I’m hesitant to even write this blog. For one thing, defending Twilight makes me seem like a fan, and I’m not really. I don’t hate it or anything – I’ve read all four books and enjoyed them for what they were – but I’m certainly not going to the movies on opening night or convincing my husband to replace my wedding ring with the one designed based on Bella Swan’s:
Not that there’s anything “wrong” with wanting a fictional character’s ring in your real life. That’s not crazy at all. Or something.
And I’ll go ahead and make it clear now that I am not trying to convince you to like Twilight. I really, really do not care if you like it or not. But I feel the need to address the type and level of Twilight hate that’s been going around… you know… all of Earth. Because underneath the seemingly hostile and somewhat amusing slams and pot-shots taken at the books, there are some actual important issues at play.
Here’s the thing: I hate bullies. I hate bandwagons. And I really, really hate bullies who jump on bandwagons. I have seen people on Facebook announce that if they see any mentions of Twilight in their newsfeed they are unfriending the person who posted it. I mean, I know it’s ‘like really cool’ to not like what’s popular and stuff (Hey, if it doesn’t say “indie” on the back cover it’s a sell-out, right?), but that seems a little extreme, doesn’t it?
And the real kicker is that most of the people I hear dissing the Twilight series almost certainly haven’t even read any of the books. They’re just jumping on bandwagons. Twilight is trendy, and thus it is trendy to slam it. Lazy much? If you’re going to hate on something so hard, at least do your research. And the flip-side? If you do your research, and still hate it that much, why do you keep talking about it?
The primary complaint I hear from writers who diss the books is that the quality of Stephenie Meyer’s writing is poor. And my answer to that is… so what?
For one thing, quality is subjective. Plot can be just as important as character, and different writing styles strive to achieve different things. But I’m not going to try to argue that Stephenie Meyer’s writing is particularly good. I don’t think it is.
But there are hundreds of poorly written, incredibly popular books published every year and that’s never stopped the general public from liking them. Aspiring authors’ agony be damned: crap gets published and people love it. Deal with it.
The next complaint I hear is about the message of the books. I’ve already addressed the ignorant, ultra-conservative parents who think these books are evil. But on the other spectrum are the ultra-liberal parents who think these books send an unrealistic, overly romantic and thus harmful message to young girls, much like Cinderella.
“Stephenie Meyer has come and she’s taken the genre that I sort of pioneered. Her original audience was 11- and 12-year-olds, so she – very rightly – sanitized the genre. She took out a lot of the sex and violence, especially for the first book…I ask people, Why has this really captured you? What I heard from all ages is that it was very romantic that he was willing to wait for her and that there was no sex. They like the idea that [Bella] was like the fairy princess and [Edward] is the handsome prince that rides in and saves her. The fact that women are so attracted to that idea – that they want to wait for Prince Charming rather than taking control of their own life – I find that frightening.” — Laurell K. Hamilton, Entertainment Weekly
Now you guys know I adore Laurell K. Hamilton. And I adore her fierce independence and constant striving for sexual equality. But I also adore cheesy, sleazy romance novels with lots of sex and unrealistic-hero expectations, and if Twilight is harmful, then those are ten times harmful. But I would argue that they aren’t. It’s fiction. It is the epitome of fantasy fulfillment. Emphasis on fantasy. It’s fulfillment through fiction because we know that real life won’t cut it.
I didn’t watch Cinderella thinking that I would marry a prince (good post on that here), and I didn’t read Twilight thinking that my significant other would ever be as over-the-top obsessed and dedicated as I fantasized he would be. Who doesn’t want to be intensely desired? The books deliver that. It’s just for fun. It’s not real. Give readers a little credit; they know that. And if they don’t? That responsibility goes to their parents, not the author. I will never agree that writers are responsible for readers’ beliefs.
And here’s what’s really bothering me. To me, as an adult woman who seems to be one of the few people who’s not screaming and rioting either for or against “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” (Okay, okay: I’m totally team Edward. Your abs mean *almost* nothing to me, Jacob.), this is all because The Twlight Saga is a girl thing. Yes, that’s right, I said it. It is just as mainstream-cool-and-thus-really-lame as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games (two other crazy-popular young adult series), but people don’t rag on them because those series are geared toward boys.
