Thursday, August 16, 2007

I Guess I'm Quirky

I used to think I didn't like "quirky" things. I thought I went for more substance. Used to, that is, until I read this article in The Atlantic Monthly. It says :

We’re drowning in quirk. It is the ruling sensibility of today’s Gen-X indie culture, defined territorially by the gentle ministrations of public radio’s This American Life; the strenuously odd (and now canceled) TV sitcom Arrested Development; the movies of Wes Anderson; Dave Eggers’s McSweeney’s Web site; the performance art, music, and writing of Miranda July; and the just-too-wacky-to-be-fully-believable memoirs of Augusten Burroughs.

Ouch. I love This American Life, I love love Arrested Development, I love Wes Anderson's "Rushmore," I think Eggers is great, and I really liked July's movie "You, Me, and Everyone You Know." Thankfully for my ego, I read Burroughs' book "Running With Scissors" and I didn't really love it.

However, the damage is done. It doesn't feel very good to be put into a demographic category like that, to have someone say "Look, you fit neatly into this set of criteria." But I do fit. It appears that I'm a quirk lover, but I didn't think I was.

But what is "quirk"? According to the author of the article, Michael Hirschorn, it is:
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 (on HBO’s recent indie-cred comedy Flight of the Conchords , the titular folk-rock duo have one fan), 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.
He follows up this definition with two recent film examples of quirk: Napoleon Dynamite and Little Miss Sunshine. I liked Napoleon Dynamite and loved Little Miss Sunshine.

Oh no. I'm a quirkaholic.

As I said before, though, I didn't think I was. I hated the forced quirkiness of movies like Garden State and Waitress.

Ah, who am I kidding. If quirk is done reasonably well, I'm a total sucker. Micheal Hirschorn, you nailed me, and it doesn't feel good. As a final insult, here's a criticism of quirk that stings me.
Quirk, loosed from its moorings, quickly becomes exhausting. It’s easy for David Cross’s character on Arrested Development to cover himself in paint for a Blue Man Group audition, or for the New Zealand duo on Flight of the Conchords to make a spectacularly cheesy sci-fi video about the future while wearing low-rent robot costumes. But the pleasures are passing. Like the proliferation of meta-humor that followed David Letterman and Jerry Seinfeld in the ’90s, quirk is everywhere because quirkiness is so easy to achieve: Just be odd … but endearing. It becomes a kind of psychographic marker, like wearing laceless Chuck Taylors or ironic facial hair—a self-satisfied pose that stands for nothing and doesn’t require you to take creative responsibility. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Read the entire article here.


The McGuffin said...

I don't see being quirky as a bad thing and at least you dig the good quirk. Like Hirschorn stated very clearly, there is "good" quirk as in Rushmore...and "bad" quirk as in The Life Aquatic. Using those two movies to gauge the quirk factor is perfect and he hit the nail right on the head as to why one of Anderson's movies worked as quirk and why one didn't. Good read.

MC said...

I guess I'm a fan of quick as well, but as mcguffin says, some things are little too quirky for me like The Life Aquatic or Little Miss Sunshine. I hope The Darjeeling Limited isn't as quirkly, but I fear it is. I think there's a fine line between "good" quirkiness and "bad"-self conscisly quirky.

Some recent examples of good quirk, in my opinion, that I've experienced lately:

Flight of the Conchords

The Station Agent


God Lives in St. Petersberg by Tom Bissell (he sometimes writes for Eggers' McSweeney's)

Running In The Family by Michael Ondaatje

Not At My Age / Nick Lowe

Eric said...

I agree with you and the author about Wes Anderson. Let's see Anderson's new one and gauge the quirk in tandem.

Self-consciously quirky is a good way to put it. It's quirk that knows it is quirk, and does it only because it is quirk.

You made me wonder. If you do something quirky, but you keep doing it over and over, and it sort of becomes your stock-in-trade, does it stop being quirk? For instance, Robyn Hitchcock has been quirky for so long, it's no longer quirk. It's idiosyncratic. Same with Nick Lowe. His schtick (and I use that term with respect--he's awesome) has carried him through many albums, and it's legit. Errol Morris is idiosyncratic, but not quirky. Jim Jarmusch is the same way, as is Jonathan Richman. Hell, I would argue that They Might Be Giants, the kings of quirk, have outlasted the quirk designation and have arrived at a more legitimate form of quirk--the idiosyncratic. I hope that distinction makes sense.