We Are All Children Now
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!