June 27, 2017

WESTWORLD, WHERE NOTHING CAN GO RIGHT:

A weekend in Texas with ZeroHedge readers, Part 1 (Alexandra Scaggs, 6/26/17, Alphaville)

This is Part 1 of a three-post series about the 'ZeroHedge Live Fight Club and Symposium' in Marfa, Texas.

Just travelling from New York to Marfa is an initiation into the disorienting scale of Texas space -- a five-hour flight to Phoenix, one-hour flight to El Paso and three-hour drive to Marfa, with three time-zone changes along the way.

I made the trek last weekend to join readers of the conspiracy-minded financial blog ZeroHedge. It wasn't an official blog event, as we were repeatedly told by its organiser, who writes for the blog under the name hedgeless_horseman. His posts announcing the ZeroHedge Live Fight Club and Symposium initially provoked some worry among left-leaning residents of Marfa, a roughly 2000-person "hipster paradise" and hub of contemporary art in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Their concern was unwarranted but understandable, given the blog's famously aggressive tone. It probably didn't help that ZeroHedge was also used as a lead-in for a 2016 New Yorker piece about the alt right, despite its financial focus and a political bent that is more Drudge than Richard Spencer. As hotels were booked in the weeks leading up to the event, ZeroHedge commenters spent plenty of pixels discussing the state's open carry laws. So it wasn't too much of a stretch to think the town was about to host a big group of belligerent conservative conspiracy theorists.

As it turns out, all it takes to fill much of Marfa's lodging is a burgeoning tourism scene, a wedding party, and roughly 55 visiting blog readers, who were remarkably friendly and pleasant for an event with "Fight Club" in its title.

Among those readers:

A soft-spoken former bank IT worker in wire-rimmed glasses, who says he drove around for months after the financial crisis before settling down the street from his parents in Arkansas;

A sandy-blond-haired single father named Steve, who was on holiday before starting a new job;

A former Wall Street mortgage-security structurer turned Texas mortgage originator, whose name is Jay;

A man with a cowboy hat and mustache who said he hadn't read ZeroHedge, and just came by on invitation of a guy at El Cosmico down the road. I didn't get the chance to speak with him, but another guest told me his name is Rusty, which seems almost too fitting to be true;

A personable contractor with muttonchops who used to work in Afghanistan. He now spends his bicycle commute observing the behavioural patterns of young people in his Austin neighborhood, as kind of a Jane Goodall for gentrifiers. ("You can tell how long they've been there by how many dogs they have", he tells me);

A deeply suntanned man wearing a "TAXATION IS THEFT" t-shirt.

One Marfa resident told me she suspected the group wanted to fulfill a "Wild West fantasy". Maybe so -- that's a reason she and her partner moved there, she said. While there's no real frontier left, the closest thing might just be west Texas, which remains sparsely populated and feels cut off from the world because of its geography. Even in Marfa, there are far more gas stations (4) than radio stations (1).

Romanticised ideas of the 19th-century US frontier have been exceptionally persistent in certain parts of the American psyche, which became very clear during the discussions that weekend.

No one ever gets tired of fleecing gold bugs.

Posted by at June 27, 2017 5:34 PM

  

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