Portlandia Redux

Just about a year ago, I wrote about my mixed reactions to the then-new IFC comedy series Portlandia, written by and starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein.

Well, thanks to Netflix, I’ve since watched all six episodes from the first season, I’ve overcome my initial knee-jerk defensiveness, and I can’t wait to see season two.

Just yesterday, I read a great interview with Armisen and Brownstein in Salon, as well as a long feature article on Brownstein in the current New Yorker, and I’m incredibly impressed by how smart and talented they are.

As I wrote last year, the defensiveness I felt initially was rooted in my feelings that many if not most of the progressive causes and lifestyle choices being lampooned in Portlandia are actually critically important movements for the long-term survival of human beings. I’d already lived through the tragic death of the counterculture of the late 1960s, and I felt really uncomfortable with the stereotyping and making fun of progressive people, which could serve to marginalize them, creating a real barrier to the growth of important movements like organic farming, local living economies, alternative transportation, sustainability, etc.

But watching past the first episode, it became clear to me that there is a gentleness to the fun being poked at alternative culture in Portlandia, rather than some vicious attack, and there’s a key part of the Salon interview that speaks to this:

There’s this gentle mocking of these groups, but we all consider ourselves part of them at the same time. Do you ever feel pushback? The well-meaning and the earnest are used to being applauded; they’re not necessarily used to being made fun of by their heroes from indie-rock and comedy…

CB: Right. You know, I think it is hard, because I think there’s an inherent sensitivity that I know that I possess, and I think Portland and cities and communities of its ilk also possess this kind of hyper-sensitivity. I think that’s part of what makes us tick — this constant self-reflectiveness, and self-awareness. And so yeah, to have it come back at you on television, I think might be weird. But I also think that I am so much from this world, and I think it seems more like part of a conversation. We’re not talking at people; I feel like we’re sort of engaged in this conversation that people are having anyway. So I haven’t felt a lot of backlash, even though I’m sure there’s….

A Tumblr blog about how “Portlandia” is hurting the world…

CB: I’m sure it exists. And if I want to cry for the next hour, I can probably go online and find some anonymous commenter somewhere and make myself feel really shitty. But yeah, I think for the most part, the show is earnest — or, I should say, it’s not cynical — which I think helps people relate to it. It’s not a cynical show. We’re trying to be specific; we’re not trying to be realistic. I think there’s a difference. And I think you just can’t worry about insulting people with what you create. If you start at a place where you’re considering your audience’s feelings, you’re already stuck. You’ve already lost. So I think the idea is just to put something out there that hopefully people can relate to, and not worry about whether they’re going to be angry, or not get it. And hopefully, not everyone will get it. I’ve never liked things that are benign — or banal. So, I’m OK with it. Haters, hate on.

FA: I get confused, too. You know, we shot this one thing, in season one, where I was in this “technology loop,” where I had my iPad and everything else out. We wrote it as this sketch, but I straight-up do that all the time. I’ll sit on my couch, and I have every device out, and it’ll make perfect sense to me. That’s where it gets blurry, because it’s like, are we making fun of anything? Or are we just — it’s just ourselves, really.

It’s kind of refreshing when you think about it. Two big stars who see the humor in their own idiosyncrasies and the culture they call home, a kind of defense against hubris, really.

Count me in as a fan!

3 thoughts on “Portlandia Redux

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