Media Portrayal and Gentrification in Portland, Oregon

Introduction

As a person who has lived in Portland her entire life, I found myself a little bit judgemental and defensive about the way that Portland, Oregon and the people who are from here have been represented. For some reason I tried and tried to disprove the stereotypes constantly presented of Portland people in the media, but I have found myself ultimately accepting that maybe the media is onto something. The representation of people native to Portland, Oregon though slightly exaggerated, is ultimately pretty spot on. However, with further media exploration and research, I have found that the portrayal of people from Portland in the media is only representative of a very specific group of Portland people.

Primary Sources

Portlandia

Over the course of my research, I found two good sources of media that showed compelling perspectives of Portland people. I started with the most obvious and widely known representation of Portland, the IFC television show, Portlandia. Though I am not a huge fan of the show overall, it definitely addresses some interesting stereotypes and conventional perceptions of people from Portland. For six seasons now the sketch comedy show has parodied common lifestyle and cultural norms of people from the proclaimed “weird” city.

In the form of humor, the show touches on many conventional social norms that seem to be embraced all throughout Portland. From the use of all natural and organic hygiene products, to feminism, to the over apologetic, Portlandia does exemplify the people of Portland pretty well.

I found both truth and humor in one of the very first sketches on the show. In an episode titled “Farm,” characters played by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are seen sitting at a table in a restaurant. As they are engaging in small talk the waitress approaches the table to greet them. She introduces herself and asks if the couple if they have any questions about the menu, which they seemed very interested in. “I guess I do have a question about the chicken, if you could just tell us a little bit more about it” says Brownstein. The waitress then proceeds to give some further information about the chicken, even accessing his own personal file complete with his name and a profile photograph.

Though a goofy presentation, I actually found this scene to be pretty representative of common concerns Portlanders tend to hold. As a result of a high demand for local, ethically produced products from the people of Portland, all throughout the city words like “organic,” “natural,” and “free-range” can be found pasted onto windows and menus and are used as an extremely effective sales technique. Known as a very “green” city, the importance of sustainable products and practices I would say is actually pretty high up on the priority list of Portland inhabitants.

Movoto Blog Site

As Portland continues to grow in population, so does the abundance of videos and blogs claiming to illustrate what Portland and it’s people are really like. I found one in particular on Movoto.com titled 10 Portland Stereotypes That Are Completely Accurate, and to no surprise, I actually did find them to be extremely representative.

The blog claimed that people from the city are overly nice to strangers and to their pets. It stereotypes Portlanders as coffee snobs, alcoholics, and even “olympic brunchers.” I found the most accuracy however in the section that identified people from Portland as “Professional Recyclers.” Growing up in Portland, I have never lived a life where I did not recycle, and under certain circumstances, you are actually required to by law. So I think it is safe to say that indeed, Portlanders are professionals at recycling, a cultural attribute I am proud to affirm.

http://www.movoto.com/guide/portland-or/portland-stereotypes/

Secondary Sources

On the hunt for secondary sources, the articles and information I found actually made me look at my primary sources from a new perspective. While organic produce and products are important, and initiatives to grow and develop sustainability is critical to preserving the planet, these factors may have actually greatly contributed to another aspect of Portland’s newfound identity, the gentrified, “whitest city” in the country.

The article, Retail Gentrification and Race: The Case of Alberta Street in Portland, Oregon discusses how the gradual, yet seemingly sudden influx of urban retail locations such as yoga studios and organic food markets have brought about a new specific generation of Portlanders, the white urban hipsters. What has been historically marked as a largely African American neighborhood, Alberta Street, North, and Northeast Portland in general are now almost entirely white. As Portland continues to develop and grow, the uprising of over priced clothing shops and boutiques has consequently left many native Portlanders feeling intimidated, unwelcome, and out of place.

Similarly, the article, Contesting Sustainability: Bikes, Race, and Politics in Portlandia further confirms how seemingly positive and sustainable city initiatives can delude, deceive, and hide serious consequences for Portland people, and the city as a whole. While sustainable actions are often greatly encouraged, commonly, it is at the expense of communities that more often than not, are made up minority group members or families of a low socioeconomic status. Lloyd Center Mall in Northeast Portland for example, was widely promoted as a sustainable action and benefit for the city, but many are unaware of the countless amounts of African American families and individuals that were displaced because of it’s construction.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the portrayal I have found of Portland people in the media is representative of White Portland more than anything. Though often described as a city with great diversity, shows like Portlandia for example are overwhelmingly White. Without a single main character of color, Portlandia depicts many cultural aspects and norms of White communities in Portland, leaving out almost entirely any illustrations or even mention of minorities or communities of color, which are often highly segregated throughout the city. Additionally, the 10 Portland Stereotypes blog does not include a single person of color in any of its depictions, and many of the stereotypes it drew from very representative of an upper/ middle class association.

Learning Moments

There were many learning moments for me throughout the course of this term. I mostly enjoyed the lesson at the start of the course on media literacy and identifying and recognizing legitimate internet sources. This has not only helped me become a more informed and advanced researcher, but it has also guided me to explore more media and news outlets online in general, and to be more critical and observant of the news and media that surrounds me.

Work Cited

Amy Lubitow and Thaddeus R. Miller. “Contesting Sustainability: Bikes, Race, and Politics in Portlandia.” Environmental Justice, Volume 6, Issue 4, 2013, 121-126.

Daniel Monroe Sullivan and Samuel C. Shaw. “Retail Gentrification: The Case of Alberta Street in Portland, Oregon.” Urban Affairs Review, Volume 47, Issue 4, 2011, 413-432.

“Farm” Portlandiawritten by Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, and Jonathan Krisel, and Allison Silverman, directed by Jonathan Krisel, IFC Productions. 2011.

Mollie Pennington. “10 Portland Stereotypes that are Completely Accurate.” Movoto.com, http://www.movoto.com/guide/portland-or/portland-stereotypes/. March 14th, 2017.

“Portlandia- In the restaurant.” YouTube, uploaded by isoc tudor, 25 January 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAlWrT5P2VI.

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About Mcstepherson

Hey there! My name is Stephanie Hess and I am currently in my junior year at Portland State University. I am majoring in Social Sciences with the hopes of working in Higher Education. I work at a brewery on the weekends and in my spare time I enjoy doing yoga, hiking (and basically anything outdoors), spending time with my animals, and of course, drinking beer!

9 thoughts on “Media Portrayal and Gentrification in Portland, Oregon

  1. Your post was very thorough and engaging! I was raised in NE Portland, near Alberta, and have witnessed overwhelming gentrification throughout my life. It seems to be happening now more than ever, and whenever I visit Alberta or nearby areas I see new construction and restaurants I used to love being replaced. It’s kind of terrifying wondering what it’s going to look like years from now, and I’m afraid of losing even more childhood memories. I agree that Portlandia is pretty accurate in depicting our city, and it was interesting to read your thoughts on it. I like your “White Portland” terminology, it caused me to think about the significant voices in Portland that go unheard.

  2. Your title including the word “gentrification” really got me interested on reading your post. I have recently started watching Shameless, and in Season 5, Frank, one of the main character would talk about the gentrification of his neighborhood. He lives in a small poor town in Chicago, and the news talked about how the neighborhood is one of the upcoming popular neighborhood. After the news, realtor would come knocking on everyone’s door and try to buy their house. Frank would then start talking about gentrification and how the whites are going to turn the town into something else.
    I have never realized how real that was, and after reading your blog, I learned that even the popular show Portlandia does it. You made really good observation on how even the blogs are written from a middle/upper class perspective. I feel like I have not yet experience gentrification? I have moved from houses to houses, but not much of the rich whites coming into my neighborhood to take over and renew the neighborhood. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I do appreciate your inclusion of Portlandia in your paper. I think their inclusion is worth addressing. Personally, I hate the show. While I suppose you could generalize, and say Portlandia is representative of Portlanders, it undermines what diversity does exist and the fact that people are not stereotypes. I do not think it is really ever okay to stereotype people, even though we all do to an extent. Seeing past our baser instincts is what makes humans, well human. However, saying Portlandia is indicative of Portland is like saying the show Cops is indicative of African Americans. Portlandia is made and produced by a bunch of upper class white people. It is okay for Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein to make satire of people. However, when they create satire of transgender, gay, and social causes (such as feminism), it changes to mocking. Call me old fashion, but mocking people who have a difficult enough time as is, (such as transgender individuals), isn’t funny. If those two actually contributed to anything but themselves, that would be one thing, but they do not. What is ironic, is the negative stereotypes Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are creating view Portlandia runs counter to Portland’s liberal and accepting views. The stereotypes they pump out of Portlandia only go to fuel the “Liberal Snowflake” view of Portland. I frankly think they have shifted Portland for the worse, and the narrative is destructive, enforcing the view that all millennials are lazy, and encouraging others to think that Portland is where 20 somethings go to retire. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein have only sown seeds of misunderstanding.

