This post is Part 2 of G3’s response to Twi-Hater nation. Check out V.’s previous essay here.
Every other week or so, an anti-Twilight zinger presents itself during my regular pop culture and social media consumption, usually followed by a stream of ha-ha-Twilight-sux commentary from people who are vigilant about telling us that a harmless work of young adult fiction is total crap. It’s the meme that won’t die. You could set your watch by it.
Chances are that the person with the strongest opinion, the one who’s so sure that Twilight is the worst thing to happen to feminism, literature and film in the 21st Century, has never read a single book in Stephanie Meyer’s series. If you have done so and loathe Twilight, carry on. You’ve earned your right to judge.
I read two-and-a-half of Meyer’s books, which were fine, saw the first two films, which were solidly enjoyable, and then decided I was done. A Twi-hard I am not, and I’ve made it known that parts of the story got on my last nerve.
But come on. The bottomless contempt for this series, years after its peak, is beyond ridiculous. It’s also riddled with sexism and condescension toward Twilight’s overwhelmingly female fan base. Because if 11-year-old girls and suburban moms like something, it must be shitty.
When pressed to explain the sustained ire, Twi-haters trot out one or all of the following unsatisfactory arguments.
It sends a bad message to girls.
Girls weather a barrage of destructive messages about their bodies, their self-worth and their power or lack thereof in a society that still treats females as things to be objectified, categorized and judged before they even open their mouths. As the mother of an 8-year-old girl, I take that very seriously. But the idea that this particular series of books undermined a generation of young women and even encouraged them to engage in emotionally abusive relationships is laughable.
I’ve got some issues with Bella Swan and Edward Cullen’s obsessive dynamic, but the fact that Bella’s beloved is a vampire is a pretty strong indicator that this is not a true story. I suspect that one big factor in Twilight’s success is that it reflects many tween girls’ fantasies about romance — that of a beautiful, slightly tragic love interest whose world revolves almost exclusively around them. Perhaps that’s not edgy, adult or modern enough for you, but that doesn’t make their desires any less legitimate than yours. Plus, the girls who loved these books aren’t stupid. Very few of them are going to take life lessons from a novel where characters turn into werewolves and war with a ruling class of vampires.
Remember, many of the same people who loved Twilight also devoured The Hunger Games and Harry Potter series, books that were deemed respectable and pro-female. So …
It’s badly written.
Twilight isn’t The Sound and the Fury, but so what? Meyer created a world that enthralled millions of people and mined a paranormal love triangle for gold. Sure, I had my moments of thinking, “I could have written this.” But I didn’t.
Bella/Kristin Stewart sucks.
Now this is where it gets interesting. In particular, Twi-haters love to bash Bella Swan and Kristen Stewart, the actress who plays her. Bella has been compared unfavorably to almost every female heroine in contemporary young adult fiction and described as a terrible role model for girls. Stewart is routinely measured against the actresses who play those heroines, and not necessarily in ways that have anything to do with her talent.
If you want to pick apart Stewart’s performances or her screen presence, OK. That comes with the territory of a film career. But when it becomes an excuse to make negative comments about her sex appeal? Ick. Not long ago, I saw a side-by-side comparison of Stewart and Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame that declared Watson/Hermoine the “winner” in the hotness category. I’m sure Watson is flattered to pieces by this stamp of approval.
Twilight’s male characters and the actors who play them have endured their share of derision; however, it’s nowhere close to the level of scorn reserved for the female protagonist.
Vampires don’t sparkle/play baseball/drive Volvos.
They’re not real.
I don’t plan to see Breaking Dawn 2 or revisit the fictional citizens and vampires of Forks, Wa., anytime soon. But I know an awful lot of smart, well-read and discerning women who have enjoyed many years with these characters and will be in theaters opening weekend. If there’s anything geeks ought to understand and even salute, it’s this level of pure enthusiasm — the special kind that comes from being immersed in and transported by a work of fantasy. Why, it’s almost like … sparkling.