No appreciation of the Pacific Northwest’s culture is complete without a reasoned analysis of its cartoonish representation by the mainstream media; and no reasoned analysis of the Pacific Northwest’s cartoonish representation by the mainstream media is complete without a discussion of the ’90s. For this reason the Van Duzer Corridor announces its Department of ’90s Studies. Admission and participation is free. Second-wave American gourmet coffee is not provided, nor is a Starbucks tie-in envisioned in the near future. Public libraries remain free and their use is encouraged.
The necessity for ’90s Studies is undeniable as it seems the mainstream media is once again distracting the culture’s waning interest in Los Angeles and New York City with some loving portraits of America, and the evergreen-blanketed settings of the land of the Columbia and Cascades is playing hard in the screen-illuminated consciousness we lovingly call America’s. I had some thoughts about what to say on this matter, it involved Frasier and the dude from Seattle that Elaine let sleep at her apartment, who missed his plane back to Seattle.
I attempted some googling on the subject, but found only something requiring flash that matched what I was looking for. I extended my search terms to “depiction of the pacific northwest in mainstream popular culture frasier ’90s,” and turned up bupkis except a blog post endeavoring to describe what cafe, coffee shop, coffee bar, and coffee house describe, which I found unhelpful, except that it kind of proved my point. However, it ended “Are we way out of line? Is this Pacific Northwest-centric blogger fodder?” and I thought, great, I was just about to have material for a rant against the pretentious nonsense of whatever-the-fuck a “coffee bar” is, but before I could get started I was already outed as a cliché.
I then took that moment to flip the record, which incidentally knocked the charger cord out of my laptop (whose battery no longer holds power), and then sat back down to restart the computer and start this blog post over, which, of course, allowed me to pause and take stock of the situation: here I was, in a flannel shirt, on what feels like the first drizzly autumn day of the year, drinking coffee at 5 in the evening, inspired to write something after sipping from a different cup of coffee in the backyard beyond the shadow of the neighbor’s pine tree, an underemployed freelancer, listening to ’90s rock and roll on a record player, just returned from a two-week trip from California, and therefore, now back, basically in love with an exaggeration of the mainstream iconography of the place I love, founding ’90s studies in order to describe the failure of capitalism to qualify my life. And no, I was not listening to Soundgarden. I’ve never even seen a Soundgarden album on vinyl, and I don’t care to. Something about it doesn’t feel right.
Anyhow, in a time when it seems like The New York Times writes a weekly long-form article keeping the world abreast of life in Portland, that same attention seems to be suffocating Portland, or at least pushing it towards some big city idea of “the inevitable,” in a time when beards and flannel are the mainstream New York idea of hip, and even the discussion of “beards and flannel” makes me cringe because of the extent to which they are immediately dropped with words like “trendy” and “Williamsburg,” we need ’90s studies more than ever. For as wonderful as it is to see the Pacific Northwest lovingly depicted on these glowing rectangles,
it is a huge joke that the millennial world knows our land through Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. However massive this joke is, however, it is only as sad as we make it. I have few gripes with Portlandia, but you’re welcome to. ’90s studies is a big umbrella—get it, because of the Pacific Northwest?! It does legitimately suck when you want to walk your dog at the butte, but they’re filming Grimm and you’re not allowed. The important thing is to resist our Faustian destiny, remember that a deal with the devil never ends well—when New York comes calling tell ’em about grunge speak, don’t let Hollywood and investment bankers tell you they can make your dreams come true. Tell ’em you’re not interested. Say goodbye to Macklemore, just as we wished Art Alexakis well down south so we could move on without him.
For the record, neither My Own Private Idaho nor Fight Club are set in the Rust Belt. Reality Bites is set in Austin, Texas, which I understand to be similar to Portland, Oregon, though I haven’t been. In related news, Hollywood will be debuting its depiction of Iowa City in January. Apparently the University of Iowa won’t let them film there.