Even if you haven’t read the books or seen the movie (soon to be movies), it’s been impossible to ignore the cultural phenomenon of Stephenie Meyer’s wildly popular Twilight series. A mind-blowing statistic cited in the new American Prospect caught my eye: “In the first quarter of 2009, Twilight novels composed 16 percent of all book sales,” writes Sady Doyle. “Four out of every 25 books sold were part of the series.”
(Think about that for a minute. A series of books that began publishing in 2005 and ended in August 2008 accounted for 16 percent of all book sales in the first three months of 2009.)
Doyle demonstrates that the Twilight books and films—and their fans, who are visibly, overwhelmingly teenage girls—have been “marginalized and mocked” by a wide range of media: MTV, Time magazine, The New York Times, and other outlets favor adjectives like “shrieking” and “squealing” to describe these enthusiastic droves of readers. “Yes,” Doyle writes, “Twi-Hards can be loud. But is it really necessary to describe them all by the pitch of their voices? It propagates the stereotype of teen girls as hysterical, empty-headed, and ridiculous.”
Feminists, too, have widely criticized the books, and for good reason. They offer a humorless, stalkerish, absurdly overprotective Prince Charming in the vampire-protagonist of Edward Cullen, for whom Bella, the angsty teen-girl narrator, is willing to do anything (including—spoiler alert!—becoming a vampire herself). I’ll admit that when I finished reading the four-book series, the first thing I did was call my Edward Cullen–obsessed teenage sister, who did not appreciate my ensuing lecture about why the characters’ 19th century–style relationship was not something to aspire to.
Doyle concedes that the books are “silly,” what with their unlikely chastity and the characters’ sappy, unconditional, and constantly verbalized mutual adoration, but, she argues, these fantasies do offer teen girls much-needed “shelter from the terrors of puberty.” On the other hand, “male escapist fantasies—which, as anyone who has seen Die Hard or read those Tom Clancy novels can confirm, are not unilaterally sophisticated, complex, or forward-thinking—tend to be greeted with shrugs, not sneers. The Twilight backlash is vehement, and it is just as much about the fans as it is about the books. Specifically, it’s about the fact that those fans are young women.”
Even phenomena on the nerdier side of the pop-culture spectrum—Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Men, and Harry Potter—escape the severe criticism that's heaped upon the Twi-Hards. How are Twilight and its fandom so different from these films, or even Marvel comics? Doyle asks. “The answer is fairly obvious, and it’s not—as geeks and feminists might hope—the quality of the books or movies,” she writes. “It’s the number of boys in the fan base.”
That’s why, no matter how drippy and problematic feminists may perceive the series to be, they should care about the Twilight backlash, Doyle argues. I’d like to interpret that as, let’s keep discussing our Twilight qualms with teen-girl allies—but let’s also try to understand why it appeals to them, and consider what that tells us about teenage girl-hood today.
(And let's definitely watch, and encourage Twilight fans to watch, the hilarious, sexism-busting video "Buffy vs. Edward (Twilight Remixed).")
Source: The American Prospect (excerpt only available online)