This past July, the lead singer of Modest Mouse made headlines when he made some less than flattering comments about Portland during an interview.
In the interview he called Portland “crappy” and a “collection of human turds.” He also went on to say that the whole keeping Portland weird thing just “allows people to be complete pieces of shit.”
Let me preface this next statement: I love Portland. I’ve lived here now for three years and I’ve enjoyed every minute, but after my most recent return to Portland, I think Isaac Brock might be onto something.
When I first read this article, I was living in Russia, studying at university in St. Petersburg. That city was weird, but not in the way Portland.
The weirdness of St. Petersburg was merely a consequence of the diversity of people, ideas and history. You might see a man with a pet monkey outside a giant orthodox cathedral built in the early 1800s. The surrealism of St. Petersburg felt genuine and authentic, and was devoid of any bumper stickers to remind you of its “weirdness.”
I’ll admit when I first moved to Portland, I loved how there was a show that was dedicated to simply poking fun at the quirkiness of the city and its people. I even chuckled the first time I saw the unipiper.
While this city has become my home, my distaste for the city’s weirdness has grown.
Portland’s weirdness is propagated by a bunch of youngish white people who find some sort of validity in weird modes of self-expression and lifestyle choices ranging from the overtly eccentric to the annoyingly inconvenient.
At the end of the day, Portland’s weirdness isn’t authentic. It’s entirely fabricated. You could argue that Portland’s weirdness is a mask used to cover up the fact that we live in one of the least diverse cities in the entire country.
What Portland lacks in true diversity, it makes up for in Naked Bike Rides, dumpster diving, hipster culture, vegan strip clubs, microbrews and penis-shaped doughnuts.
The worst part about the whole “Keep Portland Weird” thing is that when Portland does something strange, unique or inherently idiotic, people just shrug their shoulders and say, “That’s Portland for you.”
The best example of this was the nonsense surrounding water fluoridation a few years ago. People in Portland acted as though water fluoridation was some sort of conspiracy planned by an evil league of supervillain dentists and voted against it. Now people in Portland who can’t afford regular checkups at the dentist are deprived of one of the most effective preventative measures utilized by every major city in the U.S. People just attributed it to Portland’s weirdness and moved on.
So while I don’t think Portland is a bunch of “human turds,” I do think the whole “weirdness” of Portland does give people an excuse to be jerks who put way too much stake in what makes them “unique.”
Portland’s “weirdness” is overrated and I don’t feel it’s anything to laud.