American Cutie

In 2004 Ms. Paltrow told Oprah Winfrey why she gave her daughter that name.

“It sounded so sweet, and it conjures such a lovely picture for me; you know apples are so sweet and they’re wholesome, and it’s biblical and it’s just, they’re so, and I just thought it sounded so lovely and …”

“Clean,” Ms. Winfrey chimed in.

“Clean,” Ms. Paltrow agreed.

That was before she had to reenter the market: She was still sweet, child-affected, candied, Harvey Weinstein’s “Queen of Miramax,” Manhattan’s Pumpkin Girl. Many retched at Gwyneth in the old days, as they often do at a coquette. She was America’s sweetheart, in a Manhattan kind of way. But things have changed. Compare Gwyneth of the ’90s, for example, to Ellen Page, the twisted niece of Twee, via Christina Ricci in The Opposite of Sex. Now there is still Twee, but it’s shelled and girded—Tough Twee.

Ms. Paltrow herself didn’t embrace Tweedom until after she won an Academy Award, became Audrey Hepburn for a millisecond, and, for a brief time, America’s most important young actress, engaged to Brad Pitt and gamboling in the sun, waiting for the next wonderful thing. But with Pitt, Ben Affleck, Shallow Hal, the stewardess movie and the tabloid reporters behind her, she fled to London with her Twee-named children, Apple and Moses, and her Twee husband, rock star Chris Martin.

She made herself into a child’s vision of an old-fashioned stay-at-home mom. But in a recent interview that aired on the BBC, Ms. Paltrow—who once called Sex and The City “shocking”—registered only slight surprise when the host said that he would like to get his wife’s permission to fuck her. (His word.)

“It was all in good fun,” Stephen Huvane told the outraged British tabloid press later on. Ms. Paltrow was not, he said, offended.

Clearly, one of the things that had to go by the wayside for Ms. Paltrow’s reinvention was all that business about the Simple Things in life. Domesticity can be stifling, and has a way of making itself absolute.

But, of course, the most important thing is, Toughen Up, Babe—You’re Going Back in the Marketplace! What are your legs for? What are heels for? You can have a Twee interior, but your body better sell on the lot, fast. So off went the flip-flops, on went the Givenchy black leather, double-buckled open-toed shoe boots (which Ms. Paltrow wore with black toenail polish).

“I reached a place in my life where I thought, It’s okay that I have a passion for something besides my family. I love making films,” Gwyneth told Entertainment Weekly at the Sundance Film Festival last year after it was announced that she was going to play “Pepper Potts” to Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man in the big-budget yet indie-credentialed blockbuster, sounding every bit as though she were on the verge of discovering the sexual revolution, or had just read The Yellow Wallpaper for the first time.

The reentry of Gwyneth and Her Legs into the culture is not a casual business. It’s a tougher, colder world than the one she left. And even the cute have to learn to be carnivores. Just look at Owen Wilson, Scarlett Johansson, Claire Danes and Miley Cyrus, all once Twee, now post-Twee.

 

THERE IS A video for a song, released in 2005 by the wildly popular indie band Arcade Fire, called “Rebellion (Lies).” In it, the band members find themselves walking down a well-manicured suburban street, one of them banging a snare drum. Lush lawns flank white houses with black shutters. It looks like a colorized Mayberry, and they are a sort of ad hoc indie military parade.

Unaccountably, sleeping on doorsteps and under big shady trees are all these children. They are dressed either from the children’s clothing section of ABC Carpet and Home or else by the firm that brought you the costumes for Oliver!—it’s hard to tell. As the drumbeat awakens them from their slumber, they follow the band through the streets of the town to the door of another suburban house, where they hang out and play instruments and one of them appears to take a nap.

Arcade Fire is one of those bands that declared itself early in this year’s presidential primary for Barack Obama. And they have been taking that senator’s message of hope to young people all over the country—or at least, to the young in Ohio and in the college towns of North Carolina. They are the second core Obama demographic—the Eloi elite who are the implied target of Hillary Clinton’s “hardworking Americans, white Americans” statement: college educated, young, largely white. They are the “soccer moms” of this primary: a group of people with a political aesthetic—because it is more of an aesthetic than a set of beliefs—that suddenly, surprisingly makes a perfect match with an individual candidate. That candidate was not Hillary Clinton.