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Portland, How Did We Get Here?


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When I was a kid (see above), Portland held no cultural currency. The “Northwest,” to most people, basically just meant Seattle. I distinctly remember the phrase my family tossed out to explain where we lived to people we met when we traveled: “Oregon? It’s between California and Seattle.”

These days, everyone I meet on the road has a story about Portland, even—often especially—if they’ve never been there. I got a tattoo in Los Angeles last week and the artist practically teared up recounting to me a lost weekend he recently spent in Portland. “I found some really great gutter punks,” he recalled softly. Hundreds of the flight seat buddies, hairdressers, chatty tellers, and otherwise conversational humans I’ve crossed paths with over the years have shared with me some variant. Or, simply, with the vague confidence of secondhand knowledge, have asserted to me that it “seems so nice” out in Portland.

(Meanwhile, everyone in the country called it “Ory-GON” until, like, five years ago.)

I don’t say this because I’m trying to garner cred as a local (there’s nothing less credible, to a lifelong Portlander, than bragging about one’s origins, anyway) but because it’s genuinely incredible how rapidly this city’s cachet has skyrocketed. Sometimes, as an intellectual exercise, I try to remember when it happened. Was it Stumptown coffee? Was it the Dandy Warohls? Which fawning New York Times profile of a Portland farm-to-table organic restaurant catalyzed us into the mainstream?

‘Cause we’re definitely mainstream: a show like Portlandia could only exist in a nation that has an awareness of, or obsession with, Portland. Of course, part of the genius of Portlandia is that the show doesn’t just trade in Portland-specific stereotype sketches; rather, it’s made the (very smart) decision to build a fictionalized universe of characters, with a social physics that is both a riff on the real Portland and its own invention. Still, it couldn’t have made it past the boardroom if Portland, and what it represents, wasn’t already surfing the crest of American cultural consciousness.

Portlandia‘s Portland is sweeter, dreamier, and infinitely more hospitable than the actual city (for one, it never rains in the show). In a sense, it’s what people imagine it to be, rather than what it actually is. Which is the crux of its success, and totally indicative of the national idea of Portland, I believe. A major reason for Portland’s success, why out-of-towners navigate the city limits in gaping awe, perpetually commenting on its residents’ ease of life, why Portlandia charms so many, is because of this:

People like the idea of a place that is still OK!

The Portland of Portlandia—and, to an only slightly diminished extent, the real Portland—is young America’s Shangri-La. Regardless of whether or not they have, or ever plan to, visit Portland, the city has come to represent a life unencumbered by harsh political reality, economic duress, or career hustling. For Angelenos who dream of torching their cars, New Yorkers who are tired of city living’s various indignities, Portland is an escape. Portland reassures.

Portland is more than just “where young people go to retire;” it seems to be an entire generation’s backup plan. One could move to Portland, start making jewelry or manning a farm stand, and life would be easier. Of course, most people don’t relocate, but still: the thought of a clean, pleasant, eco-conscious enclave in this increasingly demoralizing world keeps people sane.

In fact, I might argue a mathematical relationship between Portland’s moment as a media darling-cum-cultural symbol and the darkening of a general socio-political, environmental mood in the country. Encountering overzealous vegetable picklers, buying the wrong artisanal knot, or forgetting your grocery bag seem like the most gentle of ordeals compared to economic upheaval and riot cops.

Of course, that’s a little insane, too. And Portlandia makes us laugh, because it both debunks this myth and lovingly perpetuates it.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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