Innocents in Austin: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Culture South by Southwest 2013 has a lot to teach us about the state of culture in America | Warren Cole Smith

Innocents in Austin: The good, the bad, and the ugly

SXSW attendees crowd the Austin Convention Center Saturday.
Associated Press/Photo by Jack Plunkett

AUSTIN, Texas—The South by Southwest (SXSW) Conferences and Festivals are well underway in the Texas capital, and the annual gathering featuring music, independent films, and the latest technology is already generating, well, buzz.

Consider, for example, one of the hottest items rolled out during the “Interactive” part of the festival. It’s a Facebook app called Bang with SXSW, a spinoff of the distressingly popular Bang with Friends, which was released last month and already has more than 750,000 users.

I’m afraid the app is exactly what it sounds like. It allows users to sign in via Facebook and select friends of the opposite sex they’d like to become, let's say, intimate with. If two friends select each other, they will receive a notification of their friend's intentions. As ABC News reports, “Forget match-making, this is internet sex-making.”

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The app’s creator, who for anonymity and coolness goes by the letter “C,” said, “SXSW is just a place for people to meet other amazing people and usually some of those people have sex and hook up. We thought, how can we make that a better experience for everyone?”

Better? Really?

If that’s not enough: Foul-mouthed Sarah Silverman is here, too. On Sunday, she kicked off the JASH Comedy Network, a joint venture with Google and YouTube and a bunch of comedians who are not big enough to get their own HBO specials. Patterned after (some would say a blatant rip-off of) the popular Funny or Die website, comedians Michael Cera, Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, and Reggie Watts joined Silverman for the rollout.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of Sarah Silverman’s company, she’s the woman who in April of last year tweeted: “Got a quickie aborsh in case R v W gets overturned.”

She also said she would not get married until homosexuals can. Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt posted a letter on The Jewish Press saying, “Now they can. And you still haven’t married. I think, Sarah, that marriage and childrearing are not in the cards for you because you can’t focus on building life when you spend your days and nights tearing it down.”

The comment prompted Silverman’s father to tell the rabbi he could “take your false god and shove god up your …”

Nice. At least we know Sarah comes by her attitude honestly.

Of course, not all of South by Southwest is this way, not by a long shot, and that’s why I’m here this week. Because all of it—the good, the bad, and the ugly—has a lot to teach us about the state of culture in America in the year of our Lord 2013. More than 20,000 industry professionals signed up to be here, and more than 100,000 are here to see concerts and other events. So I plan to take my platinum media pass, which means, basically, “all access,” and give you an inside a look at what has become one of the most significant technology, music, and film festivals in the world.

If I may say so myself, it’s one of the coolest journalistic gigs in the country, and my goal is to bring you daily dispatches from the place where bumper stickers on Volvos and Subarus proudly proclaim, “Keep Austin Weird.”

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