THE ONE IN BETHESDA IS BETTER
Since the summer of 2010, DC residents have suffered the indignity of DC Cupcakes, a TLC reality TV show about the employees and frequenters of Georgetown Cupcakes, a boutique cupcake shop run by sisters Sophie LaMontaigne and Katherine Kallinis. DC Cupcakes. Self-explanatory. It’s about cupcakes in DC. So many cupcakes. And the people who eat them and love them. But I don’t eat them. I don’t love them. The show, in its unbearable strain to show the sweet side of my hometown, ends up portraying the otherwise dynamic and substantive food culture of DC as precious and ephemeral. Not to mention, your arteries aren’t the only ones they’re clogging. The line of tourists meandering out the door and practically all the way down the Potomac River fill the streets with their blubbering. “I wonder if they’re filming today!”
My horror at the retrograde gender politics of the two sister-owners is only mollified by how cute they are as they liquify everything that’s wrong with Georgetown—conspicuous consumption, de facto segregation, the tyranny of hardbody condescension—and serve it up to us, every Monday night. But they are cute, and it looks like they’re having a good time whipping up preposterously elaborate $2.75 cupcakes, which are, in fact, kind of tasty. Tasty enough to open a retail location in Bethesda, a reluctant suburban host, I’m sure. And so, the proprietors of Georgetown Cupcake have eaten their way into our hearts—among the other hearts they’ve eaten—for better or for worse.
By the summer of 2009, NYC Prep was as inevitable as it was impossible. Gossip Girl had proved just how compelling the Manhattan zip codes most inclined to secrecy could be. As Lisa Birnbach B’78, author of The Preppy Handbook and mother of one of my prep school classmates told the Wall Street Journal at the time, “No actual preppy kid would ever go to a casting call for something like this.” Instead, Bravo’s producers had to content themselves with second-tier preps from schools like Dwight (of the famed acronym Dumb White Idiots Getting High Together) and Birch, not to mention one Long Islander and a runt from public magnet school Stuyvesant. The elite Nightingale-Bamford’s one cast member wasn’t invited back after the show aired.
I was a senior when the show was filmed; the one junior who had initially been cast from Collegiate, my alma mater, dropped out, though you can spot a couple of my classmates in episode four’s concert scene. Since no Chapin junior would ever let a camera crew into her Park Avenue house party, the show was mostly filmed at third-rate restaurants like that always-empty Thai place on 2nd Avenue with the space-age décor. As with any reality show, the stars forced themselves into archetypes—Jesse, the fashion plate, Camille the striver, Sebastian the lady-killer—but the fact that none of these reality stars were old enough to drink made their self-caricature all the more poignant. (This is also why it was hard to give a shit when pictures surfaced of Sebastian taping a swastika to a car window.)
Even though the show barely lasted a season, you can follow up on its cast online. Camille, the quondam Nightingirl, had to abandon her Harvard dreams for William & Mary, though her Twitter, @cisobel, remains a testament to her wit (March 6: “Its my cabbies first day #seriousnycproblems”). But you might be better served checking out the new nycprepproblems Tumblr, whose promise of anonymity to its teenage tipsters guarantees a truer view of uptown than any TV show could.
You’ve probably heard about the Independent Film Channel’s sketch-comedy series Portlandia, in which a “bohemian” couple, played by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, obsesses over the quality of chicken they’re ordering at a restaurant to the point of insisting on visiting its farm to examine its prior living conditions.
As Portlanders, we are constantly bombarded with questions about feminist bookstores and bike regulations. Portland is a breeding ground for artisan bakers and dumpster divers alike, and—with its youth-friendly, bike-centric environment—the tagline “where young people go to retire” doesn’t seem too far off. That said, we are not all hippies who frolic in fields with Joanna Newsom. Our parents don’t need adult babysitters to keep them from playing video games, and, sadly, even our eco-obsessed city can’t figure out how to recycle bits of fingernails and eggshells into clean air, fresh water, or good vibes. There’s a contingent of Portland youth that is offended by the show, probably because it makes fun of a culture that we pretend to be unaware of. How dare these outsiders make fun of our city? Then they’ll promptly go on to criticize the newly implemented citywide compost program. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that only those who live in Portland can mock it. There is in fact a local movement called “Don’t Move Here” due to the large influx of people who move to our precious city.
Portlandia has glimpses of greatness, though. The scenes that hit closest to, well, home include the parody of Wieden+Kennedy, the hip Portland ad agency, where Carrie must fight through quirky office obstacles to reach the ideas meeting—hosted in a giant bird’s nest that takes flight. The scene is not too extreme to believe, for this sort of unorthodox brainstorming session is illustrative of the city’s strangeness. The unofficial slogan isn’t Keep Portland Weird for nothing.
So yes, we are proud of our community gardens and world’s largest naked bike ride. We went to high schools that had classes on sweat lodges and lucid dreaming. The opening sequence may evoke a dream city—golden-hued, tree-lined avenues, veggies growing everywhere and bookstore emporiums—but perhaps the most infuriatingly deceptive aspect of the show is this: it never rains in Portlandia.
-KvB and EF
IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY
In August 4, 2005, for the first time, people like me, people like the people I knew appeared on television. Everyone dressed like it was three and a half years ago and some of them cared about hockey. Families were antisocial units who actively worked to hinder their members’ success and happiness. Beer was only the cheap kind. People ate at Wawa and laughed at jokes about non-consensual sex.Their only aspirations were schemes and schemes were their only hobbies. I personally read the cannibalism episode as an allegory about the greatness of cheesesteaks.
Most of all, and best of all, finally there was a woman on television I could relate to. She was quickwitted and bony. Fixated on her appearance, but only interested in deliberately second-rate guys who functioned as a sort of joke that no one else understood. Taunted and excluded by her male friends, but still sure that they would include her the next time. A proponent of sexism and elitism although herself a lower-middle-class woman. A graduate of an Ivy League school but of questionable intelligence. Attached to her artistic aspirations, but clearly, almost proudly, talentless. Contrary to Freud’s offensive and sexist allegation that women only have “erotic ambitions,” Sweet Dee Reynolds had no ambitions. She was not really a salad eater and sort of a whore.
The show’s only factual error was that it took like five seasons for Mac to become fat. A real Philly man already would have been.
It was years before I understood that the rest of the country did not see It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as celebratory or aspirational.
HERE WE COME
I’m from California—the Southern part—Orange County…” And BOOM, even though I’ve just introduced myself, I have no chance at a clean slate: I'm just a not-Seth-not-Marissa-not-Ryan. And given my pale skin, which emits a soft not-OC sheen, I’m quick to disassociate myself from anything that reeks of beach. Predicting the blitz of “do you surf do you bikini do you listen to Spoon?”, my next line is probably something like, “I swear it’s not like that…” But really, it’s just deceit, because the sad truth is that life in the OC often is like the show—maybe intentionally so.