Coinciding with this sentiment is anxiety among locals who cleave to an idealization of Austin as a bastion of open-mindedness and creative experimentation; a singular cosmopolitan hub amidst the conservative wastes of Texas. They fret that thereâ€™s been a decline in Austinâ€™s trademark Weirdness. For them, SXSW symbolizes the bland poser rabble which has infested the city. They despise SXSW for branding, marketing, and selling Austinâ€™s Weirdness wholesale. From their perspective, SXSW co-opts their motto of â€œKeep Austin Weird,â€ slaps it on overpriced merch, and then sells it to out of town trust funders and cynical corporate label execs.
The â€œweirdnessâ€ that Austin puts on T-shirts and bumper stickers, like an incantation, isnâ€™t going to ward off banality. It isnâ€™t enough. â€œKeep Austin Weirdâ€ isnâ€™t enough to keep Austin weird. Austin has to keep making weirdness happen. The city canâ€™t â€œKeep Austin Weird,â€ because it canâ€™t reverse changes that have already occurred. The city must actively cultivate the weird aesthetic it prides itself on. Residents must â€œMake Austin Weird,â€ again. You have to actually do something to achieve an ideal.
Austin is lucky in that it has a readymade mechanism to accomplish this: SXSW. Every year, tens of thousands of people make pilgrimage to Austin to take part in its trademark weirdness. The assumption among locals is that they epitomize the problem Austin faces in maintaining its character. They steal Austinâ€™s heritage like colonists, suffocating the non-conformist spark they feed on.
But,Â if people come to connect with Austinâ€™s quirkiness, then Austin should engage them instead of detesting them for what Austin has enabled: gentrification, commoditization, and normalization.
Austin has to be weird to stay weird. Austin has to cultivate weirdness so tourists and new residents donâ€™t consume it, but create it.