In an article recently published on Salon.com, writer Erin Keane explores the Earth shattering implications of the way the “put a bird on it” phenomenon was lovingly skewered by Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen on their IFC comedy show Portlandia. In it, she argues that this is “the first comedy sketch to have had a noticeable impact on the buying habits of the people who were both the audience for and the butt of the gag.” It seems to me like this is one of those articles where a writer tries to generalize her own neuroses onto a large group of people in order to justify them.
She bases her argument on two main things: her own hesitance to purchase something she used to like because a TV show has now made fun of it, and the stupidity of every single group of people to be made fun of on television up until now. Take this paragraph:
Comedians mock mainstream culture all the time, but we don’t expect their targets to dignify it with a response. When Patton Oswalt dubbed the KFC Famous Bowl (a layered monstrosity of mashed potatoes and various side dishes) “a failure pile in a sadness bowl,” stoners the world over didn’t stop ordering them in the drive-thru at midnight. Did middle-aged soccer moms pull off their sexless, butt-flattening pants after “Saturday Night Live” aired a fake commercial for “Mom Jeans”? A visit to my local library branch says no — people who got the “mom jeans” joke already wouldn’t be caught dead in elastic waists.
Does she really believe SNL became the longest running sketch comedy show on television by making esoteric jokes that sailed over the heads of anyone who didn’t live in New York or LA? I mean, sure, the “Mom Jeans” sketch was clever, but wasn’t that high concept. It was successful precisely because the people who wore those particular pants were able to laugh at themselves a bit, as well as at the weird dichotomy between “woman” and “mom” that exists in our culture. Case in point: my own mother. She saw it, laughed, and kept on rocking those high-waisted pants. Suburban moms aren’t nearly as stupid as she seems to want to believe. (Stoners tend to have a good sense of humor about themselves, too. I mean, you kind of have to.)
She also discusses, at length, her own struggles with the difficult concept of both liking something, and feeling it’s played out:
But “Portlandia” doesn’t poke fun at Middle America. It mocks, however gently and fondly, the indie outliers who probably consider themselves beyond such reproach. (A second seasons begins on IFC in January.) And thanks to the Internet and ease of video clip forwarding, “Put a Bird on It” might be the first comedy sketch to have had a noticeable impact on the buying habits of the people who were both the audience for and the butt of the gag. If I bought that bird magnet, it would be like admitting that I wasn’t in on the joke, that I didn’t get the reference. Laugh with or be laughed at.
What was intended as a bit of lighthearted humor made by artsy urbanites, for artsy urbanites, has transformed in her mind (and those of likeminded people?) into an utter condemnation of the very existence of trends. But in reality, for each person who throws out all their bird-related merchandise, there are ten more people who don’t care if birds are trendy or not, because guess what? Birds are fucking sweet. Fuck symbolism, I’m talking on a purely aesthetic level. They’re like these weird little dinosaur creatures with lizard feet and gorgeous plumage. Birds rule.
For instance, take my own relationship with this trend. I not only own things with birds on them, I actually put multiple birds on myself. Birds that will never come off, because they are tattoos. I got these tattoos after watching the episode of Portlandia and chuckling at it, and I even named one of them “Cacao” after a different sketch on the show. I think anyone thin-skinned enough to have their likes and dislikes genuinely affected by a gentle parody like this needs to stop taking themselves so seriously and put a bird on something. Maybe it’ll cheer them up.