San Francisco isn’t as weird as it used to be. Artsy types are feeling it acutely. Instead of just going out and being weird, there’s a sense of lamentation in the air. When burlesque troupes perform songs called Not My City Anymore and designers of punk-inflected bags start Kickstarter campaigns pleading Please Stay Strange, San Francisco, it’s a good indication of inescapable loss. Something intrinsic to the SF we love is vanishing.
The obvious culprit is money, particularly certain people who are worth millions of dollars several times over yet consider themselves countercultural renegades in good standing. We can bash Software-Americans all we want because they’re just ruining everything, but internet nerds are absolutely crucial to weirdness. Pretty much anyone with a Tumblr about Fantastically Weird Shit or a blog called Chart Porn or an Etsy store that sells necklaces in the shape of intestines is genuinely weird and kind of a nerd. San Francisco’s weirdness should be entering a new golden age, but it’s not. When everything from anywhere is accessible online, you can’t really have an underground.
Keep Austin Weird and its spiritual twin, Keep Portland Weird, are the unofficial mottos of their respective cities, but they’re essentially tools of their small-business alliances meant to keep chains out. Keep Austin Weird has an actual festival, and celebrity endorsements, and it’s been crucial to maintaining the city’s character in spite of doubling in population and getting a big skyline and an influx of money. But Austin was never that weird, really – maybe if your baseline is Plano. And one of the linchpins of Austin’s weirdness, the Alamo Drafthouse, is simultaneously a sign of San Francisco’s gentrification. San Francisco is fucking weird, as Hoodline found when it unearthed a 25-minute KPIX documentary on the Haight. Or it was.
San Francisco’s weirdness should be entering a new golden age, but it’s not.
Oakland’s where the weirdness is going, it seems. SF Weekly’s blog The Snitch got a video of a shirtless guy in a wig playing “Careless Whisper” on the alto sax while standing in a shopping cart at an East Bay Trader Joe’s. It’s an homage to Sexy Sax Man – who, by the way, sells T-shirts and an app and a ringtone. Oakland’s beset by gentrification, too, and its residents still have to devote more and more of their energy to making money just to stay afloat, but it’s not suffering quite the same existential crisis as San Francisco.
Not for lack of trying, though. Ryan Crowder, creator of a line of crocheted BDSM-wear called Yarness, says, “The people moving to San Francisco these days aren’t moving here to find other weirdos, or queers, they are more likely moving here to make their careers. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but…I just can’t shake the feeling these folks aren’t breaking out of their work lives enough and participating.”
The people moving to San Francisco these days aren’t moving here to find other weirdos, or queers, they are more likely moving here to make their careers.
Weirdness isn’t necessarily salvageable the way whales or bees or even anarchist bookstores are. (Well, hopefully, anyway.) If you have to start a campaign of raising awareness, it’s probably too late. Excessive self-awareness is the enemy of an organic, bottom-up, folk culture, and the risk of trying too hard is that you’ll wind up with something more like a Museum of Weirdness instead. And the longer you live here, the more wistful your memory gets. San Francisco has always been and always will be not as weird as it used to be.
Stay Strange San Francisco poster photos by Modern Industry