For those of you who are not familiar, Portlandia is an Emmy Award-winning sketch show on IFC, with each sketch taking place in the titular city, Portland, Or. For those of you who are familiar, I’m certain you have laughed as hard as I have at one of the duo’s signature sketches, “The Feminist Bookstore.”
Again, for those of you unfamiliar, the sketch parodies modern, radical (third wave) feminism through Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s portrayals of feminists and their reactions to patrons of the bookstore, whom Armisen and Brownstein’s characters see as inherently misogynistic.
The setting of the sketch, “Women and Women First,” a feminist bookstore in downtown Portland, is based on the real-life Portland bookstore, “In Other Words,” where the sketch is also shot. For the six years the show has been on the air, Armisen, Brownstein and the bookstore have maintained a mutually beneficial relationship with the bookstore providing a location and inspiration for the show, and the show attracting Portlandia fans and new customers to the bookstore.
In Other Words had the following to say when discussing their severing ties with the show:
“The Women and Women First segments that are filmed at In Other Words are trans-antagonistic and trans-misogynist and have only become more offensive as the show goes on. ‘LOL Fred Armisen in a wig and a dress’ is a deeply shitty joke whose sole punchline throws trans femmes under the bus by holding up their gender presentation for mockery and ridicule. In a world where trans femmes – particularly Black trans women – are being brutalized and murdered on a regular basis for simply daring to exist, dude in a dress jokes are lazy, reactionary, and actively harmful. They’re also just straight up not funny.”
In Other Words’ statement went on to discuss the show’s lack of diversity, and has since posted a sign on the front of its door:
As a fan of the show, I need to say: It’s satire, get over it.
Yes, we live in a world where violence against people exists, not just for being trans, not just for being gay, but for being black, for being Hispanic, for being a Muslim, for being born. And while these violent acts exist, it’s quite apparent that Portlandia does not accentuate any vehemently bigoted stereotypes.
The show’s alleged “transmisogyny” is brought on by Armisen’s cross-dressing; a practice performed in comedy since the invention of theatre, which is also performed by Brownstein in the “Lance and Nina” sketches. The fact that the bookstore sees the joke of the sketch solely as “Fred Armisen in a dress” shows how ignorant of the show the store actually is.
As for the show’s “lack of diversity,” I urge you to look at the shows sole two cast members: Fred Armisen is an atheist and a quarter Japanese, quarter German, half Argentinian son of immigrants, and Carrie Brownstein is Jewish, bisexual, a self-described feminist (who performs in feminist rock band Sleater-Kinney) and an active member of the LGBT community. It doesn’t get much more diverse than that.
As for it being “just straight up not funny,” if you can see “Vagina Pillows” and not at least crack a smile, you’re made of stone.