Best of Fish & Bicycles: Portlandia: Why Am I So Defensive?

Originally Published: January 20, 2011

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.

3 thoughts on “Best of Fish & Bicycles: Portlandia: Why Am I So Defensive?

  1. Interesting! I’ve heard a lot about this series, and have meant to watch it. We don’t have cable and I rarely watch TV, but while my sister was here over Thanksgiving, she signed me up for a trial period on Netflix. I haven’t used it much, but I will see if it features “Portlandia,” and if it does, I will watch it and get back to you.

  2. When I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Thanks

    1. Hmmmmm. I just emailed you and the email bounced back.


      I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been experiencing issues with the
      notification system as it regards a comment you submitted at my blog. I
      know how annoying unwanted email can be!

      The problem you are experiencing sounds really strange to me for two
      reasons: 1.) I only received one comment on that post, and it doesn’t
      appear to be from you. Could you double check the title of the post? 2). I
      have no idea why you would receive four copies of the emails.

      That whole system is automated by WordPress, so I don’t personally send
      those emails.

      I’ve scoured the settings for my blog, looking for something I can do about
      this, but I don’t see anything that allows me to unfollow people who have
      chosen to follow my blog or who asked to be notified of responses to a
      specific post.

      The only thing I can think of that you could try on your end:

      1. In the Dashboard for your blog, in the upper part of the
      left sidebar under “Dashboard”, go to: Blogs I Follow.

      2. You can now choose between: “Sites”, “Comments”, “Pending”, and
      “Settings”. Choose “Comments”.
      3. Find the comment on Fish & Bicycles, check the checkbox next to it, from
      the “Bulk Actions” drop down menu at the top select “Unfollow” and then
      click on Apply.

      Another, more extreme option, which will block all emails sent by

      1. Go here:!/read/subsettings/

      2. Check the checkbox next to “Block Emails”
      3. Click on Save Settings

      Other than that, I’m out of ideas and you might have to contact support here:

      Again, sorry about the inconvenience.

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