Thursday, July 15, 2010

Keep Austin Weird/Make Austin Normal

Austin has been a pretty funky little town so far. The people are stylish. The shops are locally owned. The food is local, sustainable, organic (where have I heard that before?). The art is…prevalent. The beer is microbrewed (the wine is terrible). The college smells like pot. And patchouli.

So amidst a giant, sprawling state, where does this weirdo mindset come from?

The “Keep Austin Weird” slogan is a marketing campaign used to promote an independent, anti-corporate Austin and encourages Austinites to buy and shop local. According to Wikipedia, the slogan comes from “an offhand remark by Red Wassenich (a librarian at Austin Community College) in a phone call to a local radio station. He and his wife, Karen Pavelka, placed the slogan on bumper stickers, distributing them free to businesses in Austin.”

My personal experience with librarians is that they are always pushing weird agendas, like silence and the Dewey Decimal System.

What’s so weird about Austin? A compiled list:

-The bats. The Mexican Free-tailed Bats fly out every night from under the Congress Avenue Bridge, and it’s basically a party while waiting for them. I’m talking glowstick-selling-worthy. Fairly unusual.

-The Cathedral of Junk, which is what it sounds like – a giant art piece/trash pile/clubhouse made entirely of…junk. The city is making the "artist" dissemble it because of complaints ("Ummm, my neighbor is like, stealing my trash? And building stuff with it?"), but the man has yet to pull it all down, including his “Pyramid of [200] TVs”. I appreciate the creator, who, when asked to explain himself, sighed and said, "Kids get it."

- A festival devoted to Spam. Totally freaky.

- Women’s Roller Derby (favorite name: Texecutioners [runner up: The Holy Rollers]). Shouldn’t be weird, should be totally awesome!

-Polka dot lawn, for no reason at all. Possibly more deviant than weird.

-Police as anti-litter enforcers. Not only as in the “Don’t Mess With Texas” slogan. Water sports are particularly popular in this region, and you better believe the cops are there to check your coolers for glass or styrofoam as you gently tube, canoe, kayak, and float downstream. California, are you listening?

-A general renegade attitude: yard art; pirate radio; coffee shops with ‘tude; loud, live, local music scene; free healthcare, copious Christmas lights, and other outlandish behavior.

A need to fit in

The “Keep Austin Weird” slogan isn’t loved by all, and has spawned backlash. The antithesis is, selling bumper stickers and t-shirts championing buying from box stores and drinking martinis while posing the question, “How can you have a commercial slogan that screams anti-corporation?"

There’s also which, less cleverly, states their mission as “It's time to tell the hippies we're tired of Austin being so weird.” Less entertaining in their sneer, the Keep Austin Corporate campaign honestly sounds a bit curmudgeonly, and eerily sincere. The site also seems to promote Samuel Adams, and I just can’t get down with that.

A number of parodies of Keep Austin Weird have arisen in recent years, including ones that rip on the less funky towns of Texas. Some of my favorites:
"Keep Dallas Plastic"
"Keep Dallas Pretentious"
"Keep Round Rock Mildly Unusual"
"Keep San Antonio Lame"
"Keep Houston Under Construction"
"Keep Houston Ugly"
"Keep Houston Sprawling"

and my personal favorite, "Keep Austin Zombie."

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