I listen to Brian Lehrer and Leonard Lopate on WNYC regularly. Both have interesting shows about a broad spectrum of topics; you can find their archives off of the WNYC site.
Today, Brian Lehrer had Michael Hirschorn, contributing editor at The Atlantic Monthly and executive vice president of original programming and production at VH1, on to talk about “Quirk”, something he discussed in his September, 2007 Atlantic Monthly article entitled “Quirked Around”. Though I subscribe to the Atlantic(thanks to Amanda!), I missed the original article. After the show, I hungrily read it, because what Hirschorn had to say resonated deeply with me.
One of the reasons I feel so strongly disconnected from society is my inability to find something to sink my teeth into in today’s media market. American Idol does nothing for me. Nor does CNN or Fox News. I do not subscribe to the ideology of the Bible Belt, but likewise, hipsters frustrate me beyond belief. Where do I fit in? Part of Gen-X? No thank you and here is why:
Quirk is associated closely with Gen-X and Gen-Y. To quote Hirschorn, Quirk 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…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.”
And that is why I dislike Quirk, though I am surrounded by it due to my age and peers. First and foremost, as Hirschorn mentioned, Quirk focuses on a narrow demographic--middle/upper-middle class white/Jewish, with nary a face of color. Second, for the most part, Quirk is either about nothing, or in my opinion, disingenuous in its attempts to have meaning(but it is important to not have much more than a sliver of meaningfulness, because that would be uncool or fake). I often hear from the Quirk apologists that if you don’t like Quirk, you don’t get it(read: you aren’t smart enough to get the coolness that is Quirk). No, buddy, I get it just fine; I think its stupid.
Hirschorn talks about different examples of Quirk and I find myself disliking most of them. On the positives, he generally places: This American Life(positive and negative in his opinion), Rushmore, and Everything Is Illuminated. On the negatives, he lists: Flight of the Conchords, The Royal Tenenbaums, Little Miss Sunshine and Arrested Development(unless I am misreading his analysis of it).
I might add(mistakenly, since some of these may not fall completely into Quirk): Seinfeld, Beck, David Eggers, The Producers, etc.
My friends alternately embrace or reject Quirk and I suspect part of it is environment. Bryan and Mathangi both seem more pro-Quirk than I and I think it is partially because they were schooled at the University of Texas, which along with Oberlin, is certainly one of the bastions of Quirk in a city(Austin) that can certainly claim to be a central nexus of Quirk. Neither of them, as far as I can tell, embraces Quirk wholeheartedly—neither are hipsters(thank God!). Mathangi shifts between worlds and differing ideologies, though she indulges in Quirk. Bryan pushes Quirk to its limits and beyond; in his movie Dear Pillow(which will be available on DVD on November 13th, I believe), he moves from the comfortably odd to the uncomfortably provocative(which is why I loved the movie and which is why, I suspect, it wasn’t fully embraced by the Quirkophiles—that and he didn’t have a big marketing machine behind him).
On the other hand, Amanda’s self-imposed hermitage has most likely immunized her from the allure of Quirk. HB is too divorced from Quirk due to her background and culture. And Michael, I think, tends to accept and consider all ideologies, trends, attitudes, etc for a time—then rejects them if he finds they do not fit him.
Don’t be offended if I named you here and you didn’t like my analysis—just my passing thoughts on my friends and their relationship to Quirk.
As an aside, I think Quirk has its cultural peers which I also do not generally like: The ethnic novel/movie(which is all about being, well, ethnic). I’ll save my issues with this genre for another day, however.
Quirk in small doses is fine. I’ll admit to my guilty-Quirk pleasures: Flight of the Conchords, Donnie Darko, the occasional Beck song, etc. But Quirk has permeated our culture so much as to be the flip side to the American Idol/Britney Spears coin and that is why I don’t like it; it is equally empty and nourishes nothing but a sense of superiority. In the end, Quirk fails us, fails our generation. There are some incredibly talented people putting out Quirk and that is a shame. Instead of rising to the times, times that desperately call for action, the creation of something of substance, they have fallen into the trap of showcasing style. The emperor has no clothes; let us knock Quirk off of its pedestal.
I hunger for something more. I hunger for weighty television shows/dramas, news programs, books and music. I want to be provoked and pushed, forced out of my box. I desperately desire something that means…something.