Twilight: Parsing the Layers and Fandom Hate
cc: @thenerdybird, @ladysteam13, @nerdsinbabeland, @cleolinda
Parsing Twilight is a multi-level exercise. It really is. Parsing Twilight requires infinite patience and a clear head. Unfortunately, Twilight is a phenomena where keeping a clear head becomes difficult for a lot of people. Myself included.
Jill Pantozzi (@thenerdybird) has some incredibly clear thoughts on the intersections of Twilight loathing at Has Boobs, Reads Comics and Dina Kampmeyer (@ladysteam13) articulates quite well that the fan-shaming that goes on is not cool, over at nerdsinbabeland.com. If you’re looking for an in-depth examination of Twilight on many levels, including some of the outright fandom wank that’s part of the reason it’s so easy for a lot of people to dismiss fans, go check out Cleolinda Jones’ archiving and writing on the subject.
The thing is: we need to parse it. Twilight as a phenomena, demonstrates how powerful the female audience is, how powerful the female gaze is, and how thoroughly starved girls and women are for characters that FEEL like them. Stripping away the Mary-Sue qualities of Bella Swan, this is a girl who feels awkward and unworthy and invisible. Don’t tell me that doesn’t hit too close to home for a lot of women. We live in a culture that makes billions of dollars off of keeping us insecure about our appearance and hinges our worth on that appearance so that we keep coming back.
Yes, the writing sucks but guess what: Stephenie Meyer knows how to spin a story. All the flaws, all the narrative failure, all of the incredibly problematic content and the books are still fast reads. The movies, fortunately, take a level in quality and badass, but the narrative is the same. The story works for the reader/viewer who isn’t reading for the subtext or to point out the flaws. I’m not particularly happy about this, but yes: I personally dove into the book and let it take me for a ride.
All the terribly problematic things and a subversion: Bella Swan has sexual agency. No, really. Bella is the one who is trying to get in her boyfriend’s pants, the WHOLE TIME.
It bothers me, too.
There are a lot of wonderful and terrible things about Twilight as a book: people are buying books, but the publishing industry thinks this is a template of WHAT young women will buy, rather than an opportunity to market other types of books to young women. Young women, hell: WOMEN, are a force to be reckoned with.
I am all for people going wild over things they love. I am. I am a geek and proud of it. I have my own obsessions, but I also have age and experience on my side in knowing that some behavior is just not cool, and in separating the things I love from my own identity, as well as knowing things like:
I’m not even going to link to some of the creepy/scary/omg things on Etsy and Regretsy. Or the Tantus Sparkledildo which has instructions to put it in the fridge for an authentic experience.
Yes. It does. Yes.
I won’t deny that some members of the fandom make it REALLY easy to mock. I’m also not going to deny that some people take that opportunity with entirely too much glee in their hearts.
The aspect of slut-shaming at play is pretty intense at times, and that is wrong. It is. To shame someone because they’re trying to exercise the will of desire, even if it seems weird and silly to us, is wrong.
Think about Beatlemania, think about Bieber Fever (making death threats against his girlfriend? REALLY?) and teen idols. There are reasons why these phenomena take place. Those reasons are largely ignored by Hollywood. The supernatural romance genre fulfills a need that this predominantly female fanbase has. There is desire and agency on the part of a female protagonist (however thwarted and manipulated that protagonist is by the objects of desire) and the desire is SEXUAL.
The sexual desire of young women is thin ice, or we’re told it is, but that doesn’t make it go away. Purity balls and abstinence pledges and…
OF COURSE TWILIGHT IS A PHENOMENA, IT ACKNOWLEDGES THAT GIRLS WANT SEX.
I have my own issues with Twilight. I hate the lead character as written, less as played by Kristen Stewart and thank gods Robert Pattinson makes Edward less creepy, but I also have issues with the female gaze being directed towards an underage character/actor with Jacob/Taylor Lautner, to say nothing of the creepy undertone of pedophilia with the imprinting and the creepy stalker/controlling boyfriends vibe. I have issues with some fans who force the media to deal with the ill-informed assertions and out-of-control behavior (no, really: handing an actor panties to sign will NEVER BE OKAY, nor is mauling them.)
However, I don’t hate the majority of Twilight fans, and I don’t begrudge anyone a few hours of escape into a story, regardless of the reasons.
The only reason I think there’s so much backlash is this: Hollywood and publishers now think this is all they have to do. Some of us want more than that.
I want scary vampires, I want female protagonists to get laid without having to get married, I want smart, funny, scary, serious scripts with amazing female protagonists who are flawed and who have full sexual agency to be produced. I want books that are better than this.
Twilight made it easier for producers and publishers to give me less than I deserve, and I resent that.
Fandom creepy freaks me out, no matter who or in what fandom it occurs.
And I morally object to my money being used to fund anti-LGBT marriage equality efforts like Prop 8. Which, as Meyers (like Orson Scott Card) tithes to the Mormon Church, Twilight does.
So, I have issues with Twilight and with some parts of its fandom. But we can’t have serious conversations about the layers this is composed of, until we start having rational conversations rather than simply mocking ones.