American Cutie

At a rally and performance in Carrboro, N.C., lead singer Win Butler delivered a few remarks before his large band, which includes violins, took the stage.

“People weren’t excited about Franklin Delano Roosevelt because he was the first candidate to do the wheelchair,” he told the crowd. “They were excited because when people were down, they were like, they asked him: ‘Can we survive?’ And he said, ‘Yes we can!’ And they asked him: ‘Can we get back to how we used to be?’ And he said, ‘Yes we can!’ And then they asked, ‘Can we make ourselves better than we used to be? And he said, ‘Yes we can!’”

“It’s finally our turn to have a great president,” he said, and at this point the crowd was going wild. “I’m sick of fine presidents and good presidents and mediocre presidents. I’m sick of Rutherford B. Hayes and James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce and Millard Fillmore. We got Barack Obama! Barack Obama, for crying out loud!”

In other words, Win Butler was going for the naïve moron vote. The crowd that was somehow equating Hillary Clinton and Millard Fillmore was not the Oxford Union debating society. But still, elevating Barack Obama beyond the stage of the Children’s Crusade was turning him into the Tough Twee candidate. Why Tough Twee? The crowd had the affect and information base of children, the idealism of the truly protected and insular—the province of child-voters since the beginning of the republic.

But Mr. Butler’s remarks, like Arcade Fire’s video and its lyrics, reek of a certain quirky ordinariness. (“Three cheers for my parents/ Lonely failed experiments!”) It’s the aesthetic of the middle-school history textbook, and its natural accompaniments are a lunch box and pencil case.


THE PAST DECADE, during the Bush years, post 9/11, even with the background of the war in Iraq, has been a conservative social revolution: Settling in and marrying young; setting up 401(k) plans; leafing through Martha Stewart for “ideas.” Fueled by advice gurus like Suze Orman, they put people first, then money, then things. Which category does going out at night fall under? “Clubbing” for this set is something you want them to stop doing to seals. Carrie Bradshaw can go suck an egg.

Their ordinariness is the past viewed through a kind of unironic gauze, one that filters out the unpleasantness that many of us grew up with: mayonnaise, divorce, Inspector Gadget, gray-green plastic soldiers, alcoholism, postpartum depression, AIDS, poverty and other forms of bad taste.

The soundtrack for this way of life is nothing new. If you have ever not muted a Target ad, you’ve heard it. Think Nico’s voice over a Phil Spector song. A few songs written from a kid’s point of view. And all over an air of pleasant, suggestive insubstantiality, suburban neighborliness and nostalgic pastiche.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy hit the Twee nail on the head. A great battle is taking place, and by a series of unfortunate circumstances, the little Hobbits have gotten involved.

J.R.R. Tolkien described the race of tiny creatures he invented thusly: They are “unobtrusive.” They “love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-farmed countryside was their favorite haunt. They do not and did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill or a hand-loom, though they were skillful with tools.” They are “shy of the Big Folk.” Hobbits were Twee Pioneers. But at least they took on Sauron frontally and beat the crap out of him.

And they look a lot like the kids in that Arcade Fire video, except these modern-day Hobbits are armed with laptops (possibly engineered by steampunks or Wes Anderson types so that the plastic keys are replaced with old typewriter keys).

It’s not hard to see how Hillary Clinton failed with the Twee Folk. Her tactic, which was to call Barack Obama naïve, simply backfired.

Naïveté did not make him a state senator or a U.S. senator. The endless campaign refrain, “Yes We Can,” seems like a truism when you look at what Mr. Obama wants to accomplish, which is an agenda distinguishable from Hillary Clinton’s only at a very granular level. He promises to make America a little better than it was, by consensus and conversation—which won’t happen!—but it sounds good to anyone who’s not interested in a bloody revolution. And, let’s end this nasty business in Iraq.

That business, rather grandly, has been credited for generating the New York literary magazine n+1. And it has therefore given us, in turn, one of the few real public literary disputes of our day.

Keith Gessen, one of the founding editors, has said that the magazine was started in part out of an impulse to rectify several popular critics’ reticence to criticize the war in Iraq.

“Certainly leading up to Iraq, the commentary of some of the people we most admired felt misdirected, off,” Mr. Gessen told an interviewer from the Web site The New York Inquirer in 2006. “I’m thinking in particular of Paul Berman, George Packer, Michael Walzer—writers grouped around Dissent and The New Republic, two magazines that have meant a lot to us for different reasons.”

American Cutie