SXSW Interactive 2011: Cat Sculptures Carved In Cheese (No, Really)

While I was loath to do the PR work of a misguided flack likely high on 100% pure Maui catnip, the email must be shared.
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor

South By SouthWest Interactive, a yearly event in Austin, Texas, is one of the largest Internet and technology conferences in the United States. The SXSW conference is split into three main sections: Film, Interactive (tech) and Music.

For the first time, it looks at though the attendance of Interactive is more than Music.

Interactive starts Friday, and so thousands of geeks are about to descend on downtown Austin for what is called by veterans, “Spring Break for Geeks.”

More than just a “Spring break,” SXSW Interactive is fertile ground for making business connections and seeing the newest in ideas and innovation. It’s going to be five days of presentations from new and foremost tech innovators, lots of learning opportunities, panels debating topics such as net neutrality (featuring the EFF’s Cindy Cohn) and oodles of networking events.

Many startups launch, or deliver new products hoping to win hearts, minds and, eventually, cash. Sometimes they get famous; tech press from all over the world send envoys hoping to get a scoop, and many walk away with great stories.

The mood is a combination of serious business and adventure: it also gets downright bratty.

One year Adafruit Industries’ Phillip Torrone made a real-life version of the video game “Frogger” out of a hacked Roomba and, late one night after SXSW parties with a playful group of onlookers, released the poor floor sweeper to its fate across lanes of Austin traffic.

Last year, someone made "Mark Cuban’s Ego" a location on Foursquare and Gowalla. One of the Gowalla founders later suggested they might merge it with the airport out of concerns for limited space.

SXSW Interactive is also where – on the ground - companies from various industries do the equivalent of throwing themselves at walls and hoping that something they do will stick (like pasta).

Many companies hope to make a splash at SXSW in hopes of harnessing social media channels and tech pop culture to revive dusty brands. But not everyone can be Old Spice.

Sweet dreams are made of cheese

One example – a nominee for Tech-Flavored PR Facepalm Of The Week - landed in Ben Metcalfe’s inbox just prior to our departure.

While I was loath to do the PR work of a misguided flack likely high on 100% pure Maui catnip, the email must be shared.

Hi Ben,

Friskies will be at SXSW Interactive – we know you are probably wondering why. We are giving you the opportunity to see a 640lb. block of cheese sculpted into some of the most famous cats of the Internet. There are a few ways for you to view this masterpiece – please see below for additional details. I would be happy to work with you to determine the best option for you and coordinate details.

What: A huge cheese sculpture depicting the famous cats of the Internet we all know and love: “Standing Cat,” “Nora the Piano Cat,” “The Toilet Flushing Cat” and “Monorail Cat.” With a combined 30 million views on YouTube, these cats rule the web – they’re The Big Cheeses.

Why: In celebration of the launch of Friskies new cheese flavored cat food, Tasty Treasures, Friskies is honoring these Big Cheeses by giving them the title they deserve.

Come by the exclusive South by Southwest party, hosted by I Can Has Cheezburger (ICHC) and featuring Friskies on Saturday, March 12 at Six Lounge in Austin. It starts at 9 p.m. Chat with the famous cheese carver, Troy Landwehr, meet Friskies brand representatives, mingle with party-goers who are taking their pictures with The Big Cheeses. You can even see ICHC CEO Ben Huh learn how to carve a block of cheese!

(…) I hope to see you in Austin! Please let me know if you have any questions about Tasty Treasures or the Big Cheeses sculpture.

Thank you for your consideration.

It should be noted that Metcalfe is lactose intolerant.

And still, there are so many questions left unanswered.

What was the “ideation” meeting like where people actually decided to create a diorama carved out of cheese depicting a pantheon of Internet famous cats?

When the one sane person in the Friskies office got the “action item” memo to execute this plan, was the sound of their head hitting their desk so loud it could be heard in the next state?

Most importantly: where the hell are Keyboard Cat (RIP) and Ceiling Cat in all of this? Did their agents line their respective litterboxes with the proposal?

SXSW Interactive 2011 is either going to be awesome - or something to roast on the Tech Broiler. Likely both.

So now you have an idea of what we’ll be walking into this weekend. Stay tuned for reports, galleries and opinionated updates from the front lines of SXSW Interactive 2011.

And don’t worry: if I see Keyboard Cat in my grilled cheese sandwich Sunday morning, I won’t tell you about it. I’ll be too busy finding cool, weird, new and exciting stuff to tell you about - and trying to become Mayor McCheese.

Image viaDiscoWeasel.

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