There’s an almost hilarious lack of self-awareness being displayed by the west coast hipsters angered by Portlandia’s mocking of their “so liberal to the point of annoyance” culture. It is true that the sketch comedy show, currently in the middle of its second season on the Independent Film Channel (appropriately enough), derives basically all of its humor by combining the Portland indie culture with a kind of low-key absurdity. However, it’s a really knowing self-mockery that ultimately comes from an affectionate place. It’s also just really funny.
The show is the brainchild of SNL mainstay Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, whose Washington State alt-rock background should serve as the biggest clue that this isn’t a right-leaning show. The best thing to compare it to is probably BBC’s “Little Britain” in that it’s a sketch comedy show centered on a certain region and featuring recurring characters. Then again, most people aware of that show probably don’t need “Portlandia” explained to them.
To the outside observer, “Portlandia” portrays the city as a sort of more desperate San Francisco, filled with the same kind of smug, tree-hugging people but without the cool urbanity and historic sites. However, one gets the sense that people actually from the city would get the most out of it. They would recognize all of the sights and appreciate all of the ridiculously specific references like adult leagues for children’s games or an ad agency’s office called “The Basket.” They would get a hoot out of watching their actual mayor play the assistant to his fictionalized, reggae bassist counterpart. It’s a shame that these people apparently have a hard time laughing at themselves; otherwise, they’d see how funny it is watching Aimee Mann and Sarah McLachlan talk about their lives in the service industry.
There’s a legitimate argument to be made that perhaps “Portlandia’s” central joke is a bit one-note. The first season alone though has already come at the idea that “in their own special way people from Portland are so terrible it’s funny” from so many inventive angles that it doesn’t yet feel stale in the slightest.
It seems that it’s not a thing white people like but rather a thing people who like Stuff White People Like… like.