We Are All Children Now

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There’s a new book out called ‘Twee’ by Mark Spitz. It’s described as a study of the first cultural movement since Hip Hop, an old-fashioned and yet highly modern aesthetic that’s embraced internationally by teens, twenty and thirty-somethings and even Baby Boomers, creating a hybrid generation known as Twee.

Spitz reckons that Vampire Weekend, Garden State, Miranda July, Belle and Sebastian, Wes Anderson, Mumblecore, McSweeney’s, Morrissey, beards, artisanal foods, food trucks, crocheted owls on Etsy, ukuleles, kittens and Zooey Deschanel all are examples of a cultural aesthetic of calculated precocity known as Twee.  And it affects everyone from aging hipsters to nerd girls, indie snobs to idealistic industrialists.

Focusing on its origins and hallmarks, he charts the trend’s rise from Disney, Salinger, Plath, Seuss, Sendak, Blume and Jonathan Richman and its underground roots in the post-punk UK to the appeal of Girls, Arcade Fire, Rookie magazine, and hellogiggles.com. He’s painfully over-serious, but he makes the point.

The film ‘Frozen’ has been such a success with women that Disney is now offering weddings themed around the film. The Apple Watch can send someone your little beating heart or show Mickey Mouse. Hollywood is remaking ‘The Fantastic Four’ for the third time already. Fashion has gone cute. No-one can afford their own home so they’re still living with their parents, and that means it’s OK to be a big kid.

I think of it as the New Infantilism, something Michael Bywater wrote about most presciently in his book of essays entitled ‘Big Babies’. It’s a world where nobody knows how to fix anything anymore because it’s easier to throw things away. (This year I got an expensive designer chair and high-end coffee table from the pavement, where they were chucked out rather than somebody bothering to fix a loose screw.)

Now it’s been announced that after his last Twee movie, ‘Big Eyes’, Tim Burton is going to direct a darker, more hard-hitting live action version of…’Dumbo’. Yes, a flying elephant with ‘roidal ears, the perfect tale for tinies, will be aimed at the New Infants. It’ll be interesting to see how Burton manages to squeeze Helena Bonham-Carter into that one. You overhear actual adults discussing Harry Potter or the semiotics of ‘My Little Pony’ (no joke – check the web) and start to think that we’re born at the age of seven and stay that way until we die.

It wasn’t always like this. Here’s a good test. Read a 1960s novel, (Thomas Pyncheon and Carlos Castenada work well) and see if you can follow the stories. Count the philosophical jokes in an average episode of Monty Python and you’ll suddenly grasp the problem. Art and entertainment were more complex.

With the exception of ‘Wolf Hall’, it seems that all historical drama is now soap-opera in fancy clothes. Even the word ‘adult’ has been relegated to meaning ‘porn’. Does this mean that city dwellers are now teenagers in perpetuity, while only people in the country properly grow up? All properly grown-up book and film recommendations gratefully accepted!

5 comments on “We Are All Children Now”

  1. Vivienne says:

    I had never seen Friends, but when an episode was on after some years I had a look and it struck me you could understand it all better if you realised the characters were three year olds liable to strops and tantrums. Most American comedy films seem like that.
    Hope there will be a good grown up list- will post if I think of any.

  2. Geraldine says:

    Well said, would love a list of “adult” books and films. Of course, Bryant and May will be on it!

  3. J. Folgard says:

    Part of this may be, entertainment/media corporations have become extremely adept at milking their beloved brands & franchises for different age demographics, from the usual toy tie-ins to nostalgic, seemingly more ‘sophisticated’ products for older fans. It’s all supported by endlessly self-replicating fan-art: six years ago no one except fantasy readers would give a damn about A Game of Thrones, and after the HBO show you see these characters plastered everywhere as kittens, legos, stick figures, or algorithm posters sold on Etsy. And a ton of good craft is used to make yet another version of them every hour, for example. Getting attention for creating something original is getting harder, even if the craft is good.
    There’s no shame in having silly fun, but to me, the saddest thing is, the creators get short shrift in this. Twees love their brands, recession enforces more nostalgia, and creators are eclipsed or bashed -because anyone with an internet access de facto becomes a self-appointed critic. The big kids are also incredibly whiny and/or demanding with their entertainment, especially when it stems from their childhood -I think that’s where the big discordance lies. Expecting a children’s story like Dumbo to follow you from kindergarten to adulthood through a live-action rehash, tarting it up to be grittier (because one obviously set aside childish things) while holding up to the original sense of wonder is a real paradox.
    I’ve read Pynchon’s ‘V’ and it didn’t click with me -I loved ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ though, and I’m looking forward to the conclusion. I know a lot of thirty-somethings (including me) who genuinely enjoy Monty Python, and it’s still connecting with a sizable number of younger folk. I don’t really think it’s your tastes that make an adult or not in this domain, it’s the way you choose and interact with your entertainment. I read tons of comics and pick them for the creative/editorial team, for simple fun, and I don’t go setting fire on message boards if Superman loses his britches for a month or two. I think it’s okay to enjoy some kid’s stuff, I just don’t have to act like one.
    Sorry for the confused rant admin, this is a great post. Cheers!

  4. Rho says:

    Your post names just about everything I detest about so-called modern entertainment and mindset.

  5. agatha hamilton says:

    I thought Dumbo was dark enough without Tim Burton getting his hands on it. Remember Dumbo’s mother dying in the fire?
    Yes Michael Bywater’s essay was good. I still remember his remarks on grown-ups in toddlers’ clothing, those kind of shell suit things, and ‘casual wear’ in general. What do you reckon Jonathan Meades as commentator? His TV programmes seem v sharp and good to me and don’t pander to a popular audience. Nor do his essays. Robert Hughes, too (sadly missed) – his ‘Culture of Complaint’ was acute. And Geoff Dyer ‘Out of Sheer Rage’. Loved it.
    Historical drama difficult to carry off, Wolf Hall an honourable exception.

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