Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Just a Little Love/Hate Relationship with the Twilight Series

I’ve just finished New Moon and begun Eclipse. I know, I know, I’m waaaay behind the curve.

Bear with me.

I put off reading this series because 1) I’m not a romance fan and 2) Everyone else was reading it, which is often the kiss of death for a book, as far as I’m concerned. I do, however, love a good horror novel, and this series seems to at least flirt with that genre. So, I took the plunge.

At the midway point in the series, I am enjoying the vampire/werewolf aspect of the story, but seriously struggling with the romance/damsel in distress aspects. I’d like to klonk Bella on the head more often than not. I know, she is a realistic portrayal of some young women. I much prefer my heroines in the mold of Katniss in Hunger Games, though. Gimme a girrrrl who can kick some butt and I’m a happy woman.

Many others, including University of Missouri professors Melissa Click, Jennifer Stephens Aubrey and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, have been bitten by the ‘Twilight’ bug (or, perhaps, sparkly vampire), helping to propel the books and movies based on them into a national phenomenon.

These professors have published Bitten by Twilight: Youth Culture, Media, & the Vampire Franchise. This collection of essays offers a critical feminist examination of the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer as well as exploring the marketing and media attention surrounding the books and subsequent movies. In a telephone interview, author Jennifer Aubrey explained to me that they wanted to conduct a serious critical examination of Twilight and welcomed the opportunity to look at the fandom of girls and women, which is often culturally devalued.

In the book’s prologue, the professors make clear that they are fans of the Twilight series. Approaching their work on the book from a fan’s perspective did not stop them from offering feminist criticism on elements of the stories, such as the traditional gender roles of the often-helpless protagonist Bella and the strong-but-silent vampire Edward, who dashingly comes to her rescue time and time again.

The authors believe that at the core of the Twilight series is a love story that speaks deeply to many women. Aubrey explained that many women and girls, whether they identify as feminists or not, recognize that elements of the stories are stereotypical and somewhat disturbing, such as Edward’s stalker-like behavior with Bella. Nevertheless, they love the stories, and some of the participants in the authors’ research were as perplexed as anyone by their deep interest in the series. I feel comforted knowing that I have lots of confused company out there!

Despite this widespread popularity with women, or perhaps because of this, the books, the movies made from them and the series author Meyer have been labeled as trivial. Bestselling author Stephen King, who has himself been criticized as not ‘literary’ enough, finds fault with Stephenie Meyer’s writing, saying she ‘can’t write worth a darn.’

Modern-day gender bias may explain why critics have been so ready to dismiss the series’ popularity. Despite the increasing equality of women in our society, the cultural devaluation of women’s interests remains disappointingly the same.

At the close of the book’s introduction the authors explain: ‘We hope these chapters provoke discussion of Twilight’s cultural impact, awareness of the dismissive treatment of girls’ and women’s media interests, and support for future scholarship examining female-oriented media texts and female audiences.’

For now, though, the dismissal of the Twilight series in the popular media means that serious examination of the works will remain firmly in the ambivalent hands of Twilight fans everywhere.

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