Keep Austin Weird!

In Sina's Posts, Trips on May 16, 2012 by SN

Loser-chic attire, bohemian flaneurs flooding the streets, alternative city cultures, the epicenter of the U.S. green movement, a Democratic hotspot in the midst of Republican Texas: How much does Austin hold up to its myth? The third stop on my Texas Trail led me to this city.

This time I do not stay at a hostel or a motel, but I stay privately with Brian and Ariam whom I met at the Airbnb website. Both were very welcoming and especially Ariam offered me a ride here and there, took me out for lunch at the famous Juan in a Million, and was generally a great and very welcoming host.

My Host in Austin: Ariam.

The 790,000 people city is not only the capital of Texas but also the home of the presidential library of the 36th President of the U.S., Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ). If you wonder, LBJ was not just any U.S. President, but he was the one who followed President John F. Kennedy into office after the latter was tragically shot in Dallas (more on that later). Johnson was also the President who signed the Civil Rights bill, thus, ending segregation and enabling African Americans equal rights as citizens in the 1960s.

Therefore, my first stop was the LBJ Library at the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. The researcher eager for knowledge finds hundreds of thousands of documents, books, newspaper clippings, and photographs about Johnson’s Presidency in this 1960s Modernism temple. Unfortunately much of the building was closed for renovation, but a replica of the Oval Office during LBJ’s Presidency was accessible and the exhibit on his wife Lady Bird Johnson. I liked how she redefined the role of the First by initiating different programs against poverty, for education, and for agriculture. She seems to be quite a feminist for a First Lady.

Passion for Wild Flowers: Lady Bird Johnson.

Since it was raining cats and dogs, I went to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum which is also conveniently located at the University of Texas campus.  At his massive 3-floor museum I learned about the history of the state of Texas from the first Native tribes all the way to the 20th century.

My most favorite parts were the ones that talked about the different representations of Texas. The first one was a short video which traced the development of the cowboy figure in American literature and cinema. It examined the changing role of the cowboy from the early dime novels to silent films (The Great Train Robbery) to Giants all the way to late 20th century cowboy deconstructions and subversions.

Cowboy Deconstructions: The Bull-Dogger.

After watching the video, I feel like teaching a seminar on the construction of the cowboy figure in American culture. I know that this is a well-researched topic, but still: So interesting! Secondly, I learned by walking through the exhibit that the dominant imagination of Texas as a place of cowboys and cattle was pushed during the 1936 World’s Fair, Texas’ Centennial Exposition, which took place in Dallas. According to the museum, the image of Texas has been connected to this stereotypical imagination since then. The reason for the overt advertisement as Texas a land of cowboys and cattle lies in the closing of the frontier which happened a couple of decades earlier in the late 19th century and the subsequent romanticization of it as a consequence of it disappearance.

1936 World’s Fair: Posters.


One Response to “Keep Austin Weird!”

  1. […] men I met on the airplane to ELP even urged me: “I REQUIRE you not to go across the border.” My Austin host Ariam explained it would be difficult for me as a White person going over because of the kidnapping […]

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