Saturday, February 8, 2014


During my morning reading, I ran across something talking about keeping a particular city weird.  It struck me in that moment that there is something disingenuous about claiming to be weird and stating a need to keep that weirdness.  It is as the liar saying "Trust me" all the time, or the comment in Hamlet 3.2 that "The lady doth protest too much"; such places as claim a need to keep themselves a certain way are almost certainly not that way (anymore, if they ever were).

I do not mean by this to say that homogeneity is desirable.  Difference is good; the tension between things that are different is productive, and the challenges to ideas that are necessarily embedded within encounters with the different are useful for the examination and strengthening of self.  What I do mean to say is that the announcement of a certain quality detracts from that quality; if it is actually and authentically embodied, it will be manifest and will therefore not need to be announced as present, and if it must be announced, the effort spent in making the announcement is effort that should instead be directed towards the embodiment of the named quality.  In effect, X saying that X is Y leaves X less able to do what it needs to do to be Y.

Too, the announcement bespeaks uncertainty about the quality.  If a place has to announce that it is weird, it suggests that it is very much not weird.  Austin, for example, is not weird now (if it ever really was).  It convincingly reflects the Williamsburg portion of Brooklyn in many respects; it echoes LA and San Francisco in a number of others; and it is eerily similar to several sections of Washington, DC, in some places.  None of these are unusual (being held up as exemplars in mainstream media for decades tends to familiarize, after all), and the combination of them is not any more odd than are the individual parts.  In essence, Austin is like most other mid-sized cities in the United States; it is overshadowed in large part by its larger neighbors and seeks to assert itself and its identity through a veneer that only lightly overlays a fundamental sameness.

The authentically strange has no need to call attention to its own strangeness.  Indeed, the weirdness will be remarked and commented upon by those who look upon it from within the realm of normalcy, ambiguous as its boundaries are.  And while it is an improvement to look upon the weird and not to reject it as a thing unfit and unclean and seek to destroy it therefore (although not all called "weird" is yet even at that point, more's the pity), it is not exactly complimentary to exploit it--which is what many of the "keep it weird" folks end up doing.  By celebrating the strangeness as strangeness, rather than as the thing which is itself strange, something of a freak-show effect is produced; "Lookit tha', Ma!  Ain't that a freak?" is hardly respectful of a thing or an actual engagement.  It is rather something held up to offer contrast between it and the viewer, usually with the end goal of making viewers feel better about themselves and their purported normalcy.

If the "normal" needs such validation, perhaps it ought not to be the standard by which we make our judgments.

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