Without a doubt, Portlandia is very popular. It has driven a massive influx of people to this area not as tourists, but to live. I’m not going to mince words here: Portlandia has damaged this area and given fans a strong sense of entitlement.
The latest news, which is finally starting to break into the mainstream today, but has been known locally for a couple days, is that In Other Words, a small, local bookshop that has contractually allowed filming there for the last six years, has cut the show off entirely.
Let’s back up a bit and head back to the beginning.
When this show first started, the economy of Portland was balanced in such a way that young people could come here and survive without needing to work to the bone. Feminists had a home, transgender folks had a home, book-lovers had a mecca, and there was a general sense of calm. Sure, there was a stereotype about this area that it’s a bunch of hick lumberjacks, stereotype so close to the mark that there’s still pride in mustaches and flannel, but marginalized groups weren’t the butt-end of jokes. The locals have long taken pride in supporting craft breweries, artisans who create in their attics, bookstores that can’t afford to sell below sticker price, and lots of authors who hail from this area. Despite its imperfections, Portland was a land where creative types had an outlet and the time to make things, and there were plenty of people willing to keep money local by supporting them.
Then Portlandia came along, and, “from a place of trust,” was granted access to some small independent store. However, even from the early days of the show, it was know that “the fact that it is a spoof might not always be clear.” That starts the problem
Frasier is a semi-local show, having been set in Seattle. The show was cleverly written to ensure the audience knew that the butt-end of the jokes were the socially-inept, rich, out-of-touch Crane brothers, and that they and their ensemble were not representative of your typical Seattle resident. Frasier didn’t make Seattle a trendy place to live because the jokes were very much kept focused on a very small ensemble, and ultimately could have taken place in almost any other large city.
When it comes to Portlandia, though, “[a]re we laughing at Portland, or laughing with it?” (This article gets something wrong that we now know to be horrifically wrong, which will be addressed below.)
Portlandia differs in that the primary two, Fred and Carrie, are meant to represent actual locals. The people who reside in this area are the ones to be laughed at. We, the citizens that the show relies on to exist at all, were to be “gently” mocked for the progressive things that make this place different, such as concern for the environment and acceptance and protection of marginalized groups of people whose very existence results in less than equal privilege, including transgender people, blacks people, poor people, and women. In school, mocking the different kid is seen as bullying. On television, it’s seen as worthy of Emmies and Peabodies while the groups of people who have been historically treated as second class, beaten, raped, and killed are told that it’s just a joke.
It goes beyond this, into a sort of harm that race, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity can’t protect the locals from. It’s not just hurt feelings or fueling bigotry anymore.
Jake Stein of Arts.Mic claimed that publicity is publicity, and that it can only be good because he claimed to see an economic boost to the city. His example of this is a bike tour of downtown Portland. Frankly, it takes financial privilege to be able to make this claim now. Already, at the time of his article, real estate was rising, and problems were brewing.
Perhaps the most tangible way Portlandia has hurt Portland through its brutal mockery is that the locals now seem like silly side show attractions in a land of amazing breweries and coffee, which has driven a massive influx of people to this area to chase down the Portlandia life. One such episode was even a native advertisement meant to plant the seed of utilizing Zillow to buy homes in Portland. It’s not a laughing matter when 58,000 people move to one city in one year (July 2014-June 2015), and that is largely being driven by people who believe that Portlandia is how Portland really is, to the point that real estate agents use the show to draw people here.
Ah, but that must mean good stuff for the economy! Well, no. Let’s say each of those 58k people in one year are broken into family units of six. Yes, that’s large, but it still leaves a need for about 10,000 units. How many cities have 10,000 vacant apartments of any size, vacant houses of any size? What this causes is a housing shortage, and a housing shortage means that prices go up. This is just one year. Since Portlandia started such a boom here, we’ve had a few more years with that kind of growth. There hasn’t been time for developers to buy up enough adjacent single-family homes to tear down and put high-rises on. So up, up, up with the prices. From November 2014 to November 2015, Portland rental rates went up 11.1%. This isn’t a one-year event since Portlandia happened. Rents are still rising at a nauseating rate. And still rising with no end to it in sight. But wages didn’t increase. In fact, the influx meant that locals were more desperate for work, resulting in employers knowing if one person didn’t take that undesirable job at minimum wage, there were fifty others who would. Ah, but it’s the Portlandia experience. How quaint. How cute. At last for those who chose to come here to chase the Portlandia dream and can leave.
