'Portlandia' Star Carrie Brownstein Says Hipsters Don't Exist, Forcing Us to Reevaluate the Entire Show
My brain broke earlier today, when flawless human being Carrie Brownstein declared the word 'hipster' doesn't mean anything. "I feel like hipster is one of those terms that no one ever knew exactly what it meant. It plays into everyone’s insecurities of someone else being cooler than they are, or trying to be cooler than they are. I always felt the term was insufficient in this way" Brownstein told Time. This is a bold and powerful statement, especially since her show Portlandia (entering it's fifth season tonight) seems to lampoon every aspect of hipster culture.
And I'm now having an existential crisis about what the show is even about.
Let there be no confusion: I love Brownstein (I paid stupid amounts of money on Sleater-Kinney tickets) and absolutely get her point. In fact, my brother, routinely calls me a hipster with no real context or explanation, usually whenever I use an SAT word or reference a musician that isn't Pitbull. It's a vague, derogatory term, nine times out of ten used to put down people that explore outside the boundaries of normative culture.
But I still thought that yeah, maybe there was a spectrum of hipsterness, and still definite indications of what is otherwise a mish-mash of different alternative cultures. Grizzly Adams beards paired with boater hats. Mason jars. Animal Collective. I mean, I've been to Williamsburg like, six times now, so I thought I had some idea.
In light of this recent development, (and timely, since I just binge-watched the first three seasoning a day). I feel like we should pause and re-evaluate a few facets of the show. For your consideration...
Case 1: The Careers of Bryce Shivers and Lisa Eversman
First appearing in the iconic "Put a Bird on It," Bryce and Lisa live the fine life of artisans in bow ties and vintage '60s frocks, respectively. And while they've since moved onto pickling heels and running an hotel full of outlets, that initial sketch at one point look like textbook Hipster trademark. Like, thick glasses and a sparrow-print dress used to be the go-to outfit of every girl who worked at an indie bookstore and drank vanilla soy milk with their cereal. Hand-crafted Bird print items account for like 65 percent of business on Etsy, and 65 percent of those items are bought by said indie bookstore girls. It's an easy joke.
Perhaps, however, Bryce and Lisa are more of a commentary about how our generation is returning to DIY values, and the bird angle shows how sometimes actual craftsmanship is cheapened by uninspired design themes. Likewise the "pickle that" sketch is more about the organic, quick-fix solutions we rely on (cleanses, etc.)
Can't speak to the outlet thing, though. I think we're just more reliant on those now.
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Case 2: 'Did You Read It?' Sketch
The "Did You Read It?" sketch is a coffeehouse battle in which two friends try to out-read each other ... or at least make it seem like they're out-reading one another. Originally it seems like pretentious intellectual one-upping between the most hipstery of hipsters, and even the answers (brief and vague) sound as though they're bullshitted on the spot. But hipsters .... don't exist.
So this all said, it could just be about how we as a society are always one article behind from an information overload. Despite perhaps not reading conventionally (i.e. books) we have so many online and print publications to consume, and let's face it, nobody wants to look unintelligent and seem like they missed out on the next big piece in media. Maybe?
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Case 3: The Entire Existence of Alexandra
Fred and Carrie's season three roommate (played by magical nymph Chloe Sevigny) Alexandra is kind of an enigma. She shows up looking every part the alt-girl, partially shaved head included. But slowly the duo realizes that underneath her mask of hipness, there's a weirdly racist sorority chick underneath. Carrie sums up the confusion thusly: "If you go in to get a haircut and you want some asymmetrical haircut, you should be like, 'yeah, I know Oingo Boingo, or I at least know what New Wave was.'" It's Fred's following line, though, that speaks of the genuine frustration of the situation: "I was explaining Prince to her."
Now, here's a weird situation. Would Alexandra be the ultimate hipster for being an cultural tease, or would are Carrie and Fred be hipsters for critiquing her implied hipness that in fact, doesn't exist? Hipsters are subcultural unicorns, so Idk.
Maybe it's about how these days visually you can adopt a certain look without it having meaning anymore, and this leads confusion to those who immersed in different musical scenes. This throws back to my days as a mallgoth, when I would wear Siouxsie Sioux skirts and, yes, probably pronounced it as "Sucksy Sucks."
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Ultimately, I think it's fairer to say they're lovingly lampooning subcultures and subsets of people that aren't commonly seen on television, be it gutter punks or boho drum circles. For those of us who know and/or are part of those subcultures, it's incredibly refreshing to see on television, and yes, to laugh at. Maybe, Portlandia just showcases the alternative to mainstream satire, which must be especially nice for Fred Armisen after spending a thousand years on SNL. Or maybe it's just a Portland thing, and I don't get it because I'm stuck in suburban New Jersey.
Whether hipster is a valid word to describe the show or not, I know one thing: I'll be tuning in at 10 pm to watch it. I have my artisanal popcorn at the ready.
Image: IFC and Giphy