Looking in the Popular Culture Mirror Essay What Makes Portlanders So Weird

Joseph M Daffern
Professor Bergland
UNST 254
Sunday, June 1, 2014

Looking in the Popular Culture Mirror Essay
What Makes Portlanders So Weird

In the upper left corner of the United States a beautiful, often wet, city exist. A place described by those who have seen it as quite simply, weird. Portland Oregon or as many have come to refer to as, Portlandia, is a city composed of many parts not easily found in other areas of the country. Weird can many many different things depending on who you ask but in Portland its almost become a badge of honor worn pridefully. A compliment to our good taste and the playful artistic way in which we live our lives. You’ll find the phrase “Keep Portland Weird” painted across the sides of building, on bumper stickers, and even printed on clothing. Portland’s been deemed “weird” for many several decades are we really that weird? If so, what exactly makes Portland so weird?

“Portland is a city where young people go to retire.” (The Dream of The 90’s) The demographics here are almost impossible to express with numbers. However the numbers on age and economic performance suggest that Portland might truly be where young people go to retire. In 2012 The age distribution was 21.1% under the age of 18, 10.3% from 18 to 24, 34.7% from 25 to 44, 22.4% from 45 to 64, and 11.6% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 35 years Making it one of the youngest cities in the country. In 2010 a group of Portland area business groups tried to explain just why the metro area under preforms other cities with comparable size and growth data. “Oregon,” they wrote, “has fewer prime working age residents actively employed than Washington does and this is not attributable to any shift in the age of our population.” (Yglesias) So how is this possible? How can Portland’s economy be healthy and unemployment rate rest a comfortable point lower than the national average? It has a lot to do with the popularity of the small independent business that have been sprouting up over the last decade or so. Microbreweries, food carts, specialty business such a furniture, art and design have all managed to keep portland pretty busy… at least part time.
“Do you remember the 90s? People were talking about getting piercings and getting tribal tattoos, and people were singing about saving the planet and forming bands? There’s a place where that idea still exists as a reality: Portland. Remember when people were content to be unambitious and sleep ’til eleven and just hang out with their friends and you’d have no occupations whatsoever, maybe working a couple hours a week at a coffee shop? Portland is a city where young people go to retire.” (The Dream of The 90’s)

In Fred Armisen’s television show on IFC he explores the culture of Portland’s progressive idea’s and what I would describe as it’s stereotypical and common “Portlandian” citizens. The show pokes fun in very humorous and playful ways at the things one might encounter at any given place during any given time in the city of Portland. The characters portrayed in the show vary drastically from skater punks, hipsters, homeless kids, The bikers (pedal), and even full blown flower children. The show explores the sub culture that has thrived here for many decades by producing several sketches many with recurring characters. The characters are colorful and presented in what I’ve called a “your crazy aunt” fashion. But thats basically who we are. The characters to a large degree aren’t made up or overly exaggerated they are as one may encounter them in coffee shop or bar any where here in the city. Most people I know, in fact anyone I’ve ever spoken with about Portlandia the series as had warm and thoughtful things to say. You see here in Portland we are proud of our diverse and eccentric population and enjoy the way the show highlights what exactly makes us so different.

“Normal people are weird. They have shit to hide. Normal is weird to us” (We’re Not That Weird). That quote from an interview in the Eyeodine Productions video We’re Not That Weird really sums up how I think we collectively feel about the city. Most of us don’t bat an eye or turn our heads when a nude bicyclist pedals by us on the water front. We don’t bark at the skate boarders thundering down burnside on a busy Saturday night. We aren’t shocked to see double decker unicycles or groups of people dressed as zombies roaming the streets on a Sunday afternoon. Portland as come to terms with it self in way many other cities haven not and may never. We accept that this town is a place where people have the freedom to express themselves and be honest on so many levels about who they are. So the thought process shifts after a while and we stop looking inward and begin to look back out. Perhaps Portland is normal because of its sense of self awareness and individuality. Maybe in this course of thought places like LA and Seattle are the ones who are weird. Full of people pretending to be things they are not and altering their appearances, in some cases permanently, to fit some mainstream societal standard of whats perceived as fresh and acceptable.

