How Perceptions of Portlandia Have Changed Over the Years

"A white minstrel show."

(lettering by Leah Maldonado)

The first time I saw Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen together in the same place, it wasn't on television or YouTube or in a magazine.

It was at a ping-pong tournament.

Specifically, the Ping Pong Pandemonium Party at Holocene in June 2010. My predecessors on the WW music desk were participating, so I came to show support. Brownstein teamed with her Sleater-Kinney bandmate Janet Weiss and won the whole thing, beating members of Starfucker in the finals.

Armisen—then most famous for portraying Barack Obama on Saturday Night Live—was also hanging out. I hadn't yet heard of Thunderant, his sketch duo with Brownstein, so it wasn't obvious to me why he was there.

A few months later, a press release went out announcing a new show satirizing Portland culture.

"Well," I thought, thinking back to that ping-pong party, "this thing will write itself."

A few months after that, it was on TV. Nothing was ever the same. And everyone's still pissed about it.

Seven years later, Portlandia is finally ending. The sentiment around town, at least among anyone who lived here prior to its premiere, is "good riddance."

It's an exhausted cliché at this point, but it's not an exaggeration: Portland truly believes Portlandia destroyed Portland as we once knew it. In 2015, we half-jokingly conducted a poll trying to determine the exact date when "Old Portland" supposedly died. Readers overwhelmingly chose January 21, 2011—the day Portlandia premiered on IFC.

Somehow, this little sketch show on an obscure cable network portraying Portland as a fantasyland of socially awkward liberal narcissists convinced the whole world to move here, driving up rents, clogging the freeways and replacing your favorite dive bar with an artisanal knot store. It misrepresented the city, then those misrepresentations became reality. They paved paradise and put a bird on it.

At least, that's the theory.

Nobody necessarily worried about this happening when the show first started. It's a misnomer to say the city was ever totally on-board with Portlandia, but the reasons for being wary of it were different—mostly, we just didn't like being made fun of.

With the final season beginning Jan. 18, we combed through local media archives and comment sections to see how time has shaped the discussion of the show in each season.


"Oh, god. I really wish people in Portland would stop doing things that make the rest of the country hate us. But nope!"
— Alison Hallett, former arts editor for Portland Mercury

"If the show makes hipsters look like the fools they are, and makes even one of them go back to where they came from (or better yet, gain 30 lbs., get a shave and a haircut, wear pants that fit, get a job and throw the fixie in the dumpster), it'll be worth it." — Mercury commenter


"One thing I do like about it is the undercurrent of anger. That makes me incredibly happy—the idea that Portlanders are furiously angry underneath their calm demeanors."
— Kelly Clarke, former WW Arts and Culture Editor

"I think we were expecting some negative feedback, but there have only been a few comments like, 'Why would you let them make fun of feminism?' But Carrie Brownstein's a feminist, and it's meant to be tongue-in-cheek."
— Katie Carter, co-director of In Other Words


"What's interesting are the parts that [make] people in other cities think, 'Aw, I wish we were that place.' It's not the over-the-top, goofy parts, but the human-scale part of Portland." — Portland sustainability chief Susan Anderson to

"These sketches are the white subcultural equivalent of a minstrel show, that while perhaps intended as a charming homage to oddballs, has in fact drummed up a sentiment best summarized as 'it's about damned time someone put those weirdos in their place.'"
— Josh Gross, Boise Weekly

"I feel like [Portlanders] understand the show less than anyone else."
— Carrie Brownstein at Williamsburg Music Hall in Brooklyn on Portlandia: The Tour


"They're needling such harmless contemporary phenomena as
beleaguered baristas, overly conscientious recyclers, bloviating music fans bent on proving the superiority of their favorite bands and other exceedingly earnest urban types. While these targets deserve a pointy elbow in the ribs, anything harsher would seem mean-spirited, the equivalent of using a Taser on a comedian whose jokes are lousy.
— Kristi Turnquist, The Oregonian


"It's a bummer. First, it's so white-washed. Portland's such a white city—but you'd think that a show poking fun at Portland would make fun of that, but it doesn't. It just sort of glorifies it. Second, it's putting Portland on the map, which is making developers build apartments like it's San Francisco or something. Rent's going up. Sucks."
— Reddit user Owisep


"The show has merely been part of an ongoing dialogue some of us were having five years ago and more of us are having now….I certainly think no one would have gotten 'Dream of the '90s' if Portland hadn't already been 'one foot in the grave,' as people are starting to say."
— Carrie Brownstein to WW

"Fuck you, Portlandia! You are the easiest and my personal favorite scapegoat. This is ALL your fault. You are not funny. You never were funny. You've ruined our city by turning us into a fucking commercial for hipster bullshit. I've been here for 20 years. I have watched it change. Portland is now a soulless amusement park for the entitled and wealthy. I hate what this city is becoming and I blame YOU!"
The Portland Mercury


"The 'Women and Women First' segments that are filmed at In Other Words are trans-antagonistic and trans-misogynist and have only become more offensive as the show goes on. '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 Other Words on severing ties with Portlandia

"I'm not sure there is all that much difference between Portlandia mocking the characters they focus on and Trump mocking a reporter with a disability, because Trump thinks he's being funny. It's all the same mentality. It might look more hip than some right-wing work, and of course there's the whole riot grrrl street cred involved. That Sleater-Kinney association could imply that the show is radical, empowering or somehow challenges the dominant paradigm. Instead, Portlandia flattens out and caricatures anybody who steps outside the status quo. It's been damaging, culturally."
— Author Monica Drake to Portland Mercury

SEE IT: The final season of Portlandia premieres at 10 pm Thursday, Jan. 18 on IFC.

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