Across six seasons, Portlandia has used Portland’s real-life feminist bookstore In Other Words as the basis and filming location for its fictional analogue Women & Women First—a relationship that even predates the IFC series, dating back to Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s earliest comedy work as Thunderant. But as Willamette Week reports, that relationship has now become as contentious as that between the show’s Toni and Candice and the whole of the outside world. In Other Words issued a lengthy statement on its website explaining that it’s severed ties with the show. And it also released a far more succinct one, via a sign that first appeared in its window this past spring: “Fuck Portlandia.”
That sign accuses the comedy—in which Armisen and Brownstein portray the storeowners as perpetually offended, thoroughly humorless firebrands—of various unforgivable transgressions, among them “Transmisogyny – Racism – Gentrification – Queer Antagonism – Devaluation of Feminist Discourse.” Attempts by the Willamette Week seeking elaboration were answered first with demands that the paper promote its online fundraising campaign. After the Week declined, it garnered this similarly combative response:
“After some consideration and research we’ve decided to officially tell the Willamette Weekly [sic] to go fuck themselves. Your paper has absolutely zero journalistic professionalism and you are scummy rape apologists. Thanks for the opportunity tho! Have a great night.”
Finally, In Other Words aired its full thoughts on the matter, outlining the multiple reasons why the store no longer feels comfortable working with Portlandia. And lest this whole thing appear to be a surreal, ouroboros example of satire eating its own tail, then accusing its tail of microaggression, it’s worth noting here that the store’s decision was based on practical concerns as well as political ones. The impetus was reportedly one recent, “egregious filming” in particular that “saw our store left a mess, our staff mistreated, our neighbors forced to close and lose business for a day without warning, and our repeated attempts to obtain accountability or resolution dismissed.” What’s more, the post reminds, the “small flat fee per episode” the store receives doesn’t cover the losses sustained by its closing for shooting.
And while the show has obviously boosted In Other Words’ profile, and helped bring national attention to previous fundraisers held to spare it from bankruptcy, that fame hasn’t exactly translated to profits. “Tourists and fans of the show come to our door to stand outside, take selfies, and then leave,” the statement reads. “The vast majority of them don’t come inside.”
Having thus decided that Portlandia is costing it more than it’s contributing, the store’s current staff—who say they weren’t involved in the original decision to allow filming, anyway—have come to the conclusion that the show sucks. They elaborate on this in a section titled “The Show Sucks”:
The Show Sucks
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.
Also: there are no Black people on Portlandia. There are a tiny number of people of color on Portlandia. Portland is white but it’s not that damn white. It’s also a city with a deeply entrenched history of racism and white supremacy. In Other Words is in the heart of a historically Black neighborhood in Northeast Portland. We have Black Lives Matter written on our window. Black Lives Matter Portland meets regularly in our space. But as more and more Black folks and people of color have become involved at In Other Words, Portlandia has only gotten steadfastly more white. Oh and also: the last time the show filmed in our space, the production crew asked to us to remove the Black Lives Matter sign on our window. We refused.
Of course, one could probably quibble that suggesting the Black Lives Matter sign be removed might have been a good thing, thus saving the movement from being lumped in with the rest of the stuff the show is parodying. Or whether the “joke” of the Toni and Candice segments are really meant to be“LOL Fred Armisen in a wig and dress.” You could also question the fact that In Other Words seemed to have a pretty good sense of humor about its being spoofed for six years, only to very recently decide that these spoofs have somehow “only become more offensive” as the seasons wore on. You might even raise an eyebrow at the post’s conclusion blaming Portlandia’s “popularity and insipid humor” for the city’s gentrification—especially coming from a feminist, white-owned bookstore that, however progressive and well-intentioned, moved into its cheaper, historically black neighborhood.
But all that aside, In Other Words obviously feels exploited and mistreated by Portlandia, and it’s certainly its prerogative to decide it no longer wants to see its progressive haven of a community center mined for more gags about vagina pillows. So while the show’s creators haven’t yet commented, it’s probably safe to say to you won’t see the store during the show’s upcoming, penultimate season. Though, if nothing else, this whole brouhaha would make for a pretty good Portlandia sketch.