“Portland’s normal everywhere else is weird.” (Diamond) I’ve been fortunate to travel quite a bit in my young life. I’ve seen cities big and small and been lucky enough
to share many cultural experiences that few are privileged to be a part of. I think the thing that I often take away from these travels is that there truly is no pale like home when your from Portland. The hustle and bustle of LA, the way people in Dallas are so gruff, and even the nature of the tourist atmosphere in Honolulu all remind me of how much I love our cool damp paradise called Portland. We have the problems of other cities homelessness, crime, drugs the exist here too. But have a stringer sense of community that those places and thats what I think people mean when they say “portlands weird”. I think its what we mean when we say keep Portland weird. Community to me means we know one another and accept each other for make us special and individual. Portland is amazing place to raise children.They are exposed to more creativity and art than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Portland is a wonderful place to retire at any age. Hiking the gorge, skiing, or spending the day exploring the pacific coast line. The way we scoff at big chain restaurants and stores for a more local independent option. These are what me and my fellow Portlandians weird. Weird is word that people use to describes something different and maybe difficult to explain. It’s descriptive power often used to degrade or describe something not of this world. When its used in a sentence with Portland however it means love, respect, and unity. I will always love this city for all things its not and do my best to help keep Portland weird.











Works Cited

The Dream Of The 90’s. Dir. Fred Armisen. Perf. Fred Armisen Carrie Brownstein. Broadway Video IFC Original Productions, 2010. Film.

“We’re Not That Weird.” . eyeodine productions, 4 June 2013. Web. 3 May 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZd1_s1vIgk&gt;.

Whats Keeping Portland Weird. Dir. Christina Diamond. Flux, 2009. Film.I

Varaday, Merlin. “Why is Portland So Weird?.” . This Boundless world/backpacker travel magazine, 24 Feb. 2012. Web. 16 May 2014. <http://www.thisboundlessworld.com/why-is-portland-so-weird&gt;.
Yglesias, Matthew . “How Portland Got Its Groove Back.” . The Slate Group, a Graham Holdings Company, 9 Aug. 2012. Web. 3 May 2014. <http://www.slate.com/articles/businessmoneybox2012/08portland_is_where_young_people_go_to_retire_economic_renaissance_in_portland.html&gt;.8


3 thoughts on “Looking in the Popular Culture Mirror Essay What Makes Portlanders So Weird

  1. I have also travel around many of the bigger cities throughout the US and I have lived in LA, Seattle and now Portland. Portland has a big soft spot in my heart due to all it’s “weirdness”. I like that you emphasize how us Portlanders embrace being weird and it is what makes our city so lovely. There is definitely a sense of community here that I have no found in other cities. The mix of people and all of there out of the box ideas is part of the charm of this city. It’s interesting to see how Portland is represented in the media and is becoming a “cool” city to live in. I read in Forbes that Portland is one of the fastest growing cities in the US and when I meet new people a majority of the time they are not from here; they came to visit and fell in love with the city so they moved. I’m with you on keeping Portland weird and embracing the oddities we have to offer.

    • Latham:

      I have also found living in several cities that Portland is categorized as “weird.” This does also hold a special place in my heart and I will probably never move from Portland. Portland does have a vast diversity that makes our city interesting. With show Portlandia this is continuing to be showcased in media.

    • I agree with you as well, Latham. I think there is a certain comfort with Portland being so ‘weird.’ People are free to express themselves and encounter minimal judgement. I don’t think Portland is as diverse as some other big cities in the US, but I think the diverse sub cultures within Portland contribute to this notion of weirdness. Put I think overall it has positive feel to it. I will say I have experienced some truly weird things in Portland, such as a man downtown painted like a smurf, who I’ve heard is actually pretty down to earth guy. Also, man who drives around a van with all sorts of decoration and an external speaker system and he gets out and dances around on the sidewalks with a monkey mask on. Pretty interesting.

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