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Twee’s company

Can the “gentle revolution” really be “the most powerful youth movement since punk and hip hop”? Marc Spitz says yes.

Zooey Deschanel (centre) with the cast of TV sitcom New Girl.

When you say “twee”, you mean more than little old ladies in thatched cottages serving cream teas on teddy bear-decorated plates with lace doilies underneath them …

No, that’s exactly what I mean.

You say this “gentle revolution”, with its celebration of quirkiness and sensitivity, is “the most powerful youth movement since punk and hip hop”. I’m afraid you’re going to have to substantiate that.

Well, okay, a movement needs to have its hands in more than just one medium. Take emo. There was no emo film. But there were a lot of hippie films, a lot of punk films, a lot of hip-hop films. There’s no emo food, but the Ramones in Rock ’n’ Roll High School made pizza slices “punk”. It has to have an across-the-board, across-life aesthetic. Fashion. Politics. Film. Literature. And twee checks all the boxes. Plus it has the long, slow history, from JD Salinger on. You could argue from the Romantic poetry movement on.

Brooklyn is the epicentre, you say. So why’s the TV show Portlandia, not Brooklynia?

Brooklyn is the metaphorical epicentre – the word Brooklyn being a byword. There’s no difference as far as what I’m profiling in what is also taking place elsewhere. I have been to Austin and Portland and Silverlake in LA and they could all have a “landia” after them.

Looking around me here in New Zealand, it could be Wellingtonia. You’re not kidding about the Brooklynisation of the world. All those middle-aged parents in their Converse classics, for a start …

See – Wellingtonia. I’ve never been to New Zealand. I love Split Enz. Their early stuff is pretty twee, actually, before they went new wave.

Flight of the Conchords – twee incarnate?

You know, I watched a lot of that show when I was working on the book. It’s on the HBO Go App. I decided they were more alt. Or indie comedy, which has its twee elements but is its own entity that deserves its own history.

One wouldn’t, at first glance, think of Nirvana as twee incarnate, but you make the case for Kurt Cobain.

I try to make a case for Kurt, yeah – an element of Kurt being twee, not all of Kurt or all of Nirvana, obviously. People, when the book came out, treated it like I was trying to say Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin were twee. Nirvana covered the Vaselines. Kurt was described as the Little Prince or a character out of AA Milne by journalists. Boyish, child-like …

Cobain’s cardigan was a give-away, of course.

Yes, this is also true. If there was nothing but the cardigan, I would include him. But there is so much more. The guy could rock a cardigan, God rest him. You want to hand him a mug of tea.

A key line in your book, and not just because it’s such a good line, must be your quoting of Chris Eigeman’s character in Noah Baumbach’s 1995 film Kicking and Screaming: “I’m nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday. I’ve begun reminiscing events before they even occur. I’m reminiscing this right now. I can’t go to the bar because I’ve already looked back on it in my memory and I didn’t have a good time.”

That is to me a very Generation X sentiment that I don’t honestly know applies to boomers or millennials (who both belong to the twee tribe). There is a danger to the twee of being prone to not doing anything because a) they’re convinced everything’s been done, b) they live vicariously through their cult heroes, and c) they just think the world is too vulgar and absurd and adult-ruined to move.

Someone once said we’re all in exile from our childhoods. Twee is a way back, isn’t it?

Nobody really wants to go back in that Tom Hanks sense [in the movie Big]. I would start screaming if I had to be 11 or 12 again, even though I would have to worry less about my budget and my hair. Twee is sort of like the vitamin pill that will make you feel like a child without actually having to be one.

TWEE: THE GENTLE REVOLUTION IN MUSIC, BOOKS, TELEVISION, FASHION, AND FILM,  by Marc Spitz What are the best things you can say about twee and what are the worst? And are you a member of the twee tribe yourself?

When I wrote the book, I had to make sure I was a reporter and a cultural critic first, but now the book is done, I can play with my Steiff stuffed animals again – in other words: yes, I lean twee. The best thing about it is its stance against bullies and corruption. The worst is its complacency and the fact it could be more diverse class and race wise. I don’t think that’s anyone’s fault in particular, so perhaps to describe it as a flaw is wrong, but it would be strong, like punk and hip hop, if it was more diverse.


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