Saturday, January 29, 2011

Chilling Off The Twi-Hate

Hypocritically, I'm rather fond of bashing Twilight.

Monsters that sparkle? Is she for real?

Attaching a woman's value to whether she is desired by a man? Fuck that shit.

She calls herself a writer? Why don't I have a book and movie deal making me disgustingly rich, vaulting me out of this craptastic working class life I now live?

And more, of course.

However, I've recently noticed something that I find vaguely troubling. See, in my college class, there was this Letter of Introduction post that asked the students to answer what we thought the most overrated book was.

Many people (most of them male), put down Twilight.

This is an academic setting. Nobody in academia takes Twilight seriously. Nobody but the extremist of fans even rate Twilight as literature-with-a-capital-l. Most realize it is pure, escapist fantasy.

The only reason to put Twilight down in this particular setting would be to participate in Twi-hatred, which is fun - but let's get real here. There's no place for it in an academic setting. The characters are flat, the themes are trite, the writing is bad, the significance is trivial. Let's move on.

But then I realized that something is off in this picture. Something is not quite right. And it's not just about the thoughtless bashing in an academic setting.

It goes beyond that.

It's the disgust for Stephanie Meyer that goes beyond her obvious lack of talent. It's the disgust that people impose upon the raving fangirls.

Where is the masculine equivalent of Twilight? Almost every single, male-centric escapist action movie laden with gratuitous violence has problematic portrayal of heroes (they may not sparkle, but then, sparkling is the least of Edward's problems).

It's still hard to find a movie that doesn't put women in secondary positions to men, especially if it's the pulp action films that are so prevalent in the summer months (and lets not even consider sexualized violence which is a problem everywhere, but especially with Twilight and this sort of male-centric popcorn escapism).

Hardly any of the scripts for such films could hardly be considered quality-with-a-capital-q.

I truly believe that such films are more prolific in this society than Twilight could ever hope to be.

Yet, these films-for-boys hardly receive the same vitriol. The audience (usually male) do not receive the same disregard as the fangirls of Twilight.

Few men would even be reluctant/embarrassed to admit that yeah, they do like that kind of escapism because it's so normal and okay and accepted to like that kind of crap - it just doesn't carry the stigma that Twilight does.

The directors, the producers, the screenwriters (usually male?), do not receive as much flak as Myers does.

Why is that? Is it just a gender thing, or is there something more?


Twi-Moms have a rep for publicly swooning over Edward or what's-his-face-the-werewolf. There have been snide little fail-blog images or whatever saying that if men were to publicly lust like that over girls of a similar age, they would be considered perverts.

But let's stay real here.

Women are infantalized all the time. Women are trivialized all the time. Women are never supposed to grow up. And they are portrayed that way, constantly, in all kinds of male-centric (and, unfortunately, even films "meant" for women - whatever that means) escapist literature and film. And yet --- silence.

It's okay when Michael Bay is directing. Boys will be boys, am-i-rite?

(I actually like the commentary Supernatural did on the typical reaction toward women assuming what is traditionally seen as a masculine drive towards sex:

Bella [on seeing Dean all dolled up]: You know, when this is over, we should really have some angry sex.
Dean [after a moment of awkward silence in which he is rendered temporarily speechless, both tempted and revolted by the idea]: Don't objectify me.

Oh, it never stops being funny and relevant.)

I don't know - I can't stop thinking about the Twi-hate, especially in consideration of the lack of an equivalent reaction toward the other kinds of male-focused entertainment that espouses the same issues that Twilight does.

And that truly does make me sad. Women are being punished throughout the spectrum:

Why is a woman writing Bella as faceless, self-less person?

Why is the pop criticism so focused on the sex of the fans, of the author (boys write and like crap too, you know)? Sometimes I wonder if the non-academics hate Edward because he's pretty or because he's manipulative and abusive - but that just might be the cynic in me.

Why is something that is supposedly so bad so loved by fans and haters alike?

Why are women so condemned in this? Both for their cardboard presentation and, simultaneously, their sexuality?

Hmmm. Maybe Twilight does somehow manage to transgress gender boundaries in its own little (though mostly harmful) way.

But there's something else beyond the strange (well, maybe it's not all that strange) gender issues with the Twi-hate that has been percolating in my brain for a while:

I don't want to praise Twilight. It has its problems, no doubt about it. But it's not the only thing that does.

In fact, it's not even Super Special with its problems - our culture is saturated with its issues, yet it seems to be a primary scape-goat, which is unbelievable compared to the prolific male-centric escapist entertainment that espouses the same causes - except, usually, the heroes in that sort of entertainment are mucho-masculine as opposed to the fae-dare-i-say-feminine/androgynous-Edward. Which of course, just introduces other issues defining not just women but also men - and it is just ultimately harmful to both.

And the sad thing is that most people probably don't even know why they hate it so much. I'd hazard to guess that my fellow male students would be at a loss to offer a coherent argument about why they considered it the most overrated book - they probably just put it down because vampires don't sparkle gosh-darnit and Cedric Diggory is just too damn pretty.

I once wrote a poem about how life would be if Twilight would never be. It was supposed to be a little bit of fun Twi-hate because I was bored and had a bad case of writer's block.

It came out different though. It was sad and sympathetic.

Because let's be honest here - we all have our escapist fantasies. Maybe, even, our fantasies indulge in certain aspects of ourselves that we would be uncomfortable with - playing with situations in which women and men aren't complex creatures at all because life is hard enough - why should our fantasies be anything but spun cotton candy?

I don't know. I'm not saying I'm a telepath or anything - but I would hazard to guess that the majority of people who bash Edward and Bella have their own version of Twilight.

And that's okay. It is, really. It's okay to like or even to love something while still having a problem with it.

It's human. It just is.

But don't pretend to be better than someone just because your fantasy/guilty pleasure doesn't happen to include sparkling vampires.