Eight years ago or so, the alternative paper I was working for sent me out to review a couple of folk-noise-psych-indie-beardie-weirdie bands. I had a dreadful night. The bands were bad enough—“fumbling,” I scratched in my notebook, “infantile”—but what really did me in was the audience. Instead of baying for the blood of these lightweights, as in the Darwinian days of old, the gathered young people—behatted, bebearded, besmiling—obliged them with patters of validating applause. I had seen it before, this fond curiosity, this acclamation of the undercooked, but never so much of it in one place: the whole event seemed to exult in its own half-bakedness. Be as crap as you like was the message to the performers. The crapper, the better. We’re here for you. I tottered home, wrote a homicidally nasty nervous breakdown of a review, and decided I should take myself out of circulation for a while. No more live reviews until I calmed down. A wave of Twee—as I now realize—had just broken over my head.
Is Twee the right word for it, for the strangely persistent modern sensibility that fructifies in the props departments of Wes Anderson movies, tapers into the waxed mustache-ends of young Brooklynites on bicycles, and detonates in a yeasty whiff every time someone pops open a microbrewed beer? Well, it is now. An across-the-board examination of this thing is long overdue, and the former Spin writer Marc Spitz is to be congratulated on having risen to the challenge. With Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film, he’s given it a name, and he’s given it a canon. (The canon is crucial, as we shall see.) And if his book is a little all over the place—well, so is Twee. Spitz hails it as “the most powerful youth movement since Punk and Hip-Hop.” He doesn’t even put an arguably in there, bless him. You’re Twee if you like artisanal hot sauce. You’re Twee if you hate bullies. Indeed, it’s Spitz’s contention that we’re all a bit Twee: the culture has turned. Twee’s core values include “a healthy suspicion of adulthood”; “a steadfast focus on our essential goodness”; “the cultivation of a passion project” (T-shirt company, organic food truck); and “the utter dispensing with of ‘cool’ as it’s conventionally known, often in favor of a kind of fetishization of the nerd, the geek, the dork, the virgin.”