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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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” Portlandia, written 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.