Ask a Portland native about Portlandia and you’ll probably get the same sort of response you’ll get from asking a Brooklyn native about Girls or, a decade ago, a Manhattan resident about Sex and the City — a weary sigh, and perhaps a suggestion that the show has played a pretty large part in ruining the city it’s supposed to be depicting. At least one Portland institution has lost patience with the show entirely: In Other Words, the real-life bookstore that’s used as the setting for the recurring feminist bookshop skit on the show, which has apparently had a sign proclaiming “FUCK PORTLANDIA” in its window for several months.
Yesterday it posted an explanation for the sentiment on its website, along with the news that it has cut ties with the show completely. The statement doesn’t pull any punches — it accuses Portlandia of being “trans-antagonistic and trans-misogynist,” and complains that “we are paid a small flat fee per episode filmed at In Other Words, [which] does not cover the profits lost by our having to remain closed for filming.” It also notes that “there are no Black people on Portlandia. There are a tiny number of people of color on Portlandia. Portland is white but it’s not that damn white.”
Reactions to the post have been mixed — The AV Club, for instance, noted that the complaints “[come] from a feminist, white-owned bookstore that, however progressive and well-intentioned, moved into its cheaper, historically black neighborhood.” (The AV Club’s report also notes that local paper Willamette Week‘s attempts to get In Other Worlds to comment further “were answered first with demands that the paper promote its online fundraising campaign”, and after this demand was declined, the store responded by claiming, “your paper has absolutely zero journalistic professionalism and you are scummy rape apologists.” None of this is an especially good look, it has to be said.)
In your correspondent’s opinion, it’s also kinda questionable to conclude that the show is trans-misogynistic because it features Fred Armisen playing a woman. The bookstore’s statement addresses this issue as follows:
‘LOL Fred Armisen in a wig and a dress’ is a deeply shitty joke whose sole punchline throws trans femmes under the bus by holding up their gender presentation for mockery and ridicule. In a world where trans femmes – particularly Black trans women – are being brutalized and murdered on a regular basis for simply daring to exist, dude in a dress jokes are lazy, reactionary, and actively harmful. They’re also just straight up not funny.
The store is correct that trans women are subject to a constant barrage of violence, aggression and hatred for the simple fact of their existence, but it seems a rather egregious misreading of the sketch in question to suggest that its “sole punchline” is “‘LOL Fred Armisen in a wig and a dress’” — if anything, there’s an argument to be made that throwing around such accusations on a pretty tenuous basis only serves to trivialize actual transphobia and trans-misogyny.
Anyway, depending on your point of view, this statement is either a case of a small business owner either taking a stand against the show’s failings, or something that does a pretty good job of reinforcing the exact reputation for humorlessness that the skit was satirizing in the first place. We’ll leave it to you to decide — in the meantime, though, if you’re still watching Portlandia (and presumably someone is?), you’ll have to do without the feminist bookstore. Blame it on the patriarchy, I guess.