Portland, Oregon: Backlash Capital of the World

The only thing the denizens of Portland, Oregon love more than homebrew kombucha is a good backlash. What the Times calls the city's "new provincialist" ethos is a backlash against America's Walmartification. But here comes the backlash against the backlash!

Portland's current cultural fetishization is the local: Food, bikes, bands. For many, things made and consumed exclusively in Portland are the only things worth making and consuming. Anything that sneaks out of this Fortress of Solipsism is on track for an epic backlash. Portland has yet to secede from the Union and erect a high-tech electronic fence around its borders, so the backlash never ends, as bands get picked up by major labels, brands explode, and the whole thing sells out.

Portland's infinite backlash loop is probably best illustrated by the case of artisanal coffee roaster Stumptown, the vanguard of coffee's "third-wave." Launched as the anti-Starbucks, Stumptown is now positioned to become the new Starbucks. We predicted a national backlash against Stumptown once it started opening shops in flyover country and became basically Starbucks with fancier coffees and clients who pretend to be able to tell the difference between them.

But in Portland, each cultural entity is born almost simultaneously with its backlash. Anti-Stumptown sentiment has existed almost as long as Stumptown. Even before the roaster lost its local cred a couple years ago by opening its first store "abroad" (in New York), alternatives had popped up for those who thought Stumptown had become too corporate. (In Portland, anything that makes enough money to stay in business is "too corporate".) One popular Stumptown alternative, Courier Coffee, started as a door-to-door bicycle coffee delivery service. Stumptown tried to counter with a program to buy bicycles for Rwandans, but it was too late: The double-backlash was on, and shit-talking Stumptown is now an excellent ice-breaker in Portland.

Portland's latest backlash has ended in violence. The Times details the harrowing story of chef Eric Bechard. Bechard was pissed when a cooking competition branded as a paragon of local food named a pig from Iowa a winner. So, he brawled with the founder of the cooking competition at a strip club.

"I get there and I get the flier and I'm immediately sickened because I'm seeing ‘local,' ‘sustainable,' ‘local farms,' ‘local chefs,' ‘local wine,' " Mr. Bechard recalled, "and then two of the pigs are from Kansas and Iowa? I'm looking at my friend and he said, ‘Eric, just let it go.' "

Many hours and drinks and insults later, witnesses told police Mr. Bechard was the aggressor when he encountered Brady Lowe, the event's Atlanta-based organizer, outside a bar. Words were hurled and fists flew. The police came, firing Tasers and pepper spray.

Anyone who thinks the double-backlash is the harmless pastime of a bunch of white people in a damp Pacific Northwest enclave would do well to look at Bechard and Lowe's battered mugshots. As successive backlashes drive maddened Portlanders ever-more militantly local, this whole thing might end in a Civil War.

[Photo via wweek.com]