Portlandia at In Other Words

23 Sep

In Other Words Feminist Community Center, where I volunteer, is the last nonprofit feminist bookstore (and community center) in the United States. The country used to have hundreds and I’ve heard is down to only about twenty now. In Other Words is also the site of the feminist bookstore scenes in the TV show Portlandia, filmed in Portland, Oregon.

The show (if you haven’t seen it) satirizes the progressive bubble of Portland and, by extension, progressive bubbles in general. The writers/stars are progressive themselves, but any bubble, progressive or conservative or whatever, has many insular citizens who too easily forget about the rest of the world. Though I love Portland and am very grateful that I’m here, I continue to have a global awareness and am frequently reminded that the U. S. outside of Portland is very different.


I knew that someone from Portlandia was scheduled to interview volunteers during this month’s Sunday Volunteer Brunch. Somehow I had pictured the director or producer, one person, interviewing us like a journalist, with a notepad, and with maybe one person behind a camera.

When I arrived at In Other Words for the brunch, the front of the community center was bustling with a film crew. I felt a bit awkward and shy as I headed for the back of the center, where the tables and chairs were set up for brunch, and where muffins already occupied a buffet table.

A guy approached me with a clipboard and asked me to fill out a form. I sat down on the big comfy couch and did so; the form looked like something extras must fill out when they show up at a film sight. Other volunteers and board members arrived, put more food on the buffet table, and filled out the same form. We talked about the extensive film crew and how this was a much bigger deal than what we had pictured.

While we sat at the long table animatedly conversing, suddenly someone from the film crew whispered to us, “Shhh. We’re filming.” So we became quiet and stealthy and listened in while a guy who has appeared in Portlandia episodes interviewed a new volunteer whom I’d never met. The interview took place in the front half of the space, with the volunteer and the interviewer behind the front counter. Afterwards, he also interviewed the board members Kim and Jane extensively, asking them many questions about, in particular, the events listed on the event board.

He asked about the Happy Hysteria Collective, which meets once a month, and he wanted to know about some of its past topics. Kim mentioned the most recent discussion topic, and then she mentioned the previous one, “sperm retention.” The topic of sperm retention carried on for quite some time. Kim afterwards joked about it, saying her mother will be watching the show and they might make a cut simply of every time she said the phrase “sperm retention.” She also commented that she should have held up a sign that said, “Hi, Mom!”

The film crew then recorded the interviewer talking just to the camera, while the volunteers and board members ate brunch. Afterwards the interviewer and film crew joined us in the back of the space, with the interviewer sitting at the table with us. He chatted with us, and in the midst of the conversation he mentioned that he’s from Pakistan and that it’s legal for men to rape their wives. I’m pretty sure it was the same way in the U. S. until the 1970s.

The film crew recorded an introduction, in which the interviewer, sitting at our table, tells the audience about In Other Words and its association with Portlandia. A few minutes later, they recorded a conclusion, in which Kim or someone gave him a gift of a PStyle (a tubular plastic object for helping women pee standing up, particularly while out camping or hiking) and explained what it was.

The show—about the real Portland behind Portlandia—is going to be available to view online. I didn’t ask, but I suspect it might eventually become a DVD special feature.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: