I dreamt last night of the three weird sisters:
To you they have show’d some truth. —Macbeth
In the Austin airport, there is an ad for a major national bank. “You keep it weird,” it says. “We’ll keep your rates low.” (Okay, so I’m paraphrasing that second part—I stopped paying attention.) It refers, of course, to the famous Keep Austin Weird campaign launched in the early aughts by the Austin Independent Business Alliance. The movement was designed to promote small businesses and maintain the place’s idiosyncratic character, and was later adopted by cities around the country in the face of corporate encroachment.
You see Keep Austin Weird merch everywhere in the city, on mugs and tees and coffee carriers, all of it looking as un-weird as possible. But this bank ad was next-level. It was, as magazine people might say, almost too on-the-nose.
Growing up in my house, weird was a bad word. We were banned from using it: at that time, it was in wide currency with kids, and my dad in particular felt it was a thoughtless way of dismissing anything—or anyone—different, new. Things that might have been so-called weird had to be more closely considered. Were they in fact merely strange? Unusual? Unfamiliar? Weird was to be used only in its literal sense, to denote the uncanny or eerie.
I’ve come to feel my parents were right about this. Not least because in it’s true form, weird is a perfect and beautiful word, onomatopoeic and evocative. (It should be said that the same self-righteousness did not apply to my family’s pet insult, conventional. We tossed it around like grass seed.)
It’s a little sad to see weird—which still carries with it a faint thrill of the forbidden—declawed, as it is in Austin. The same people who a generation ago might have lobbed the word as an insult now might proudly identify as weird because they, say, wear dark-frame glasses or like to eat peanut butter straight from the jar or do their business with Citibank. Bob Dylan does IBM ads, after all. The world, despite our best efforts, is not a weird place—even if it is a scary one.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.