#1: Austinite Exceptionalism

I’m sitting here typing with one eye closed, thanks in part to a sparring match gone bad but mostly to Austin’s four-season allergy season (which is #5 on my list of things I hate about Austin, putting it somewhere ahead of ‘traffic’ but behind ‘UT business majors’ and ‘Spiderhouse Coffee‘). Luckily, it doesn’t take much depth perception to bitch about things I hate about this city. And number one on that list is ‘Keep Austin Weird.’

I hate to do it, kids, I really do, but I have to shatter a cherished, long held myth. This is going to be like the time your parents told you where Easter Eggs/Christmas presents/babies really came from. It’ll hurt, you may cry, but in the end you’ll be so much happier that you know the truth.

That’s this: Austin isn’t exceptional. Austin is cool. Austin is trendy. Austin has a lot of well-dressed, attractive people. I can’t think of anyplace I would rather live as a student. But it isn’t exceptional.

This whole thing is actually two combined myths. One, that Austin is this Promised Land which isn’t actually part of Texas; two, that it’s this rich, diverse, local town. These myths, by the way, have been picked up by every snotty Northeasterner who has ever told me that, ‘Oh, you’re from Austin? I’ve heard Austin is the only cool place in Texas.’

First off, no. You are wrong. In a state of 20 million, there damn well better be other cool places to go. Second off, why exactly do you think Austin is so damn exceptional? Because Travis County consistently goes Democrat? Because there’s a lot of green space? Because women are allowed to go topless in public parks? (If the last, I concede that this is awesome, but only, I repeat only, in theory)

Because let’s face it. The ‘Keep Austin Weird’ parts of Austin are pretty stultifyingly monocultural: upper-class trendy liberal white people (some of whom may be slumming). Get outside those areas, and you’re either on the East Side or in the suburbs. In either case, you could as easily be in parts of Houston, or Dallas, or-for that matter-San Diego.

(And as for the liberal thing: you remember we’re in a ridiculously conservative state? With a reactionary legislature? Where do you think those people hang out?)

When people say Austin’s ‘weird,’ they mean it has a local character. Fine. It does. But so do lots of places in Texas. And Austin doesn’t have the cultural resources or immigrant neighborhoods (yes, yes, I know, except for the East Side) that Houston, or Dallas, or San Antonio do. And, partly, because they are so much larger and so much more diverse, those are all a lot more interesting than Austin.

Not that I’d rather live in any of those places. I like this town. But stop acting like it’s so damn special. You’re still in Texas. Get over it.


5 Responses to “#1: Austinite Exceptionalism”

  1. 1 Jane Kim October 28, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    I think it’s not so much about stating that Austin IS special, I think it’s more about KEEPING it special and not be another conglomerated city that is full of stores and fads that you can find anywhere else in the nation. I guess in that sense, maybe Austin has failed, and really has already become a city that’s just as same as any other city. I mean, it already is chock-full of Starbucks which seems to have become the symbol of conglomeration. But I think the spirit of at least trying to keep it different, and not trying to keep up with the other “cool kids” in the nation, is something that makes Austin fun.

  2. 2 jeffbechdel October 28, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    As our blog’s token “snotty Northeasterner,” I leave up to people from Texas to tell me that Austin’s the only place in Texas worth living. I liked this, but might be interested in hearing about those “other places in Texas” you speak of to bolster your argument.

  3. 3 Brittany October 28, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    I am looking forward to an entry about UT business majors.

  4. 4 Mollie B. October 29, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    All I have to say is that I LOVE Austin.

    And thanks for the illustration! I seriously laughed out loud when I saw that!

  5. 5 Saul November 3, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    Jane, I’m not sure what you mean by keeping it different. The fact that a city has a lot of Starbucks doesn’t make it isn’t cool; the fact that it has lots of trendy independent coffeeshops doesn’t mean it is. People like Starbucks because, despite the fact that it’s ubiquitous, it’s a pretty cool place to hang out.

    I don’t much like the idea that our city should be different just for the sake of difference. If Walmart suits my needs better than Wheatsville-and it does-I’m going to go to Wheatsville. There is something special about Austin, something different, but it isn’t in the buildings. Talking about Starbucks misses the point.

    And Brittany, it’s coming.

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