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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