Talking 'Bout My Generation

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

QUIRK, KITSCH, AND YOU

There has been a bit of a backlash against American popular culture lately that I find to be highly entertaining. Last month famed designer Marc Jacobs sent fashions down the runway that produced an astonished and almost disturbed response from the fashion community. His fashions, always forward-thinking if not a bit odd, were particularly unique this season as they were inspired by the most popular characteristic of American culture at this time: Quirk. So quirky were his designs that some clothing appeared backwards, patterns mismatched, shoes slightly too small for its models, and the whole show done in reverse. This may have shocked the fashion community and even brought forth some unfavorable snickers from the audience, but I get what Jacobs is selling and I appreciate his momentum. He's able to embrace the kitschiness of our present culture while still working to perpetuate something new and interesting into the fashion world. This, you have to respect.

So what is Quirk and why has it rubbed so many people the wrong way? The Atlantic Monthly produced a fascinating article this month (found here) on the merits (or lack there of) of this American phenomenon. The contributing editor for this publication, Michael Hirschorn defined "quirk" as: “an embrace of the odd against the blandly mainstream. It features mannered ingenuousness, an embrace of small moments, narrative randomness, situationally amusing but not hilarious character juxtapositions...and unexplainable but nonetheless charming character traits. Quirk takes not mattering very seriously. Quirk is odd, but not too odd. That would take us all the way to weird, and there someone might get hurt." I have to say I love this definition b/c it captures that kind of American sensibility and tendency towards the strange yet sincere. There is certainly a sweetness to quirk that makes it resonate most with American audiences. Quirk is "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Flight of the Conchords." Its the newest YouTube sensation "Leave Britney Alone" and "Arrested Development" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizzou." Its comedy, its oddity, its fun, its heart-warming while still maintaining a little roughness around the edges. Its not American reality, but rather a play on American sensibilities and culture.

The problem I think people are having lately with "Quirk" is not that they themselves lack an understanding of its charm. Rather, it is the fact that this previously counter-culture-esque movement has now found its way into the mainstream. Nearly everyone has "Napoleon Dynamite" listed as one of the favorite movies on facebook these days, proudly dawning their "Vote for Pedro" tees. Nearly every college-aged minion can drop "Anchorman" quotes like its their job. This transition should come as no surprise as nearly every counter-culture movement finds it way into the mainstream eventually. Even the goths and punks of the world find most of the wardrobe that defines them at the billion-dollar franchise that is "Hot Topic." "Urban Outfitters" is another perfect example of this. Its always this notion of "selling out" that gets people all riled up over any elements of our culture, but that's just the way it goes I guess.

I have to say I embrace the heart-warming qualities of Quirk and am not so quick to write it off as the latest pop cult phase of our generation. Sure, it'll continue to gain momentum until it so saturates our culture that even I will be ready for something new. But for now, let's just enjoy it, shall we? Its better than the infamous mindless reality tv phase of only a few years before, don't you think?
posted by Megan Anhalt at 5:09 PM

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