Portland: Van Goh Home



A Portland creative type walks into a bar. The bartender looks at the creative type and says, "We don’t serve your kind here." The Portland creative type says "Are you kidding?" The bartender replies, "Of course I’m kidding, we primarily serve your type here, and since your type likes to drink two-dollar tall boys and never order food, we’re closing our doors in two weeks because we can’t afford to stay in business." The Portland creative type then finishes his can of GMO corn syrup fluoride before going home and firing up the old digital outrage machine to fling a nasty email at the editor of a local paper about how tech-industry transplant assholes are gentrifying his neighborhood.

Portland is losing our "DIY creative types" or, as the majority of art gallery owners refer to them as, "who?" These kids, who are often pushing 16 by the age of 40. They are dismissed by anthropologists, psychologists and other academics (who actually managed to land jobs in fields that most "creative types" majored in before giving up on life and following misguided dreams) as mere bi-products of the everyone-gets-a-trophy baby boomers, who lied to a generation of emotionally crippled underachievers by telling them that life is fair.

What, in the name of all that is open for six months before shutting their doors, are we going to do about an exodus of entitled manchildren who can’t find a way to monetize their dozen-member faux-lk rock bands? Who will pay artists to make art, when the only people left in Portland are people who can actually afford to pay for art (and thus not artists)? What happens when the irony of hipsters being gentrified becomes greater than the sum of the irony produced by said hipsters?

The Portland Solution: Complain using rhetoric.

For instance: "Creative types are being driven out of the trendy inner-Southeast neighborhoods, thanks to expensive developers and the tenants who rent expensive studio apartments from them." Ignore the fact that gentrification has been occurring at the hands of artsy hipster types for decades. Don't forget to dismiss the notion that an economy based on hook-ups and currency only honored at Burning Man does not lead to sustainable neighborhoods inhabited by people who aren’t afraid of vehicles with more than one gear.

The Every Other City With a Population Equal to Ours Solution: Produce better art.

After that, put a price tag on art that is above, or at least equal to, two pints of (import) beer. In any other major metropolitan area, say, New York City, San Francisco, McMinnville, Lincoln City, Corvallis or Silverton, artists are among the most overpaid cultural elites. The Portland Art Museum, on the other hand, is forced to import most of their exhibits from other areas of the country whenever they choose to feature a "Shit That Isn’t Overrated French Impressionist Whatever" show. Otherwise, they have to feature gawdy, overrated hometown exhibits.

This makes minimal sense (pun accidental), considering that the last time over-development happened in Portland, it was to pave way for, you guessed it, the Alberta "arts district." Well, "artists," you’ve had your chance at turning Portland into a hub of creativity, and the only thing you’ve produced (besides that eye sore metal stick nest on the east end of the Belmont bridge) is a pretty cool mural of Working Kirk Reeves (who, for the record, contributed more creativity to the corner of an on-ramp than most Portland art school graduates could ever hope for). Of note, Portland at least had the class to use the corner of "racially gentrified" and "used to be a homeless camp before the bike lanes came in" for a memorial portrait of a homeless black dude.

Way to go, PDX "artists." Your cultural output rivals that of a parapalegic sloth who just discovered the Walking Dead on Netflix. Imagine if during the height of Detroit’s Motown era, the most significant export was the Insane Clown Posse. Not to diss ICP or anything, it would just be odd to see them outsell the Temptations in 1964. However, this metaphor, that of the white-people-ruining-it-for-everyone-else phenomenon, extends beyond quantified output to include Portland’s pattern of "co-opt, destroy, question and complain." Portland gentrified the largest black neighborhood (that has successfully gone fifty years without a controlled flood), for no reason other to "revitalize" the area by cramming in pod-sized ice cream shops and "art" "galleries" that appeal to approximately two ex-boyfriends (and one shrink) per misunderstood photographer.

Now that N.E. MLK and S.E. Division have merged into one bizarre episode of David Lynch Presents: Portlandia, the inner-Southeast area is crumbling under the pressure of too many professional attention whores. The market demand for "quirk" has dropped sharply since the recession, and since Portland is quick to follow in the trends of other west coast cities, we are now facing the "this is why we can’t have nice cultural artifacts" paradox; you can’t have a demographic of working-class artists when none of them work, have class, or produce what those with spending power consider to be art.

Let’s say, however, that you were to put a price tag on your Intersectional Feminist Superhero Trading Card exhibit. Once you got over the fact that the last person to dedicate their life to the art for art’s sake died poor after slicing off his own ear (for reasons other than a studio partner who refused to stop playing the Decemberists), you would realize that it is entirely ethical to pay your rent from something you create. However, being from Portland, you’d probably be quick to spit some tired rhetoric about how hard it is to make it as a struggling zine artist when the market is dominated by that cartoonist from the bagel store. This line of aspiration-shaming bullshit is put to rest when one considers that, on a national level, Portland’s biggest creative economy revolves around a penis-shaped doughnut.

