Monday, February 23, 2015

The Rise (?) of Twee

Marc Spitz wrote about book about the rise of "twee" culture, and Anna Katharina Schaffner reviewed it for the TLS. Twee is one of those things that is hard to define, but you know it when you see it: gourmet cupcakes, Wes Anderson movies, grownups with Hello Kitty handbags, college women wearing panda hats or koala backpacks, retro bicycles with baskets between the handlebars, ukeleles, and "young men who sport excessively neat haircuts, horn-rimmed glasses and waistcoats." Bronies. A love of what is gentle, cute, asexual, and evocative of the gentle, cute, asexual side of childhood.

We all recognize the contemporary prominence of this sort of thing, but is it really “the most powerful youth movement since Punk and Hip-Hop”?

Since I was just writing about the sort of journalism I love, let me note that this is the sort I do not like - insisting on the newness of the latest trend, and also of its world-historical importance. Spitz seems to think that twee originated in the 1950s, and that it is some kind of quasi-political response to a brutal, hyper-competitive world. But what about the barbershop quartets, boaters, bow ties and ice cream socials of 1900? Or Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, which were written for adults? Or the John Keats generation of hyper-sensitive romantics?

It seems to me that twee is not a social movement but a widespread human character type, whose existence has been made more apparent by the vast culture industry of modern times. And as for its political importance, let me quote Schaffner:
it is difficult to view wearing Hello Kitty socks and collecting narwhal figurines as serious modes of political engagement.
Twee culture may be important to the people who love it, but I fail to see what difference it makes to the rest of the world.

5 comments:

David said...

Because of the hyper-competitive world we live in, I would say most guilty pleasures and pop culture have acquired a level of protest against meritocracy. Porn, video games, twee-dom, Nascar, survivalism--it all must be liberating, a welcome relief from pretending that one is deeply motivated by professional ambition.

Thomas said...

We look back at barbershop quartets as twee, but they were, at the time, often associated with drinking and going to dance clubs and the like.

Thomas said...

Having looked up several attempts at definitions of "twee," I think one part that is missing from the definitions is a certain kind of asexuality. Twee almost always contains a deliberately regression to or affectation of prepubescent innocence.

John said...

Like, say, story reading.

David said...

One could say that we've turned sexuality into a competitive meritocracy too.