As a liberal myself, I have often been concerned with how some in my ideological circle approach political discourse – particularly with those they disagree with. Among other things, popular conceptions of liberals include a tendency to immediately attribute ill intentions to the other side and to be too easily offended. Whether this is truly a widespread phenomenon or not, it is undoubtedly a prevailing stereotype and one that is explored and critiqued in Portlandia.
Portlandia episodes are comprised of a series of short bits, so many themes can exist in a given episode. This entry will focus on season 2 episode 1: “Mixologist.” Specifically, I will discuss a bit in the episode that occurs at a feminist bookstore, where the two main characters play employees.
In this scene, the two millennial female employees of the bookstore encounter an older man whom they’ve hired to fix their AC unit. The scene begins with the repairman entering the bookstore and asking where the unit is. The employees ask him what he means, and the repairman begins to wave his hands to describe the shape of the AC system and proceeds to make a “whirring” noise with his lips. Immediately, Carrie Brownstein’s character stops him and explains that he needs to stop moving and making that noise for an ambiguous reason and Fred Armisen’s character asks if that means his character (who is a woman) also cannot make the noise. When the man asks again where the AC unit is, Brownstein’s character tells him he should not use the words “unit,” “box,” or “equipment” because she feels penises all around her and is practically “halfway to pregnant.”
Armisen questions her by suggesting he calls it a “chill unit” instead, but evidently that phrase cannot be used either. Seeing the cues from her partner, Armisen’s character eventually agrees and becomes equally offended that the repairman would have the audacity to use such a word. The repairman eventually fixes the air conditioner, and after encountering another difficulty as he refers to Armisen’s character as “sweetie,” he is given two books to read – one of which details how inside all of us is both a “phallus and the opposite of a phallus.”
Although a major exaggeration, this scene gets to the heart of why many feel that liberals are excessively sanctimonious. This scene illustrates examples of how some seem to take offense to minuscule things, like the use of “unit” or calling someone “sweetie.” Furthermore, we see how peer pressure leads Armisen’s character to take offense to things she would otherwise be fine with. In a show that markets to liberals and depicts the “hippie” lifestyle of Portland, this critique of modern liberalism is one that fits well within the show. The hope is that viewers look down upon this absurd style of engagement and set their default assumption of others’ intentions as good rather than bad.