Portlandia and the importance of pretending
Posted on August 14th, 2013
he third season of Portlandia arrived over the weekend and by last night, Scott and I were halfway through the first disc. Somewhere around the second or third episode, a sketch plays out in Seattle, where principals Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, have travelled to evangelize about their beautiful home in Portland and to try to convert the big city dwellers they encounter into citizens of Portland.
At one point, Armisen and Brownstein face one another to speak in unison about the nature of their mission in Seattle. The problem is that the former hasn’t the vaguest notion what the latter is going to say. As Brownstein speaks with earnest conviction about their ministry to those lost in the wilderness of Seattle, Armisen tries to sync up the motions of his mouth with hers, making noises that might possibly be similar in sound, at least, to the words coming out of hers.
I laughed out loud—not so much at the gag, though it was quite funny—but because it was so familiar; Roy and I were doing the exact same thing in church together last month.
As I recited the words to the Nicene Creed, I turned to look at Roy. Sensing my gaze, he turned to look back at me and, immediately, we were playing hard at a mirroring game. If the sound in the Cathedral seemed indicative of a vowel, he would begin to join in, quickly tying off the sound into one of the stock set of church words he has stored up in his brain.
Aaaaaaa-lmighty? Aaaaaa-scended? Aaaaaa-postle?
Roy was ready to sub in one word for another at the first hint of a significant consonant. I only made it through a couple of sentences like this before I started laughing then, too.
Lately, I have been giving some thought to the nature of pretending. Not pretense—it’s stuffy, mean-spirited cousin—but playful pretend, the land we were so freely allowed to retreat to as children. As each one of us here in our home begins to assume responsibilities that we may not be entirely prepared for (not at all, really), I have begun to think of the things I might be asked to do as a pair of over-sized pants that a preschooler might pull up around their chin during a game of make-believe. When children pretend, they are allowed to practice things—some outlandish, some mundane—without any expectation that they will be precise or even remotely convincing.
Pretending we know something can be the first step to acquiring real knowledge. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.∗