What Is "Twee"?
We spoke with Marc Spitz about his new book Twee, in which he tries to give a comprehensive and explanatory history of “the gentle revolution.”
(You can hear that conversation here.)
The tenants of Twee are varied but they come down to this: there is darkness in this world that can only be overcome by cultivating passions that foster beauty and evoke a sense of innocence, goodness, and childhood.
In other words, when the world gets scary, just put a bird on it.
As with any cultural movement, the question of Twee can spark long debates (and trying to sort through “Twee vs. Not Twee” makes an awesome party game). To get you up to speed, here’s a handy list of things that are definitively Twee. As Twee defies categorization, we present this to you as a holistic experience, books mixing with music mixing with…hairstyles?
Zooey Deschanel: At the top of the list is the Queen of Twee. Why not build up to her? Why not let her be the final piece of the Twee puzzle? Because there is no better way to set the foundation for a lesson in Twee than presenting you to the reigning monarch. Think about everything you’ve ever associated with Zooey D. Ukuleles, cardigans, baby animals, spurning Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the name of true love. Twee, Twee, a thousand times Twee.
Belle and Sebastian: This Scottish band drafted the score of an entire movement with their “wistful pop” sound that is somehow both upbeat and existential. Their name’s origin is even Twee, inspired by a 1960s French children’s book.
Catcher in the Rye: A hit of young angst coupled with the desire for a return to childhood, this 1951 novel by J. D. Salinger has become a sacred relic for teenagers, high school English teachers, and Twee alike. On that note…
The Perks of Being A Wallflower: This became no less Twee for having been adapted for the silver screen. The movie is based on the 1999 novel which has been hailed as a modern Catcher in the Rye. The climactic moment of Twee, perhaps of all time, is the scene where our young protagonist stands up in the back of a pickup truck and faces the rushing air (and the proverbial constraints of society), causing him to reflect, “And in this moment, I swear we are infinite.” Infinitely Twee, perhaps.
Cardigans: Perfect for cozying up to read a beloved children’s book or going into the garden to pick some fresh veggies, cardigans are Twee you can wear. They have the bonus of being cute, on top of being the clothing of choice for the icon of joy and caring, Mr. Rogers. Plus, it’s probably available at your local thrift store in various patterns that remind you of your grandparents.
Charlotte’s Web: Since the reclamation of childhood innocence is as central to the Twee movement as jadedness is to Punk, this 1952 novel about a magical spider helping to save a loveable pig from his inevitable fate at the wrong end of an axe is definitely Twee. But Charlotte also tells Wilbur, “After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.” That moment alone could mark her, or her author, E. B. White, as a godparent of Twee.
Moonrise Kingdom: Pehaps the strongest argument for the growth of Twee in American culture is Moonrise Kingdom, the 2012 movie that has been Wes Anderson’s most profitable venture yet (Mr. Anderson himself is very Twee, and he’ll make another appearance further down on this list). The movie grossed over $45 million in the US, a surprisingly good haul for a film about a couple of kids who run away together on a remote New England island. There’s a portable record player involved.
Bonus: Here's Wes Anderson explaining how he immersed himself in the universe of Roald Dahl for his work on another Twee film, Fantastic Mr. Fox. It's a sort of "Twee-ception" if you will.
Edward Gorey: Not only was Mr. Gorey the illustrator of the famous introduction sequence for the PBS Mystery! series (totally Twee, since we all know public media is a force for good), his spookily charming drawings also marked the pages of countless illustrated books. Even more Twee, much of his work has obscure publication records and can be difficult to find, even for collectors.
Nirvana: Surprised? So were we. But Marc Spitz insists that the push against mainstream success and mass culture makes the band, especially Kurt Cobain, a picture of Twee. He credits Nirvana with helping Twee expand its reach by bringing counterculture to people otherwise outside its, admittedly limited, reach. Presumably in the Midwest.
Disney: Not the man, but the brand. Or at least its message. For every cocker spaniel who falls in love with a mutt, there is a person reclaiming a little bit of idealized childhood joy.
Bangs: Think about the people who have bangs. Now think about the people between the ages 18-40 who have bangs. These people are probably Twee.
Brooklyn: In the context of Twee, Brooklyn isn’t just a place, it’s a mindset. You don’t have to be in New York to get Brooklyn, you can be in Austin, a trendy Parisian café, or someone’s basement listening to The Smiths. The key to Brooklyn is the willingness to be charmed in the face of the rest of the world.
All this may have got you wondering: who on the Word of Mouth staff is the most Twee? The honor goes uncontested to Logan Shannon.
You can catch the entire interview with Marc Spitz here.
So, are you Twee? Answer our poll right here: