Sunday, March 10, 2013

SXSW is here again - and, no, I am not going, again

I've never paid for a SXSW badge.  The only SXSW badges I ever got were through work for (a) the relatively new SXSW Interactive around 2000 and (b) about three years ago I returned to Interactive.  I've never paid for film or for music.

I've never been to a SXSW screening of a movie, and the few times I saw music at SXSW, it was near accidental and incidental.  It's probably safe to say that I'm not particularly interested in the scene, and the idea of dealing with the crowds, the lines, and sheer volume of people at all of these events has been off-putting enough that whatever appeal there might be to seeing bands or movies is significantly reduced when I weigh the cost factor of dealing with the scene around SXSW.

For those of us in town, SXSW is an annual period where we sort of just avoid downtown between certain blocks and as locals who feel the presence of the tide, we know to brace ourselves for:

  • The bizarre take on Austin that journalists mistake for Austin but which is really just the bubble of SXSW (East Sixth is not "no-man's land".  It's a few hundred feet from regular Sixth.  By the way, no one really goes to Sixth anymore but tourists)
  • The number of people who, based on the drunken revelry to be had during SXSW, associate those good times with a need to move here - and they do
  • The handwaving that SXSW isn't, basically, spring break for three industries and that this is somehow work 
  • People who are the True Believers in SXSW seeming shocked and indignant (and often demanding answers) when you say you don't want to spend the money or time

I've come to think of SXSW like the Thanksgiving Black Friday Sale of the three associated industries.  From a consumer standpoint, it's more about the experience of staying up all night in a line with people who really, really hope to get that mega-deal on a TV, but they're going to walk out with a somewhat discounted toaster, if nothing else, to prove that staying up all night was worth it.  And, you know, shut up about the fact that you ordered that same toaster for cheaper online two days later.

If you were going to shows in your prime to make sure you could say you were part of "the scene", then SXSW is going to be the scene-iest place you can be seen.  Congrats.  You've found your people.

Look, just because there's a crowd for something doesn't mean it's a great idea.  Sure, there's a two hour line for local favorite Franklin's BBQ, and I'm sure its great, but I'll never know, because I don't wait two hours standing in line for anything but to meet Lynda Carter (oh, yes, I would).  I remind you good people that on most Saturday nights in this town, there also used to be a two hour wait for a table at The Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse and many other mid-tier and un-unique things one can do.

Whatever drives people to think they got something out of seeing literally five dozen bands in four days... good for you, but I would have no idea what I'd just dealt with.  And I know that's many people's thing, but... keep in mind, I don't even get the point of comic conventions.  The one thing you'd expect I'd really be into?  I can't muster the energy to put on a Darth Vader helmet and participate like I'm supposed to.

As I said, there's a sort of shaming that's associated with a lack of SXSW and ACL Fest participation in Austin, although, as we get older, the number of people still shaming me has diminished.  There's a challenge issued when you sheepishly state no intention of participating, as the attendee will insist "well, then you don't really like music, like I do!".  And, yeah, you are 100% correct.  I do not.  I really, really do not care anymore.  When we get to the part of life where we cash in our cool kid chips, I am sure keeping up with pop music will, in fact, net you a bigger prize.

Of course I am open to new experiences, and I do like seeing and doing new things, but standing in lines, sweating through t-shirts and realizing I do not like the band I'm watching are not new experiences.  I've been doing that since I was 16.  When it comes to movies, that's probably a different story, but about ten years ago I started feeling more guilty about good movies that already exist that I hadn't seen than trying to catch new movies as they come out in the hopes that one of them will be good.  Give me a film festival in Austin that looks anything like the festivals in San Francisco, Chicago and LA that act as retrospectives, and, yes, I WILL stand in line for that.  And I do buy my badge for the Paramount every summer.

And Interactive... oh, Interactive.  This year actually looked to be worth attending.  But the two times I went, it was a dud.  Multiple days of people hand-waving, learning the catch-phrase of the conference, and then descending into an echo-chamber of ideas and the endless cycle of panel presenters all laughing about their hangovers in every panel and then failing to deliver anything worth remembering in their allotted time to talk isn't worth the money.

University budgets and conferences are not what regular-ol' private companies can afford, so we do a lot of balancing of "is this directly related to what I do for a living?" when we're asking for travel.  I was surprised and disappointed when I last went that so little of the conference had actual content, even the panels that should have been directly usable.

Anyway, it doesn't affect me much these days, and in the suburbs, you'd be hard-pressed to notice SXSW outside of the traffic patterns changing and the local news's obsession with the show (something I never really understood.  Wouldn't the people who care be at SXSW and not watching the local news?).

I don't have any issue with the Fest occurring and don't look down my nose at the folks who do attend.  If that's your thing, you do your thing.  I just may have a different level of excitement about the entire enterprise than what you've got.

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