While putting together my list of of 101+ Weird Austin Things To Do, I began to wonder if some of the items were weird or if they were just unique. As I kept making the list it became clear that there’s a difference between “weird” and “unique”.
Here’s my thoughts on the difference between “Weird Austin” and “Unique Austin”.
What is “Weird”?
When I think of “weird” I think of unusual things outside the mainstream. Things that don’t seem to mesh with reality as we know it. Weird is made by people who march to the best of their own drum. Artists, labors of love, things that don’t need to be but someone or some group felt compelled to bring them into existence. I also don’t think people who create weird stuff really think of themselves as weird. The word “weird” is judgement that other people make about people who don’t fit into their own view of reality.
Real weirdos don’t think they are weird, they’re just doing what they are compelled to do and the world calls them weird. If they’ve shown their passion to the world, they most likely have been called weird and might use it as shorthand to tell others that what they do is unusual. But weirdos aren’t trying to be weird.
What is “Keep Austin Weird”?
You probably have heard the phrase “Keep Austin Weird”. It’s a response to what many people see as a increasingly loss of “weird” things in Austin. Much of the rapid growth in Austin has displaced much of the people, things, and activities that were there even just a few years ago.
But the phrase “Keep Austin Weird” begs the question: How? How does one “Keep Austin Weird”?
One of the most common responses I see is to try to be deliberately weird by emulating what you think is weird. But, for me, that nearly always falls flat and reeks of caricature. Listening to and following the part of you that marches to a different drummer is weird. Trying to imitate how others march to different drummers is just mimicry.
So how to you “Keep Austin Weird”? There are two ways, I think.
First, spend time following the beats in your head that do not sync with any of the music you see around you. Don’t surpress it, give it a voice. Let that part of you that doesn’t get to be you ever be you once in a while.
Second, support those people that you think are weird. Go see their stuff, compliment them, tell people about them. Buy their stuff. Pay for admission. Tip them well. Weird needs to pay the bills, too.
You’ll find the second way much easier and the first way more rewarding. You can do both. But I’ve got loads of suggestions on stuff you can support to “Keep Austin Weird”.
What is Austin “Unique”? What is Austin “Unusual”?
Unique is something you can’t get (most) anywhere else. Barton Springs and the Congress Avenue Bridge bats are unique to Austin. The Texas Capitol building is unique to Austin. If you looking for a one of a kind experience in Austin, then I call it unique.
But then there are these other things that are out of the ordinary like Goat Yoga and Bubble Soccer. It doesn’t seem accurate to label these things “Austin Unique” since you can do them in many other cities.
In fact, many of the internet’s “Austin Weird” lists don’t seem be aware of this, much less than many of these activities didn’t even originate in Austin. Goat Yoga is from Oregon, Bubble Soccer is from Norway, Axe throwing (at least in its popular urban form) originated in Canada.
Don’t get me wrong. Knowing that these things started elsewhere and happen in most major cities doesn’t make them less fun. But calling them “Austin Weird” seems somewhat disingenious. Calling them “Austin Unique” is flat-out untrue.
But they’re fun! And they’re not something most people have done. Especially if you’re visting from a city that doesn’t have these sorts of things.
So how do I truthfully label them?
Weird vs. Unique – My Final Conclusion
Weird things are unique. But unique things don’t have to be weird. Weird is a special “I’m going by the beat of my own drummer” type of unique.
If you’re going to attach the word “Austin” to either “Weird” or “Unique” then I think it should be something that originated here, or if borrowed, has been transformed into its own uniquely Austin version.
So my definitions for my list of 101+ Weird and Unique Things To Do In Austin are:
Austin Weird: Only in Austin and moves to the beat of its own drummer.
Austin Unique But Not Weird: You can’t find it anywhere else but fits mainstream tastes.
Sorta Austin Unique: It’s unusual but happens in many other cities. It might have used to have been weird, but too many people are now marching to this same drummer to keep calling it weird.