Reduced to Quirk

Michael Hirschorn in this month’s Atlantic reduces my generation’s entire cultural zeitgeist to a single word: quirk.

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.

Hirschorn makes a fair point which, I think, can be restated that much of the content I enjoy is really just candy.

The Atlantic seems to have recently figured out its readership (or at least figured out me). Hard to Swallow (by B.R. Myers, who more typically writes about Korean issues) is a pointed moral critique of modern food lovers (chowhounds?) and food writing (including Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, much read by my contemporaries). If I weren’t already a vegetarian, I might take umbrage.

“Insider baseball” pieces on Karl Rove and Michael Gerson are also excellent, and in the case of the former quite timely.

To wrap up this encomium, props to the magazine for its clean new website design, which I believe premiered today, and for including an embedded Youtube video in the online version of the quirk article.


  1. Steve Laniel Aug 15

    Only one gripe: whenever a new website design comes out, it is inevitably “cleaner” than the one before it. People need to find a new adjective. Particularly since I think “cleaner” normally means just “more minimalist,” whereas a real improvement would entail the site being described as “better organized” or “more intuitive.”

  2. adam Aug 15

    I think “clean” was just my adjective, so the criticism should be directed at me, not at the Atlantic. You’ve got to admit that it is clean, though.

  3. Luis Aug 15

    ‘quirk’ is a good word for it. On the one hand, it is just candy, but on the other hand, on the grand scale of ways for a globally imperial power to express boredom and the early phases of decadence, candy is a lot better than feeding people to the lions.

  4. Steve Laniel Aug 17

    I just read the article. That’s good stuff. It does make one wonder, though, why quirk would be such a defining trait of our generation and not previous generations.

    (Foer, having graduated from Princeton right around when Adam did, is decisively part of “our generation.” It’s odd to think that “our generation” are now the content-producers. It’s also sad to think that I don’t have anything nearly as successful as “Everything is Illuminated” to show for it.)

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