Twee, skeptically reviewed

Consider the following phenomena: owl-shaped cushions, bird-print textiles and kitten ephemera. French horns, ukuleles and accordions. Grown women with wispy fringes who dress like little girls, grannies or Jean Seberg, and young men who sport excessively neat haircuts, horn-rimmed glasses and waistcoats. Cotton candy, gluten-free acai berry cupcakes and quinoa fritters with probiotic goat yoghurt. Anything that is locally sourced, vintage or artisanal. Cream-coloured retro bikes with wicker baskets and 1950s sun dresses in ice-cream shades. Polka dots and cocktails in jam glasses. The comic strip Peanuts, J. D. Salinger and Maurice Sendak. The Smiths and Belle and Sebastian. Taxidermy, stamp collecting and home baking. The films of Wes Anderson. What do they all share? According to Marc Spitz, they are emblems of “Twee” – “the most powerful youth movement since Punk and Hip-Hop”.

huh. we call 'em hipsters over here, or at least, the twee are considered part of the hipster crowd; while I’m somewhat familiar with the term, it hasn’t become common parlance yet. although, maybe the young folks are using it more amongst themselves.

This has been building for a while, though. Wes Anderson broke with Rushmore, that was–what?–98? But as time passes, it gets codified and then the squares use it as an easy pose; just like punk and hiphop! the whole handlebar mustache and cocktail-in-a-jam-jar thing is dorky to me, but looks like it’s here to stay at this point.

I’ll cop to riding a vintage bike. I even got a basket for it recently (wire) although I use both due to practical reasons–financial and utilitarian. that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. gotta admit I like a vintage bike, though.

It’s beau-locks. These things can hardly be said to represent any sort of “movement”, nor even a cohesive aesthetic. And FWIW the term “twee” to describe affectedly precious things is more than a hundred years old. So, kind of late to the party.

Harry Potter.


So you agree with Schaffner, the reviewer?

Twee, then, is a symptom of profound cultural exhaustion, a pop-cultural response to the death of grand narratives and radical politics: too weary to fight the corporate capitalist machine, the twee instead create hyper-stylized alternative worlds in which kittens play, ukuleles sound and childhood is eternal. Their basic disposition is melancholy rather than angry, and they will always opt for owl-print wallpaper over kicking against the pricks.

It’s easy to see Rushmore as the proto Wes Anderson film, where all his tropes are on display. But “Bottle Rocket” shares a lot of the same aesthetic elements without being “twee”.

If you’ve got Amazon Prime, here’s the stream.

Schaffner, rather hilariously, appears to be working really, really hard to find a reason to dislike what those damn kids these days are up to; he even shows signs of being particularly upset that they are making his job so difficult by being insufferably inoffensive, unlike good, honest, punk punk kids, like they had in his day.

She is currently working on a cultural history of exhaustion.

What does that mean?

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Not quite. Rather, I disagree that there is any kind of cultural movement here to criticize. There has always been an appreciation of kitsch. I don’t credit the claims that people approache kitsch with the same motivations. Not unlike the “hipsters” noahdjango mentioned, it’s a nebulous non-movement invented by critics and armchair commentators which does not exist in the culture at large. Even Schaffner responding to the book by dignifying the non-movement the name “Twee” strains credibility by buying into the idea, perhaps in order to appear relevant. There is a lot of twee stuff, but it is no more a conspiracy or movement than it has ever been.

And, having seen only two Anderson movies, I am not convinced of the comparisons of his work to this grasping phantasm either.

I can’t imagine. I thought you were kidding until I RTFA.

Hard to believe she could get much work done on that project before the late midmorning nap.

Here’s a piece the author did on German notions of exhaustion.

German burnout

Perhaps it’s not as far fetched as it might seem on first inspection. If someone were to write a piece on hysteria, would you scoff?


Nah. Exhaustion’s a perfectly respectable topic for discussion; it certainly doesn’t need my approval anyway. But by now you’re surely aware of my lowbrow sensibilities. A “cultural history of exhaustion” is exactly the sort of academic treatise one might expect from someone who reviews a 352-page book on Twee culture in a Woody Allen film. If nothing else, this choice phrase here:

Given that most exhaustion theorists’ arguments ultimately rest on the claim that their own age is the most exhausted,

simply makes me dissolve into fits of undignified giggles. I know (or at least strongly suspect) that I shouldn’t find mirth in such things, so I apologize for my ill-breeding. I did grow up in an aluminum-walled doublewide, after all.


Pffft. Amateurs. Mid morning is when I get up. 2-3PM is first naptime.


I might run around screaming.

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