In the late nineteenth century the literary genre of utopia enjoyed a boom inspired by the success of Edward Bellamy’s 1888 Looking Backward, 2000–1887. These stories, including novels by William Morris and H. G. Wells, often featured a cicerone who explained how disordered nineteenth-century societies were transformed into superior future worlds. Because this utopian didacticism, inspired by Karl Marx, fell quickly out of fashion and was parodied ruthlessly by twentieth-century dystopias, it is hard to imagine how the form could be revived. However, the TV show Portlandia, which premiered in 2011, avoids the future-oriented “inevitability effect” of the fin de siècle utopias by returning to an earlier moment in the utopian genre: the satirizing of a society somewhere on Earth. Portlandia presents a lightly fictionalized version of Portland, Oregon, as a happy, inclusive, and prosperous town whose inhabitants are free to pursue their visions. Its “cringe comedy” satire of self-involvement complicates, but does not substantially undermine, its depiction of a peaceful alternative to the militarized American imagination of the early 2000s.

You do not currently have access to this content.