Portlandia – Disinformation at its finest

Posted by Rob Noble on March 11, 2011

So Portlandia’s gone until next season, with IFC promising ten more episodes of the Fred Armisen/Carrie Brownstein sketch “comedy” show next January.  I’m going to put comedy in quotes here, because “mostly improv with wildly varying degrees of actual writing” is too wordy, and might make me look like a douche.  Portland’s reaction to Portlandia was mixed at best, with episodes 1, 4 and 5 being pretty good, and episode 6 being the worst. Some folks I know decided to dislike the very idea of Puddletown’s hipster intelligentsia making fun of itself, but most people decided to dislike it on its own merits.  “If it ain’t funny, it’s no good.”

But maybe that was the point?

There’s an old and oft-cited belief that the CIA was the original distributor of The Anarchist’s Cookbook.  Despite the best efforts of the original author, William Powell, this piece of agitprop has been an evergreen at indie bookstores and alt. co-ops for a good 40 years (even though, despite its storied tips and recipes, this tome is surprisingly useless in the hands of America’s would-be domestic terrorists.)  Really, the thing is chock FULL of terrible ideas that would actually embarrass or harm anyone who tried implementing them.  Ergo, some folks (such as the authors of Recipes for Disaster: An Anarchist Cookbook) feel pretty strongly that the whole thing’s bullshit.  To quote from RfD:

“it was barely a cookbook, as the recipes in it are notoriously unreliable. At best, it was a fraud, a spoof; at worst, an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of anarchist practice, and cause readers to injure themselves”

It was spread as disinformation to make the curious lose interest as quickly as possible.  And as far as I’m concerned, Portlandia falls pretty squarely in this camp.   When the show was first announced, I fell into the skeptical-to-critical camp.  And then I saw this, and my heart melted:

I lived in Portland in the 90’s , and it was exactly like this. Value Village became a meat market and anyone with enough cash to rent a mildew-coated crumbler in SE Portland or Alberta could safely coast towards their 30’s on nothing more than a Schwinn 3-speed and some performance art. I wasn’t entirely pre-sold, but damn that song bought a lot of good will.  Maybe it couldn’t keep the quality that high, but it’s only six episodes.  The gold-to-crap ratio couldn’t be that bad

And then the six completed episodes aired, and nobody I knew thought it made Portland, or its media-savvy denizens look good.  It made us look bad.  And not in a “we’re insufferable” way, or that we have no sense of humor about ourselves.  It made us look bad because the characters Fred and Carrie (but mostly Fred) played were unrecognizable to anyone who hadn’t suffered through a shit-ton of bad improv classes. Real Portlanders stood to the side, gawking, while the two stars looked for the joke in the locations (a feminist bookstore? Hilarious!) and the characters (those people are annoying everyone at the park!), and came up mostly empty-handed.

So as far as I can tell, the real reason Portlandia was broadcast to a country seemingly insatiable for all things Stumptown is this: We’re full of awful people. Don’t come.  Someone somewhere decided our best bet was to poison the well.  And in that, it’s genius. Former Governor Tom McCall once said to curious out-of-towners “Welcome to Oregon. Now leave.”  Sadly, that advice has withered in the past half-decade, with the Creative Class overflowing our streets and douching it up left and right and center.  So maybe Portlandia‘s carefully crafted awfulness can help kill the fetish-like love the rest of the country feels for us (I’m looking at you, New York Times).  One can only hope.

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