Pundits Say Showbiz Is Ripe for a Twee-Peat

Revenge of the Nerds Twee Fad

Is Twee an ominous cultural force — and am I an unwitting perpetrator?

The Twee tribe is being both praised and condemned in current books and articles. I’ve taken some heat, too. That’s because this is the 30th anniversary of a movie I put together that’s come to be considered an iconic example of Twee cultural contamination. Its title is “Revenge of the Nerds.” And I plead guilty.

For the uninitiated, and there are many, Twee represents “the most powerful youth movement since Punk and Hip Hop,” according to Marc Spitz, author of a new book on pop culture, “Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion and Film.” It’s also a “new culture of kindness,” per Spitz.

To other critics, like James Parker, writing in the Atlantic, Twee serves as “the acclamation of the undercooked” and the exultation of the half baked. Adds another critic, Christophe Borrelli of the Chicago Tribune, “Twee culture revels in sweet naivete for its own sake.” And citing Zooey Deschanel’s contribution in Fox TV’s “New Girl,” he adds that it “embodies all that is mannered and precious, and weirdly hard to resist.”

Turning back to Spitz, “Twee represents a fetishization of the nerd, the geek, the dork,
the virgin.”

Oops — that’s where I come in. Three decades ago, I happened on an undercooked and half-baked treatment, “Revenge of the Nerds,” worked on it with an expert on the subject (my then 16-year-old daughter), then turned it over to a friend, Ted Field, who was searching for a tenable “youth movie” to produce. At the time, I was a studio executive, and (luckily) couldn’t produce it myself. I was accorded the dubious honor of being executive producer on two of its sequels.

The audience response was startling. “Nerds,” directed by Jeff Kanew, caught the wave. “A geek classic,” raved USA Today. In heralding the film’s Blu-ray re-release, Rotten Tomatoes declares it the film “perhaps most synonymous with the ’80s.”

In immortalizing Booger (Curtis Armstrong) and the other nerds, the movie became ideal fodder for Twee-haters, who disdain a wide range of artists — artists like Wes Anderson (both his characters and even his sets); the aforementioned Deschanel; and the British singer Morrissey.

Basically any film or TV show suspected of being sweet or cute becomes instantly Twee. Mittens and scarves are Twee. If you own a dog or cat, you’d better seem appropriately distanced or you risk
the Label.

Arguably the recent Comic-Con, as the citadel of geekdom, represents a mass exercise in Twee-play. “Sex Tape,” the new Cameron Diaz comedy from Sony, is setting off alarms from Twee-haters because, as A.O. Scott notes in his New York Times review, the humor has “no friction.” (It’s) “a safe and cautious movie, intent above all on respecting the modern taboo against being mean.”

That makes it a veritable Twee textbook.

So will the Twee revolution signal a true journey into cultural kindness or simply a plunge into blandness? I’m not good at forecasting; besides, I feel I’ve already done my part in screwing up the past, so I’ll just kindly step aside and watch the future unfold.

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  1. TheBigBangOf20thCenturyPopCulture says:

    The idea of Twee culture sounds too much like literary fetish affectation to be taken seriously, a made up movement by jaded journalists inventing designer pop culture like Docs do new diseases and drugs. Taken as a group, nerds are too wimpy to dominate mega trends aside from PC gadget web addiction. When I hear melody in music and see plot in movies again, only then will I believe cuteness, sweetness and innocence has made a comeback. For that to happen, it would take a lot more than shy, naive TV shows and movies. In order for it to take hold, the current urban bad ass zeitgeist would have to be ceremoniously dumped at a baseball park like disco was in the 70s. While one hopes some MLB cellar dweller can take a hint, geeks are too nice to be leading street smart hipsters to millennial happiness. ..

    • LOL says:

      Hmm, Big Bang, taking a look at the US box-office it seems that nerds are actually dominating mega trends.

      Can you imagine being an American teen in the ’90s and admitting to watching superhero fodder (other than Tim Burton helmed ones)? American kids back then seemed too occupied with aimlessness and nihilism; and they also weren’t too fond of their parents, hence why the collective family film market was no way as huge back then as it is in this mollycoddled era of geek fandom.

      To be an avid comic book reader a generation ago was unhip: now it’s mainstay. Girls steered clear of geeky post-apocalyptic tropes: now it’s all they want.

      Geeks have taken over the world. Look at the music charts – it’s all saccharine pop confections, not N.W.A. or Nirvana.

      • TheBigBangOf20thCenturyPopCulture says:

        This is a chicken/egg issue since the need to be hip is not a trait of nerds who by definition are not populist sheep. By that deductive reasoning, mass media taste can’t be led by them. Was it nerds who invented rap, hip hop and reality shows that demographically dominate new age.media? Does each new dystopian disaster film have a resident geek as the male lead? You’re confusing nerds with hipster bohemians, metrosexual man boys or easily amused youths with no individuality too are too busy trying to fit in to notice toxic media. Nerds are not peer pressured, trendy consumers. While they may have designed the Internet, they don’t control standard media content. Superhero movies do not make us all nerds any more than gangsta rap makes us all urban street thugs. What’s on TV or at the movies may condition in group lemmings, but that doesn’t equal a zeitgeist led by nonconformists or social outsiders.

    • jhansell says:

      Yeah, we’re there, for better or for worse. Google “Disco Demolition 2: You Better Belieb It”.

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