“And they too are covered in holes. They each carry a bucket. And in each bucket is a hole. This is the song we’re in.”
— Sabrina Orah Mark, Wild Milk
“Who adopted you?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Tompkins.”
“Did they ever allow you to call them Mom and Dad?”
“No, they made it clear. They were like, ‘Look, we adopted you, but it doesn’t mean you can call us Mommy and Daddy. We’re Mr. and Mrs. Tompkins.’”
— Season 4, episode 1 of Portlandia
When Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, and Jonathan Krisel created Portlandia, they read the room. And when I say “read the room,” the room was the whole United States, possibly the entire First World as it was from 2011-2018.
When you combine this type of deeply relatable parody with Sabrina Orah Mark’s short, equally absurdist novel Wild Milk, you feel at home in the land of ostracism. You feel unified in the role of outcast. You feel known in the unknown terrain. You also feel confused a good bit.
This pairing displays:
- Fragments of dreamscapes making the feelings expressed within them appear closer to reality than actual life
- Anxious parents
- Repeated ineptitude during attempted displays of skill
- Unapologetic, overconfident tirades
- Regular life requiring more than you have to offer
- Allusions that help fit the story into the context required for fuller understanding
- Learning rules that you inherently can’t follow
- People in charge who should definitely not be in charge
- Next-level satire
- Echo chambers for the functionally impotent
- Cultural darwinism going to work
These postmodern fairy tales are zeitgeist laboratories, dissecting traditional conventions and morphing characters into mutant caricatures. They don’t leave us in these places but instead force us to draw parallels in our current existence, giving us space to develop new associations with the mundane.