I spotted this sign about two weeks ago under the BQE in Williamsburg, right down the street between Rocka Rolla and the Capital One bank. I don’t know how long it’s been there but I do know it’s the first time I can recall seeing the “Keep Williamsburg Weird” slogan on display in the neighborhood. This slogan, it needs to be said, is bad. It’s not interesting or unique or particularly helpful, and its arrival is more a sign of a neighborhood’s cultural weirdness entering hospice care than chemotherapy to save it.
Williamsburg is overall not “weird” these days. It is the land, as we learned yesterday, of blonde 20-somethings making reality shows about their brunch plans that seem even too mundane for the calmer quarters of Manhattan. It’s glass-window-lined megabuildings making way for Whole Foods on Bedford Avenue instead of new dive bars. The slogan makes the neighborhood seem desperate, clutching at a civic rallying cry already used in Austin, Portland and elsewhere, but its arrival is understandable.
The “Keep [city] Weird” slogan might seem locally borne in each of the cities where it’s popped up, but really it has the cachet of a small chain like Buffalo Exchange. I do not like it. It is used too many places and seems too pre-packed and exportable. It’s the “Keep calm and ____ on” T shirt of attempted bohemian rallying cries.
By all accounts, the slogan was born in Austin in 2000, then arrived in Portland, Boulder and Louisville. Last year, Indianapolis adopted a “keep” slogan. Keep Indy Weird’s Facebook page describes it thusly: “The Webster dictionary defines Weird as: ‘of strange or extraordinary character.’ That’s how we see ourselves, and our greater tribe of creatives & local business owners….people of extraordinary character.” They went to the dictionary, guys.
— Crash Thompson (@TehRockCritic) December 19, 2014
I am not saying these cities are not weird. Austin is a great town full of bonkers cowboy punks the likes of which we can’t even dream about in the deepest Skinny Dennis bender. Portland made a cottage industry out of its lovingly mockable eccentrics. I attended one very unexpected bachelor party in Louisville that ended at amateur night at a strip club, which I would definitely qualify as “weird.” Indianapolis, I know nothing about! That is weird!
— Joe Farrell (@AustinAvengers) October 21, 2015
These cities are not boring, but that slogan is. It is by definition very un-weird, the antithesis of what it stands to be. Its premises are good: support local businesses, celebrate the gorilla-suit wearing person riding a unicycle who delivers fresh bread down the block; have fewer Starbucks and more bike shops that serve coffee and make their own nut milks.
But locally, it reeks of a death knell of the very thing you’re trying to save. If your campaign is down to a #hashtag sign under the BQE — that is, if you feel the need to use the word “weird” to describe what you want to save about your neighborhood — you’ve probably already lost. When we see this kind of “weird” in Brooklyn these days, it’s suspect anyway: maybe it’s viral marketing, or a prank for a late-night show, or some try-too-hard kid who wants to go viral. “Weird” becomes a product, another thing that is the same from city to city. Williamsburg is certainly plenty weird in parts (bless you, Jo Firestone, for throwing a comedy festival in a car wash), but that’s hardly the default hue of the neighborhood now.
For what it’s worth, a grand total of two people are all that seem to be using this hashtag on Twitter, and only few more tagged it on Instagram; this is the only post of the lot that qualifies as “weird:”
Rehashing the transformation of Williamsburg from outer-borough artsy outpost to bridge-and-tunnel Manhattan real estate garrison pricing out natives and long time residents isn’t particularly novel or interesting any more, so we won’t bore you with the history of it (although seriously have you walked down Kent Avenue lately?).
But dig on this time capsule from the old neighborhood, which we came across in a Daily Beast interview with Metric’s Emily Haines from late October. She talks about what might be to our generation what Woodstock was to our parents: everyone will claim to have been there, “there” being living in a loft in Williamsburg with members of five different 2000s-era indie breakout bands.
“It’s a love affair that I’ve found hard to end,” Haines says of NYC living, before reminiscing about the days when it was her and Metric guitarist James Shaw, along with members of the bands Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Stars, and TV on the Radio, all sharing the same two-bathroom Williamsburg loft in the late ’90s. “Cat piss aside, it was a special time.”
The loft has since been torn down to make way for a hotel; now Haines lives in the West Village, though she’s being forced out of that place soon too. So that “special time” she talks about is gone, and now even the rest of the world is catching up with the fact that Williamsburg is no longer one big hipster joke; instead it’s a land of professional brunch goers like in that too silly to get mad about reality show, of bros causing fights at Crown Victoria, of aching to live among the Brooklyn cool while wishing there was a SoulCycle just a little bit closer to your apartment.
In the end of that Emily Haines interview, she gives in to that old New York pastime of looking back on The Way Things Used to Be — and blaming Taylor Swift for part of the problem.
…New York is Taylor Swift. The feeling of landing in New York and, after having worked with Lou Reed and my personal mythology of the city, having it be Taylor Swift welcoming you to New York is just so emblematic of the era. This is whose New York it is. Nothing says it better. This is why I’m getting evicted!
Lou was a throwback to weird New York.
We gotta make sure we don’t all become homogenized. People need to remember what it’s like to be a weirdo. Weirdly, I think doing the Imagine Dragons tour made us feel more like artsy freaks than ever before.
So do you need a sign to remember what it’s like to be a weirdo? Actually weird people don’t worry about being weird, they just make sure to be #interesting.