the take

‘The Atlantic’ Declares War on Quirkiness

Photos: Getty Images (Anderson, Glass); Courtesy of Fox (Cross)

Hey, you! Yeah, you, the “Gen-X indie” guy in Austin, Madison, or Adams Morgan with the ironic facial hair! Michael Hirschorn at The Atlantic has a problem with you and your insufferable quirkiness. In a broadside in this month’s issue, Hirschorn takes issue with Quirk, which he describes as “the ruling sensibility” of popular culture, one in which we are all “drowning.”

It’s an ambitious essay, though a fairly unfocused one, mostly because Hirschorn chooses such a broad set of targets. Any writer who attempts to claim that Wes Anderson, Arrested Development, and This American Life share an aesthetic worldview is kind of reaching. Throw in Napoleon Dynamite, Miranda July, and Pretty in Pink, and you’ve got the essayist’s equivalent of an attack with a Remington shotgun.

Hirschorn pegs the beginning of quirk to the Talking Heads. And not just the band, but a specific song, “Stay Up Late.” And not just “Stay Up Late,” but a specific lyric in “Stay Up Late”: “Cute, cute, little baby / Little pee-pee, little toes.” That’s an admirably specific line of reasoning, but why that line, particularly? (Why not “See him drink from a bottle / See him eating from a plate”?) And what exactly does this song have to do with Duckie in Pretty in Pink, Hirschorn’s other example of eighties quirk? Hell, what about Harold and Maude, or any of a number of seventies movies that embraced oddballs and eccentricity?

And if we’re truly drowning in quirk, couldn’t Hirschorn find a few more examples of things that are actually popular? Wes Anderson casts a long shadow among certain of his fans, but his most successful movie barely broke $50 million at the box office. Napoleon Dynamite spawned a lot of T-shirts but made only $44 million. Meanwhile, Knocked Up, cited by Hirschorn as blessedly anti-quirk, has made $148 million and counting and is beloved by critics. And since when are Judd Apatow’s characters not quirky?

Look, we strongly dislike almost every book, TV show, and movie that Hirschorn brings up. But if Hirschorn defines quirk as standing opposed to the mainstream, what exactly is Hirschorn defending? The mainstream? Well, thank God someone is finally standing up for nearly everyone in America!

Quirked Around [The Atlantic]

‘The Atlantic’ Declares War on Quirkiness