what SXSW is really about: big heads

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I should have been blogging the whole time. Should have plodded around with my powerbook and welcome bags, in my heels, throughout the Austin Convention Center for South By Southwest (SXSW), at the ready with my business card, complete with how to reach me on Twitter and Facebook. But I didn’t. And after a day of “shoulds,” when I’d plow into bed at night, about the last thing I felt like doing was slogblogging: that is, powering through it because people expect it.

A lot of people think South By Southwest is an airline. And the ones who don’t, think it’s a Georgia O’Keefe painting.  It’s technically a festival–but without the parades and jumping castle–split into three parts: Music, Film, and Interactive. It’s not a festival with fried dough and bags of powdered sugar, and as of this year, there weren’t any carni folk or “Guess My Weight” booths. It’s not so much a “fest,” in that there are no lawns of topless women painting one another with non-toxic, make love not war, paint. It’s a convention with name tags.

There are films. There are concerts. There are parties. There are book signings, readings, and orchestrated “core conversations.” And there are panels. Lots of panels. Panels on books to blogs with allstars like Guy Kawasaki, wisdom from Hugh MacLeod, practical advice from Kate Lee, and a new personal favorite of mine Pam Slim.

And, quite frankly, it’s overwhelming. Not in that Disney world, “Oh my God, which ride do I go on first?” way, but in that, shoulds way. It’s very middle child syndrome, where you wonder if the truly good moments are happening to other people. Should you be somewhere else? What are you going to miss that everyone else will be talking about? Where should you be to meet the “should meet” people? SXSW, along with any other convention for that matter, is a carnival of shoulds. Even when you tell yourself you don’t care. Unless, that is, you’re only there for the city. If you’re there to meet up with friends, to have dinners, to see the sights, it’s another story entirely. But then why sign up for panels? Why not plan a proper vacation? Because I’m guessing it’s a little of both, and that’s okay. It’s okay to want to be noticed. It’s okay to want to stay or be relevant. You just can’t let your whole world be dictated by it. Because, then, all the joy is sucked right out and you’re left with shoulds. On the whole, all these conventions are the same. As I wrote to a reader in Germany via Twitter: People go to #sxsw to either become more well known or to sustain their “social currency.” On some level it’s a circle jerk.

There might not have been a Ferris wheel at the festival, but last night’s closing interactive party at La Zona Rosa did have a mechanical bull. As I watched a crowd form, with their “SXSWi Closing Party” koozies in hand, I couldn’t help but think about what an unusul source of entertainment it was. I know Jesters have been around for centuries, that matadors exist, with crowds of ticketholders who’ve paid good money to watch an animal, or man, die. But standing ringside last night, amid a hoard of people, gathering ’round to basically watch you fail, I wondered how to glean a “half full ” perspective. I’m standing beside a man whose tee shirt reads, “PANTS ON YOUR HEAD RETARDED,” as I watch a balding man with a long ponytail grind up against a leather hide. A crowd might cheers you on, but it’s basically waiting for the ride to get rough, to see when and how you’ll fall. It’s, frighteningly enough, a lot like blogging. 

When the men turned to me and asked if I wanted to get up and grab the bull by the horns, I responded like a redhead on Saint Patrick’s Day, “If you buy me nine more drinks.” Then to my friend, “Are they kidding? I’m in heels and have a blister on my foot. Do I really want a blister on my vaja?” Then, for a brief moment, I considered paying a well-endowed woman to mount the bull, only to rip off her bra to reveal STEPHANIEKLEIN.COM penned across her goodie bags. But then I thought, nah, not the traffic I’m going for.

A YEAR AGO: Five is the Loveliest Number
4 YEARS AGO:Loving a Writer
5 YEARS AGO: Patrick McMullen’s Annual St. Patrick’s Day Party



  1. As a marketing professional, I've thought of attending SXSW interactive just to observe and help myself stay on top of the trends. Do you think it would be worth it?

    FROM STEPHANIE: In terms of following trends and keeping up to speed on what technologies people use for social networking, just do a search. There's blogher this summer in Chicago. With any of these conferences, it's all about who you end up meeting. I wonder how much real information (vs. opionon/advice) people take away from attending panels.

  2. Love it….Since my office is on 7th and Brazos the music will start soon and the streets will be over run and I will have to fight to get my truck out to go home but I never go to SXSW. I am not a true Austin chick – it all seems so overwhelming on where to start and where to end so instead I read…Thanks for bringing the small pieces to the web…

  3. "slogblogging" – I love that term!

