“Every time you point, I see a penis.”
This line from Portlandia’s genius sketch, Feminist Bookstore, is just one of the many outrageous exchanges between Toni and Candace, the two owners of “Women and Women First Bookstore” who happen to be the most extreme and comical illustrations of a feminist.
The Independent Film Channel’s Portlandia is a sketch comedy starring Carrie Brownstein and SNL’s Fred Armisen, who were also the creative minds behind the show. As assumed from the title, the show is filmed in Portland, Oregon and highlights many of the quirky landmarks around the city. Portlandia first aired on January 21st, 2011 and is going strong in its 5th season which is currently on air. There are several sketches that have consistent story lines from episode to episode, as well as some gems that only pop up once; but no matter the sketch, Fred and Carrie take the lead. This creates some very unique skits in which Fred and Carrie assume a somewhat unconventional character and or dress in drag.
Portland itself is a very notable location in queer culture. The city has adopted a fantastic stereotype of being the most alternative place in America, and is regarded as a safe space for any and all oddities. Natives have embraced the slogan “Keep Portland Weird,” which originally acted as a support to local businesses, however it has evolved into a mantra that encourages uniqueness and eccentric individuals. The city wholeheartedly falls under the category as a queer space.
It only makes sense that the show capitalizes on the alternative nature of Portland. Fred and Carrie, through the story they tell with their characters, truly bend the norm of our standard patriarchal society. One of the most extraordinary parts of the show is a sketch titled “Lance and Nina.” For starters, Fred and Carrie portray the role of a boyfriend and girlfriend, however Fred acts as Nina and Carrie as Lance. Besides being outrageously clever, this skit also highlights non-traditional relationships. Portlandia provides a really rare balance between bending the norms while still maintaining a realistic vibe that does not make the audience question the genuine nature of the sketch.
Portlandia uses stereotypes to its advantage in illustrating ridiculous customs. The theme of the “wedding” has made several appearances in the show, and essentially everything upper-middle class Americans know and love about weddings is thrown to the side. A clip titled “Gay Weddings” is the best example of Fred and Carrie ironically shutting down a heterosexual wedding for being too gay. This moment in the show ultimately poked fun at the bland standard for a “straight” wedding all in a hilarious one-minute video.
Portlandia is important in queer culture for many reasons already explained. But what makes the show stand out even more is that it aims to override many truths of our society through a light-hearted, comedic script. As Monique Wittig wrote in The Straight Mind, “(D)iscourses of heterosexuality oppress us in the sense that they prevent us from speaking unless we speak in their terms.” Portlandia uses a discourse that is fresh and does not seek to fit in any existing category.