I know a lady who makes a substantial living selling duct-tape art, another who welds unused spatulas donated from local restaurants, and a guy who hunts for bigfoot (mythical) while making millions of dollars a year doing it (factual). You’re not making good art in a bad economy; you’re making bad art in an economy that has never put a limit on the value attributed to its art. That, or you’re making good art, and you’re just too goddamned lazy and apathetic to take the essential steps toward turning it into a business (read: daily hustle, not occasional Etsy).

My third entirely factual (and in-no-way-dictated-by-the-fact-I-have-a-five-hundred-dollar-penthouse-in-Salem) point regards that of 26 Burnside, a standard-by-most-standards metropolitan apartment complex that was dumped in between strips of failing bars and slumlord-owned lofts, thus constituting "gentrification" according to the white hipster transplants from five years ago who were displaced by the working professional transplants of today.

Of particular concern to the local snowflakes, a 26 Burnside resident named Tyler Hurst contributed a piece to the Willamette Week titled "I’m Sorry You Hate My Apartment, I Think It’s Nice." Enter the competing local freekly paper, which features far less journalism, a consistently ironic hypocritical slant (read: articles attacking strip clubs for exploiting women, followed by submission calls for the best local homemade porn films) and columns like this one that feature whiny ex-Portlanders (but with far less wordy words, and gratuitous use of the word "fuck" in place of content). I will refer to this rag as the Portland Mediocrity in order to avoid a misspelled C&D from someone who doesn’t understand the law (trust me, it’s happened before). Because readers of the Mediocrity are only apathetic until shit gets real and threatens to thaw the snowflakes, the 26 Burnside fiasco, in which a "creative type" (by all tax form definitions) from a real (read: hires actual journalists) freekly paper decided to defend the fact he pays (half of what everyone in San Francisco and Seattle pays) for a studio apartment, resulted in a half-page of "DOUCHEBAG! THIS GUY IS A DOUCHEBAG! Thank you, -Pointless in Portland" letters to the Portland Mediocrity's editor.

There are two demographics of Portland "creative types." The first group, comprised of folks who are offended by the concept of change, sees absolutely no problem showing their dicks to children in an attempt to "raise awareness about body image and bicycles" (in an effort to justify a lifestyle that allows for career alcoholism and/or obtain yearly dose of attention never received by parents as a child), expects their "art" (scribbled shit on a paper bag that is "supposed to look that way") to "sell" (sit on the internet and be discovered by someone who doesn’t understand that there’s much better art for sale elsewhere on the internet), or at least land a "gallery showing" (hung where the fuck ever in no particular pattern on the wall of a vegan pizza shop).

The second group of creative types has found a way to turn their distaste for the status quo into some sort of marketable skill, allowing them to earn a living while building websites, subcontracting graphic design, programming lines of code from the ground up, or any of the other things that these types begin to do in middle school (while the first group is busy cursing the local coffee shop for not featuring their Sleater-Kinney fan art exhibit).

The first group is being driven out their 26th and East Burnside neighborhood apartments by the second group. Why is this bad news?

Personally, I look forward to the day hipsters can no longer afford to live in the neighborhoods they ruined and are forced to move next door to all the people whose clothing styles, musical influence and, well, culture they stole. Put simply, the Goodwill in Gresham just became breeding grounds for an all-out class war, and my money is on the kid who used to live upstairs from La Luna in the late 1990's before being kicked out so some asshole hipster transplants from Michigan could turn it into Sizzle Bagel. Shit may roll downhill, but it does so in a spiral, and it's about to come full-circle again.

I don’t think I was stereotyping just there, so let me do so right now: I have dated no less than six bartenders in their thirties who have zero life goals outside of the discount drinks they’re chugging down during the work hours, while comp'ing their customer friends on the boss’s dime. Every single one lived within walking distance of 26 Burnside. Chopsticks, the so-called institution and "cherished" local watering hole, sits empty most hours of the day until they run a special on pisswater beer and let attention whores do karaoke while an underpaid KJ stares at an empty tip jar. The full menu of outstanding Chinese food and microbrews collects dust, because high rollers (the general public) don't give the place much of a chance due to the PBR tallboy clientele that scares off anyone with access to a shower and a paycheck.

When someone with a budget that allows not only for Chinese food during dinner hours (a strange concept, I know, but work with me here), but also the prospect of inviting other "upper class" (read: below poverty level) friends from his "yuppie" (read: no black mold, manager not located in Michigan) apartments, moves into the neighborhood with enough spending power to actually purchase that velvet Lebowski painting you’ve been trying to sell for years, do the rest of your town a favor and don’t line up to yell "douchebag" at the guy.

Or, at least like, actually line up and yell at the guy. Writing letters to the editor of the local circle jerk rag only results in publications that matter calling you out while you pretend to know the owner of the strip club you hang out at all day while ordering shots of "whatever’s cheap" and not tipping the staff. While you’re reading this, that "douchebag" from that nice apartment complex is actually buying dances from the stripper you came to see. You had better move in on that before he offers to buy one of her paintings, otherwise she’ll end up in one of those nice studio apartments you detest so much (and you won’t be able to put her on the guest list of the venue that can no longer afford to pay rent from putting too many people on the guest list).

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