Minimum wage of $9.75 an hour doesn’t cover the median rent, $1,662, of a Portland apartment. Transplants who come here to buy while working at a remote firm in San Francisco or Manhattan, or trust fund brats, don’t need to worry about this. For the locals, it creates the requirement of two jobs if you want to eat as well as pay the rent. For the locals, the rising rents and not enough jobs has resulted in something called urban camping becoming legal. The solution, thus far, has merely been to make it legal to sleep on sidewalks. Urban camping. Such a trendy name that I’m surprised the show hasn’t run with it yet and skewered homeless people, many who have jobs, but can’t afford to compete with wealthy yuppy fans.
It’s easy for Portlandia co-creator Carrie Bownstein to claim that “Portlandia is a mindset” to handwave the show’s effect on the area. In fact, I admit that, when I read that, I mentally slapped her for her claim that she’s “annoyed” that a show that was created to skewer Portland is being seen as a show about skewering Portland.
I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in. She’s annoyed that the show she co-created for one thing is doing that one thing.
I can’t even.
Prior to being made the butt of jokes, Portlanders were on with life and the delicate balance between creation and survival. But Portlandia just had to mock the city in a harmful way that put it on the map, made it trendy, and Carrie Brownstein dismisses it.
Well, it should come as no surprise that In Other Words finally had enough with the anti-feminism, painting feminists as bitches and demoting transgender women to mocked men in drag to make transgendered people and women into jokes. I have to many posts on this blog to start linking to to demonstrate why this is an issue that angers me so much. Suffice it to say that we women are already seen as property to be had and raped and judges will ask why we didn’t keep our knees closed, and transgender people are still fighting to be seen as their gender with judges humiliating them in courtrooms.
Based on the store’s posts and above-linked articles, the final straw was when the show demanded the removal of a Black Lives Matter sign in the store. In Other Words is in an area with a higher percentage of black people. Removing that sign because a show about Portland doesn’t want to acknowledge Portland and the people in the direct vicinity of the store didn’t sit well with anyone. So In Other Words kicked the show out.
But would you believe that this damage and insult isn’t the end of it? The straw that caused me to decide to address this mess was after reading comments on Facebook by non-local fans who say that “bitchy feminists” standing up for marginalized people “proves” that the show is right about Portland, and that the owners of the bookstore are just pissed that people here aren’t reading books anymore, and the store and people here need to shut up because it’s funny stuff.
Well, nothing I’ve posted about, real things that people here are dealing with, is funny. There’s nothing funny about people losing homes and having their identities turned into jokes. There’s nothing funny about fans of the show thinking they’re entitled to laughs at the expense of people telling people to stop. Jokes and teasing are only fun if everyone involved is genuinely enjoying it. Well, Portland’s not enjoying it. My friend and her young son who lost their home literally just last night aren’t enjoying that they can’t find housing. The artists who are being priced out by transplant yuppies aren’t enjoying it.
And I can tell you, personally, that locals sure as hell aren’t enjoying people who have, at most, visited downtown once upon a time telling us online what people do or don’t do here based on a harmful show.
We sure aren’t finding it funny when we’re told, when trying to set the record straight in self-defense, that we’re delusional. I won’t even quote what someone said to me when I responded to his comment about In Other Words just being mad that people here don’t read anymore, but it ended with me, after bringing up Powell’s and the booming author scene, being dog-piled by people claiming that I just don’t want to see Portland for how it really is, that Portland is too like Portlandia or else it wouldn’t be so funny and Carrie Brownstein, who lived here for a while, wouldn’t have set the show here. (Carrie doesn’t live here now, and isn’t the one living with the damage she’s causing.)
Portlandia has, among other things, set the people here up in such a way that we either stay quiet and let women and transgender people be made into jokes, or, if we speak up, we look bad for it because we’re “being just like the show” and making Portlandia more real and funny.
Portlandia has set Portland up to lose. In Other Words:
To disclose: I am not upset over housing instability of my own or anything. My life is remarkably unaffected, all things considered. I own a large home thanks to generous assistance from my mother-in-law, we are food-secure, my daughter has privileges few kids in the US are fortunate enough to have, and I don’t have to work for an income for us to be stable, which means I an fortunate enough to work on artistic endeavors. It’s not from a personal place that this show angers me, but from a human one. Bad things happen, and are allowed to keep happenings, when those who are privileged enough to be above personal harm stay silent instead of using our privileges to help others. So think twice before calling me “butthurt” or something. And if you want to call me an SJW-feminist-bitch-taco again, then that’s a badge of honor.