    I agree with your take on the conferences. The amount of circle-jerking becomes obvious when you are at home following it all on Twitter somewhat involuntarily.

  4. It was the absolute highlight of my trip to meet you Stephanie! Consider me a raving fan girl. I, too, did everything at SXSW wrong. But it was still a blast. Screw convention!

    It is my new goal in life to get you on Oprah. You deserve to sit on that butter yellow couch talking about your new book. You are smart, hilarious and vivacious.

    Let's bring that vision alive, shall we? :)

    Big fan girl hugs,


  5. You don't seem to enjoy the blogger get togethers, festivals and panels so much. I get that it's a necessity of doing a job where you are the main champion of you. I get that self promotion may have to be done in environments like this, but you never really have anything good to say about them.

    Sure there might be a blip here or a sentence there about something that was nice, but you get more excited writing about something you are currently baking than about being in an environment with loads of creative people. The tone of these posts (blogher, all of the blogging get togethers from the first one in NY to the recent mommy blogging one in Austin) always come across like you don't really like having to share the spotlight with someone more well known than you (hence the difference between conferences and book tours where when people come, it is all for you), but you have to because it would be foolish not to go to such a huge festival or not to be a part of a panel when you can be.

    You're wrap ups are "nice" and everything sounds "adequate" but you really aren't that enthused at all. It makes me wonder just what goes on at these things. I watched the closing keynote from blogher from last year on you tube and while you seemed "nice" and the talk was okay there was an effortlessness Heather had that you didn't. In all of your talks (and I've seen you live here in Atlanta and on several interviews and discussions on the net that you don't necessarily post on the website) you are very focused with your promotion, with a clear, obvious message that you repeat frequently. 1-I am Stephanie Klein, 2-The blog is Greek Tragedy. 3-stephanieklein.com 4-The books are Moose and Straight Up and Dirty 5-I'm in TV now, too (sometimes Amy Sedaris' name gets dropped, but it really depends on how the interview or talk is going) 6-I am real and authentic 7-repeat in every answer and work into every story.

    There's no shame in it, it's marketing 101, get your message/brand/idea out early and repeat often.

    I just noticed how Heather didn't really need to do that. And believe me, I'm no big fan of Dooce. The other speakers at the JCC event here didn't really do that, Particularly Michael Ian Black who I'm not sure even mentioned his book and yet I found myself intrigued and interested in his crazy stories.

    I know you are excited about the Literary Feast and I'm sure will make a point about how amazing it was (the event where a family hosts and author for dinner is, admittedly, an ingenious device, and you get to really be the singular attraction in that case). And to be fair, I hear the interactive festival at SXSW was a bunch of self congratulatory hipsters who own trendy startups (Tumblr) and guys with the aforementioned balding ponytails who were more interested in twittering their escapades and posing for pictures with the right people than actually gaining any knowledge, so I don't blame you for it not being your cup of tea, but I can't help but think you'd enjoy these conferences more and get more out of them if you weren't also there to "become more well known or to sustain (your) "social currency."

  6. I agree entirely about SXSW and I'm, in Internet famous terms, no one. I found it clique-y with little eye contact and loads of shameless self-promotion. Stephanie actually was eager to share with the audience but was repeatedly overshadowed by her abrasive male co-panelists. All of that said, being with the creative people (and the cheap price of $400) was worth it. But I can get most of the information online on YouTube, via blogs, podcasts and more. Or I can read the panelists books…

    Stephanie was one of two sx highlights, the other being Gary Vaynerchuk.

    And she was very gracious.

    Hugs to you,

  7. After reading Danielle's comment, it struck me that I don't want you to become another vapid famewhore like Julia Allison. (I admit that I harbor fantasies in which you very publicly kick her ass, either metaphorically or physically. I think a lot of people would pay to see that.)

    I say continue being you — that's who we admire and love reading. Please don't feel the need to rub elbows or any other body parts with the soulless. Your current marketing strategy is working just fine — I've bought both of your books and will get Season Pass your show when it comes out.

  8. It's too bad SXSW wasn't as much fun and inspiration as you had hoped. I thought it might be your chance to interact with some like-minded artist types that you had been decrying the lack of in Austin. Kudos for putting yourself out there, though. I bet you would have had a better time if your shoes didn't hurt. That'll ruin a day, right there.

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