It may have lost the zeitgeist, but if there’s one thing Portlandia still does well, it’s naming — and then lampooning — very specific subcultures. Though the show is often pegged as a parody of hipsters, it deserves credit for not only isolating the many different types of human who tend to get lazily grouped under that heading, but also venturing far beyond it. In honor of last night’s Season 5 finale, in which weirdos nearly took the fall for the eco-terrorists’ attack on Bryce and Lisa’s taxidermy shop, we present a field guide to the diverse, bizarre, and familiar subcultures of Portlandia.
As we learned this season, weirdos live in the hills, obsess over death, dress like Hot Topic mannequins, and are convenient scapegoats whenever a particularly perverse-sounding crime is committed. They are, perhaps, a subset of goths, albeit one whose heyday seems to have come and gone in the late ’90s.
Fond of punk-signifying body modification, Critical Mass rides, caps with comically short brims, and shouting obscenities at the slightest provocation, bike supremacists can’t believe the human race has thus far failed to acknowledge bicycles as the one true mode of transportation. And they hate cars. Well, until they have to buy one.
One part Pussy Riot, one part Rookie fashion spread, two parts bored kids looking for a good party, Portland’s very own ecoterrorists are here to protest animal testing… or put on a puppet show. They’re here to take down SeaWorld… or just find a good party. And some of them (all of them, probably) are some smug, idiotic bourgeois couple’s star-student daughter.
You’ve heard of armchair activists. Well, Toni and Candace are bookstore feminists: they’re perfectly capable of holding their own as women in the world of corporate publishing, but since finding each other a few decades ago, the women have been content to run a dazzlingly inefficient woman-oriented bookshop. You can’t say they’re not doing it their way.
And then there are the male feminists: men who go out of their way to ask women whether they’re doctors, instead of gawking at their pretty hair. Or something. In any case, Doug’s generous willingness to be financially supported by Claire surely qualifies him as a great defender of women’s rights.
In Portland, artisanal fever has spread all the way to the realm of knot-making, and spawned an entire subspecies of citizen: the fully artisanal human, a classic hustler with a PhD in arts and crafts. After chirping into our lives with “Put a Bird on It!,” Bryce and Lisa delved into pickling. They rented it out. And, of course, they went into the taxidermy business — a venture that ended tragically.
Portland is a progressive place where gender roles are fluid to nonexistent — except in the motorcycle-riding, rockabilly fashion-tinged world of Nina and Lance, where men (played by women) are men and women (played by men) are women. She’s a bit of a princess. He’s a tough guy who works with his hands and fears commitment. And it all feels very 1950s, in a self-aware, retro sort of way.
Now that everyone’s ruining their life binge-watching Battlestar Galactica, the members of the Portland Nerd Council want their fellow citizens to know that real nerds aren’t highly attractive people who happen to wear glasses. They’re shy, not sexy, and “get sick with fear talking to people.” Got that?
In our world of constant connectivity and 70-hour work weeks, there’s something aspirational about the dreadlocked, panhandling gutterpunk lifestyle — especially when your fellow travelers-on-foot happen to also come from obscenely rich families.
Last but certainly not least: Portland’s most literally underground subculture.