Don’t argue yet. Read this:
“People are attracted by the stories, by the pace, and in the case of Stephenie Meyer, it’s very clear that she’s writing to a whole generation of girls and opening up kind of a safe joining of love and sex in those books. It’s exciting and it’s thrilling and it’s not particularly threatening because it’s not overtly sexual.” – Stephen King, USA Weekend
Stephen King very openly and publicly hates Twilight, so I can clearly hear his condescension coming through in this quotation.
And I can’t help but think of gender politics. Now, in literature as in most fields, the market is dominated by men. There are plenty of female voices, but the male voices seem to be louder and more weighty. Books focusing on “boyhood,” like Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Yearling, and Robinson Crusoe are generally taken more seriously – as far as literary merit – than books focusing on “girlhood,” like Little Women, Sarah Plain and Tall, and Little House on the Prairie. I would argue that this is only because our society still tells us that men are more valuable and more serious than women.
And the very implication that Twilight is for girls while Hunger Games is for boys can be insulting, suggestive, and argued. But I don’t have time for all of that. I’m not saying it’s right; I’m just saying it is. Twilight is a “girl book” because it focuses on romance. (Teen boys tend to mature at a later age than teen girls, so they escape a lot of this discussion.)
Love between adults is, arguably, the single most important subject in all of literature throughout all of history, perhaps rivaled only by death and religion. Love is considered noble, vital, and well-worthy of literary pursuit.
Teenagers forming romantic relationships with each other is a necessary step in the human life cycle to find a partner. And yet… teen romances are slammed by critics, considered “flighty” and “trashy” and “focusing on the wrong values.” Why? I’m really asking. Why is it noble for adults and frivolous for teens? And furthermore, why are teenage girls learning the ropes of romantic and sexual relationships considered shallow? I believe that people – such as Stephen King, below – become derisive about it simply because it makes them uncomfortable.
Teenaged females are in between girls and women, and the idea of them being sexual or even romantic makes adults squirm. That is not a good enough reason to mock teenaged girls, their genre interests, or these books.
*This Stephen King quote, in particular, is pissing me off. Not only for its implications when it comes to gender politics, as I mentioned above, but also for one very important reason that I keep seeing crop up in the Twilight discussions:
It is not a competition. One excessively popular book need not be pitted against another excessively popular book. I see it EVERYWHERE. Twilight sucks because… Harry Potter is better? What good does that comparison do, exactly? Makes people feel like they have to choose one to love and one to hate. Believe it or not, it is entirely possible to love both, hate both, or feel relatively ambivalent about both.
I love Stephen King. I LOVE him. I respect, admire, and fan-girl-out all over the freaking guy. (He is one of three writers that I have EVER sent a fan letter to.) But let’s set the record straight: Even though his opinion is respected and his quotes litter book culture like sticky notes in an OCD’s office, Stephen King is not God. He’s just a dude. And dudes aren’t always right. (Sorry, Steve.)
I would really, really love to stop seeing this quotation passed around like it’s a Bible verse.
And one more thing…
Just for the record. Making fun of “sparkly” vampires is easy, because the word in and of itself is sort of silly and vaguely flamboyant, so having a creature that was once thought of only as “scary” be “sparkly” is a pretty easy target.
But let’s be honest; Stephenie Meyer was not the one to take vampires from scary to sexy. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Anne Rice, and Laurell K. Hamilton did that for her. Vampires can still be scary, but they can also now be sexy. It’s been done; it can’t be undone. So get over it.
The truth is that vampires glittering in the sun is actually a really cool, original concept. In Stephenie Meyer’s world, humans don’t know vampires exist. But making them glitter allowed her to change the rules: her vamps were not immune to the sun, but rather wise to evade it to avoid risk of exposure to humans. And since Ms. Meyer was simply embracing the preexisting idea of the romantic vampire, I also think it’s a nice finishing touch on her version of the creature. If a human had skin that glittered and I was in love with him, I’d think it was pretty neat too. So eff off, haters. Let them vamps get their glitter on.
What do you think? Am I right? Are there gender politics involved here? And will there ever be something teen girls love that isn’t mocked by the rest of the population (see: Hannah Montana, Miley Cyrus, Justin Beiber…)? Or is it just too easy/fun to slam Twilight? And most importantly, why all the hate, haters? I know you’ve got Breaking Dawn tucked under your nightstand.
*I haven’t been able to verify this quotation. The typed one is from an interview he did with USA Weekend, but the one that’s been made into an image and infecting the interwebs could be made up or misattributed. Anyone know for sure?