  4. Hi, Mcstepherson!

    I always find it interesting to read pieces about the gentrification of Portland. I immediately felt more assurance in your essay since you have grown up and seen the changes that have happened here. That also made me appreciate your analysis of Portland especially when you said, “Though I am not a huge fan of the show overall, it definitely addresses some interesting stereotypes and conventional perceptions of people from Portland.” I totally agree with that statement because while it is an exaggeration, many of the stereotypes are true. Overall, I think you hit the major points of the gentrification of Portland well in your essay.

    I would have to say that before I moved here I was naive to how much Portland lacks culture as Portland State represents many different cultures, ethnicities, and races. I think something that could have been something interesting to add to your piece is how the university demographics and cultures differ from and relate to the city of Portland. Also, since you did grow up here it would have been cool to hear more about your personal experience seeing gentrification happen in your neighborhood. However, I thought the paper was written well and provided personal and thoughtful insight into Portland’s gentrification.

    Thanks for sharing!
    -Hannah

  5. I really enjoyed reading about your identity. As an out of state student, I have always wondered if natives to the state agreed on what’s in the media. I absolutely love how you mentioned your perspective on trash because it reminded me of the first time I saw a trashcan at Portland state and I immediately became overwhelmed with the five different options there were to dispose of my trash in. I also liked learning about some of the histories of Portland, because I know so little. It always seemed odd to me that Oregon is such a white state, so you essay gave me some clarity on why that is.

    Best,
    Sabrina

  6. Very good choice of topic, I found it fascinating how you explored the gap between media representation of Portlanders and the non-white Portland community. I have to agree with your observations that several of the stereotypes, while exaggerated, are very true for much of the community. There’s a definite lack of attention afforded to the gentrified, who are typically non-white. I live in NE Portland, in a neighborhood populated by low-income individuals with a decent community of non-white individuals. In my personal experience, many of the people here do not fulfill many of the Portlander stereotypes, often with lack of income being a primary reason. The media’s eyes are on downtown Portland, and as they perpetrate an image it draws in more from other cities seeking what they saw on television, further worsening the gentrification problem.

  7. Thank you for writing about this. I grew up in Northeast Portland, so the articles that you referenced were spot on. Everything has changed there and it is almost completely White. It’s sad. It’s forcing Hispanics and African Americans to move and leave a neighborhood that has been their home for years. Now whenever i go back there, i don’t even recognize parts of it. And there is always construction being done. New buildings being built. As far as Portlandia, i do not exactly agree. I do not like Portlandia. I don’t see the humor in it really. I could never really get into. I think it does represent SOME Portlanders. It doesn’t represent almost all Portlanders though. I don’t believe it is spot on. But i do agree that it represents a part of the Portland population.

  8. Mcstepherson,

    Great blog post, I think you took on a good challenge in with your post in that your topic is something that I think a lot of us in the class can relate to, and therefore I’m sure there will be many different opinions popping up. I think its great that in the post you tackled the good and the bad that comes with the stereotype. I grew up on the Oregon coast, Portland was always the “big city” to come up and visit with friends. It wouldn’t be until after my time in the Army that I’d get the chance to move here for school. I think i directly fall into the category that has been mentioned above. I spent a year over off Williams in North East, and its crazy to see the amount of change. Most of my neighbors were African American families who had lived there for years, who were related to the neighbors next to them. Here I am, white kid, moving into a neighborhood that is undergoing a HUGE amount of construction and change. Its tough to not feel like I was being a part of the problem, and I’m just curious what you or anyone else on here thinks the solution to that is?

  9. Hey I really enjoyed your post! I like how you mentioned the stereotype is only true of a small group of Portlanders. I think any city with very liberal politics and that is environmentally friendly draws a certain type of crowd. While Portland maybe one of the more popular destinations that fit these criteria we are certainly not alone.

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