For the better part of a decade my family and my students have continuously asked me (a UArts grad., who cites The Smiths and Belle & Sebastian as his two favorite bands, and who says things like “In film, there was before Breathless and there was after Breathless.”) “What is a hipster?” Portlandia is what a hipster is. Okay, so I may avoid admitting to being one myself (you can make the call), but I have certainly had more than my share of experiences with them. I know people who volunteer at a feminist bookstore without a computer system (The “store,” does have one computer, situated to be used by customers, known as “The People’s Computer.”)… people who work at an ad agency and spend the better part of their days playing team-building exercises with Pilates balls… people who are too “punk” to sit anywhere but on the table… people who will only eat food if it’s from a dumpster… I even know people who were once in an adult, intramural hide and seek league (okay… it was kickball, but whatever).
Earlier this year 1/3rd of Sleater-Kinney (Carrie Brownstein) and some guy from SNL (Fred Armisen) premiered their sketch comedy project, Portlandia, on IFC (Which was on its last legs, having decided that indie cinema would be so much better, if only it included commercials… oh and that movies like Johnson Family Vacation are “indie cinema.”) Portlandia tells the tales of the residents of Portland, Oregon (or the PDX, for those especially in-the-know), a town comprised of a hyperreal concoction of indie-dom that is hard to believe is actually a living and breathing manifestation of a half-of-one-dimensional cliché. Brownstein, a PDX local, actually pulls no punches, blood-thirstily mocking all of those things to which she owes her success… and it’s likely the most poignant portrayal of those things to ever grace mainstream media. The series pulls stars from both the indie community (Gus Van Sant, Corin Tucker, Colin Meloy) and the mainstream (Selma Blair, Aimee Mann, Kyle MacLachlan) to poke fun at pretty much everything that’s ever been considered “hip.”
Well, the new season premieres in January and the first season is out this week on DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, courtesy of VSC. I feel as though any type of summarizing or critiquing of individual narratives wouldn’t do the show justice. But if you’ve ever wondered what it meant to be hip, this is it. For those of you who can name a dozen Sleater-Kinney songs off the top of your head, this is likely the funniest thing you’ll see this century that doesn’t fall into the category of Mumblecore. For those of you outsiders… it will likely play out like Bunuelian surrealism… but trust us, it’s brilliant.