Last night I decided to honor my late friend Russell Shaw, who loved Portland from the moment he saw it in the late 1990s until his death in 2008, and attend a show based on Portlandia , a TV show I know he would have loved.
Portlandia, starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, portrays Russell's Portland as nothing I've ever seen. It never rains in this Portland. All the people are quirky and individualistic, obsessed with small, personal things. Even when the personal things are broad – like the fate of the Earth – it's all still personal.
The show itself started at 11 PM in the Variety Playhouse, a converted movie theater near Little Five Points, which itself is like a tiny version of Portland plopped into Atlanta's intown. Fred and Carrie really had very little to offer – a few lame jokes, some video clips, a question-and-answer session. It was mainly a chance for fans of the show, mostly hipsters in their 20s and 30s, to see and get close to their heroes. (I hadn't seen so much white skin in Atlanta since Spamalot.)
This brings me back to an important point. As politics moves in one direction, culture moves in the opposite direction. The culture of the late 1960s was an apotheosis of liberalism, yet we elected and re-elected Nixon, yearning all the time for Ronald Reagan. Our culture is becoming conservative just as we become accustomed, again, to supporting an old-fashioned Adlai Stevenson liberal, a man whose name is that of his father but whose politics are decidedly those of his mother, Ann Dunham.
There's nothing wrong with that. It's just instructive. The “sexuality” in the Armisen-Brownstein relationship, which they lampooned by reading a series of texts at the start of the show, is that he's passionate for her while she sort of tolerates him, in a purely platonic way. I've noticed this in my own kids, how disengaged they are from sex, drugs, even dangerous friendships. They're a lot more like the kids of my parents' generation, those who identified with Shirley Temple, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, than they are like my own.
In a way, Portlandia was a lot like the stage shows Garland and Rooney did in support of their movies. It's about being seen, about the appearance rather than anything being done to actively entertain. It was an exercise in celebrity, emphasized by “guest stars” Margaret Cho and Jack McBrayer, who just talked a little about Atlanta hipster landmarks (Cho) and Conyers' craziness (McBrayer is from Conyers).
It was a vaudeville, which closed with a short rock concert (both Armisen and Brownstein started as rock musicians, and she still has the chops for it) and never have I heard the Doors' "Light My Fire" sound so much like the Archies' "Sugar Sugar".
The word for it was innocent.