” – Jason From LA and Melanie, Episode 5, “The Dream of the 1890s”

If you haven’t heard the joke, then you haven’t been going to the right bars in the right cities with the right people. Hang around enough cool, plugged-in, young, urban progressives - “hipsters,” as they’ve been termed in the last few years - and you’re bound to eventually meet a couple of them who are self-aware enough to have latched on to it. The joke is dry, bitter, self-deprecating. It indicts the entire hipster scene for a sin, one which is simultaneously inconsequential and monumental, that has characterized American progressives - young and old, hip and square, urban and rural - for decades.

“Hey, are you a hipster?”

“No.”

“OK, you’re a hipster.”

Hipsters are becoming notorious for their self-loathing. The internet is  lousy with Tumblrs, blogs, and entire websites dedicated to bashing the hipster phenomenon. But who are the people hanging out long enough to make all these observations in the Mission, in Williamsburg, in Silver Lake, in Wicker Park, in Capitol Hill? It generally takes one to know one, when it comes to hipsters, and the joke is that one of the first identifiers of a hipster is denial of membership in the group. It’s a social identity literally built around participants’ pretending to not be participants.

EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK

“Hey, are you a hipster?”

“No.”

“OK, you’re a hipster.”

Hipsters are becoming notorious for their self-loathing. The internet is  lousy with Tumblrs, blogs, and entire websites dedicated to bashing the hipster phenomenon. But who are the people hanging out long enough to make all these observations in the Mission, in Williamsburg, in Silver Lake, in Wicker Park, in Capitol Hill? It generally takes one to know one, when it comes to hipsters, and the joke is that one of the first identifiers of a hipster is denial of membership in the group. It’s a social identity literally built around participants’ pretending to not be participants.

It’s not new, this progressive self-hatred. Its roots run deep. Liberals have always seemed uneasy with their own ideals. Conservatives rarely engage in the same degree of public, brutal, hilarious, humiliating self-flagellation. Recent studies have confirmed that conservative politics are bolstered by what is termed “low-effort thinking.” Firmly attached to a relatively simple, black-and-white worldview, a conservative does not see enough complexity in the issues of the day to see the funny side of his or her own perspective. But philosophical self-mutilation is so deeply entrenched in the left that progressives even do it in their daily lives. They wryly adopt and self-apply the most insulting terms hurled at them from across the aisle. Bleeding heart. Flaming liberal. Treehugger. And so on and so forth.

The tendency has been brought once again to the foreground of the urban progressive conversation via the critically acclaimed IFC television show Portlandia. The program kicked off with a strong mission statement in its opening sketch, “Dream of the 90s.” In that sketch, show creators, stars, and producers Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein put their own audience on notice to prepare to be skewered for all their peccadilloes, from tattoos to chronic unemployment.

And make no mistake: it was, and is, their own audience that they blast the hardest. This is not a show that speaks to everyone. It speaks in code, and only to those who are familiar with its language. Hog farmers in Kansas aren’t likely to get a big kick out of a comedy sketch about a feminist bookstore in Northeast Portland. Plumbers in rural Pennsylvania probably don’t identify much with a guy who can’t stop compulsively checking his iPad.

Like the hipster movement it ridicules, Portlandia has its roots in the early 1990s - the Grunge Era. After early innovators like Mudhoney and Tad paved the way, the blockbuster triumvirate of Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains ruled MTV and college radio for half a decade, with Pearl Jam going on to even greater, and more sustained success. Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater made films that idealized underemployment and post-high-school doldrums. Quentin Tarantino pioneered a schizophrenic, heavily referential style of film that seemed designed to mimic the long, drawn-out, conversations of a group of stoned young film buffs with nothing to do and too big of a videotape collection.

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