Tuesday, March 18, 2014
A curious discussion followed the tragedy at the recent South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Many of the festival's fans and critics turned the awful event into a call for "soul-searching" about what the festival had become.
What happened was that a drunken driver plowed through a police barricade, killing two people and injuring another 23. Some festival aficionados seemed to see an intoxicated driver's causing havoc on a packed Austin street as the inevitable outcome of an event that had lost its innocence.
Similar heartbreaks happen all the time. In Northwest Austin last month, a drunken driver took the lives of a couple stopped at a busy intersection. No one in Northwest Austin implied that the junction of Balcones Woods Drive and Research Boulevard had somehow led to the traffic deaths.
Nonetheless, music bloggers at the Los Angeles Times posted an item titled "A tragic wake-up call for SXSW?" It noted that "the incident comes amid widespread debate over the expansion of SXSW." A New York Times article was headlined "After Fatal Crash, Soul-Searching for South by Southwest."
Sure, the "scene" surrounding the festival had become crowded and rowdy, fueled by alcohol and drugs. But that's the formula, tolerated to various degrees, in nightlife zones across this and other continents, including more "normal" weekend nights in Austin's Red River District.
Some background for the uninitiated: The South by Southwest festival began modestly in 1987 as a place for new music acts to show their wares. It has since grown into an extravagant blowout mixing music, technology and film.
Gawkers by the hundreds of thousands now mill around celebrities and brands vying for a piece of cutting-edge cred. That Frito-Lay paid Lady Gaga over $1 million to sing (and get covered in paint vomit) at a stage renamed for Doritos suggests that SXSW is no longer the homey get-together it once was. Journalists from all over cover the promotions, the publicity stunts and even the music.
Not surprisingly, many longtime attendees feel that SXSW has lost its intimacy and, with that, its cool. And many Austin residents have grown grouchy at the annual invasion and takeover of their downtown streets. Some leave town when the festival rolls in.
So perhaps the critics are right to call for a rethinking of the entire enterprise. (Your writer remains agnostic on the matter.) But again, the deadly crash was not a sign from above that SXSW had somehow done wrong by becoming too big and too commercial. In America, over 10,000 deaths a year are tied to drunken driving.
Of course, local shops, barkeeps and city tax collectors might praise the numbers of attendees. Certainly, the merchandizers from Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue like what's happening.
For those who miss the purer, more intimate gathering of yore, my heart is totally with you, but the reality is this: The SXSW festival you loved is over forever.
The thing to do is start another pure, intimate music confab, perhaps in West Texas -- far from a major airport and steering clear of the art scene at Marfa. Sterling County, a dry county (dry as in no alcohol served), would be promising. Call the festival West of Southwest or, better still, something lacking all charm.
Eventually, giant commercial interests wanting to siphon off your authenticity will again take over. For a while, however, you'll have a go.
What the SXSW traditionalists should avoid is feeling that their festival somehow sinned by getting so big and gaudy. This was as beyond their control as was the drunken driver.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at email@example.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2014 CREATORS.COM
Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.
We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.
Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $4.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.
To learn more about our methodology, click here.