Salinger to Seuss and beyond: a flattering assessment of Pop Culture’s Division of Arrested Development, with some intriguing stops along the way.
As rock biographer and scribe Spitz (Poseur: A Memoir of Downtown New York in the ’90s, 2013, etc.) sees it, America is in the warm and loving grip of a revolution that worships all things small, geeky and outsider. Twee no longer means insufferable cuteness; now, it’s a kinder, gentler form of punk that fights oppression (bullying, meanness, etc.) in its own quiet, sensitive way. Historic touchstones range from icons of doomed sensitivity (Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath, James Dean) to introspective troubadours like Jonathan Richman, Nick Drake, Morrissey and Kurt Cobain. The twee aesthetic fetishizes childhood and fears growing up (Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the kids in The Breakfast Club, everyone in Wes Anderson’s movies) and manifests a progressive, do-it-yourself sensibility. “Twee rebels don’t want to destroy everything around them,” writes the author. “Rather, they want to fix it.” Spitz astutely shows the Tweeing of America, offers some sharp insights (the Smiths and They Might Be Giants are the Beatles and Stones of Twee) and delivers a substantial history of indie cinema’s mumblecore movement. He’s too twee himself to be really critical, however; he’s a veritable Prophet of Portlandia, proclaiming that “the new culture of kindness is helping us improve as Americans.” He dodges the question he unintentionally raises: If tumultuous times create art, do peace, serenity and kindness really do anything substantial?
For those who get twee, the book is a soothing, self-justifying enabler; for those who don’t, it’s an amiable guide for the perplexed.