Portlandia: Why am I so defensive?

Listen, I don’t even watch TV, except the occasional episode via Hulu.

But, when a new series comes along set right here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s impossible to not hear about it, and when everyone around me is talking about this great new thing, I have to admit that I invariably cave and at least check it out. (Sometimes it sticks and I’m hooked: 30 Rock. Sometimes it doesn’t: Modern Family.)

Anyway….(geez! sometimes I even get tired of how long I take to get to the point)…I’ve now watched the inaugural episode of the new comedy series Portlandia, starring SNL’s Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein of Wild Flag and Sleater-Kinney fame, which is set…painfully obvious…in Portland, Oregon, and while I laughed heartily throughout, I had a curious delayed reaction.

This morning, Salon has an article posted titled Can The Left Laugh At Itself?, and the premise of the article is summed up nicely at the very end:

Armisen and Browstein’s masterstroke is showing how certain flavors of modern leftist sensitivity/engagement can seem (to outsiders) like passive-aggressive self-absorption laced with contempt for the unenlightened.

Now, I can get behind the value of an ego check for us well-meaning lefties, and I realize that the best comedy makes us laugh when we recognize peculiarities, not just of others, but of ourselves.

However, I have to say that I did find my defenses rearing up as I watched the show and read reviews that applaud the lampooning of the left. I very clearly saw aspects of myself in the show’s characters, folks who are earnestly trying to be part of the solution rather than the problem, by buying local, buying organic, eschewing their cars in favor of bicycles and transit, challenging our culture’s tendency towards homogenization by exercising their right to adopt an alternative, non-9-to-5-ladder-climbing lifestyle, etc. In my mind, we need more people like this, and if we are marginalized we’re in deep trouble.

Hilariously, the Salon writer has me pegged:

The series rather pointedly teases a core section of IFC’s audience — a portion that will watch Armisen and Brownstein’s antics very closely, with an eye for accuracy, and then either roar with recognition and approval, or go on the Internet immediately and write a blog entry about how “Portlandia” doesn’t get Portland, or Oregon, or feminist bookstores or urban bike culture.

Now, I laughed a lot as I watched the show, and I’ve watched the clip of just the opening song, The Dream of the 90s Is Alive In Portland, numerous times because it’s so freaking funny, so it doesn’t seem like my sense of humor is lacking.

Rather, it’s impossible for me, a 46-year old lefty, to watch Portlandia and not think about how soundly the 60s counterculture had its ass kicked by anti-hippie backlash, by many in the movement hypocritically transforming from hippie into yuppie, and how lefties are still so easily marginalized and dismissed by the right simply by calling them liberals.

Additionally, it seems all the more concerning to me that, in the case of Portlandia, young artists like Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, who have both been part of the counterculture dream of the 90s, might be contributing to their own marginalization, rather than letting the right do all the work.

So, I’ll definitely be watching more episodes, and I’d really love to hear what other lefties think about the mixed feelings I’ve expressed here. I mean, I’m always open to good reasons to lighten up.

In the meantime, I think I’ll watch the video of that opening song one more time.

2 thoughts on “Portlandia: Why am I so defensive?

  1. Enjoyed reading that post! I haven’t seen Portlandia yet. I wanted to say that I recognize that feeling of ambivalent humor from other setting and occasions – I get the joke but I worry that others will be laughing at this for all the wrong reasons.

    1. Thanks for the comment and for stopping by Fish & Bicycles.

      Yeah, you’ve reminded me that there was something else I’d planned to include in this post, but it got lost in the shuffle.

      This topic reminds me of Jewish jokes. Why? Because Jewish jokes are funny to me when I hear them told by fellow Jews, but when non-Jews tell Jewish jokes I instantly think, “Anti-Semite!” (I’m sure that other groups who are butts of jokes have the same experience, so just substitute Irish, blondes, Catholics, etc., for Jews.)

      So, by that logic, if only lefties watched Portlandia, then I wouldn’t be bothered by the self-deprecating jokes at all.

      There’s definitely something not right about that.

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