Monday, November 21, 2011

On Twilight Haters and Narrow Perspectives

Erika Christakis has a post that takes Twilight haters to task for their "bigotry." She says that Twilight detractors fall into two camps: dismissive (which she, well, dismisses) and deluded. It is the latter she takes umbrage with:

The deluded camp, conversely, takes Twilight far too seriously, faulting it for leading young girls to mistake fantasy for reality in dangerous, disempowering ways.
It makes you wonder if some people missed the memo that hundreds of millions of females, like their male counterparts, enjoy their fantasy life straight-up weird, sexy, and implausible.
Though I can't really call myself a Twilight "hater," as I certainly don't have enough at stake to invest hate into the franchise, I am certainly not a fan. I started to read one of the books when the English teacher part of me began to weep at the heavy-handed writing and cliches. A friend of mine who is a big fan had me watch the first movie, which I politely sat through, confused by its popularity. I found the plot not only implausible, but also contrived and a little insulting. And I wasn't even considering it a counterpart for pop culture's male blank check, which is how Christakis seems to view it:
Why is it that female fantasies are such a source of derision and fear? The male species is allowed all manner of violent, creepy, ludicrous and degrading movie tropes, and while we may not embrace them as high art, no one questions them seriously as entertainment, even when sometimes we probably should.
I take issue with the idea that we're supposed to read Bella as some sort of answer to female fantasy. To look at some of the reasons I take issue with this, you can see an analysis of the anti-feminist messages in the films from nuxi at FanPop, an article about a gender studies professor's views,  or this Guardian article.

All that aside, though, the thing I really take issue with is calling people who disagree with your own opinion on a film "bigots," especially if you don't answer any of their claims about the film except for dismissing them as "too serious." She then goes on to talk about the importance of themes like wedding jitters, pregnancy, and menstrual cycles. While it may be true that these are themes that resonate most strongly with a female audience, it does nothing to address the concerns about the messages the films send about relationships and women's places in them. 

Look, you can like something you "shouldn't" for the sake of entertainment. It happens. I, for instance, own and occasionally, far from the ears of my daughter, enjoy listening to a Dr. Dre album. There are decidedly anti-feminist lyrics in many of the songs, and I know that's wrong. From an entertainment standpoint, though, I still find myself drawn to it. I just have to come to terms with that. I can't accuse other people of misunderstanding or of promoting bigoted viewpoints. 

If you like Twilight, defend it in its own right or tackle the criticism that it's anti-feminist directly. Don't dismiss people who point out those messages as bigots because calling people bigots for pointing out stereotypes and sexism is, well, pretty anti-feminist. 


  1. I am the author of the piece on Twilight. My kids have been tracking the blogs and pointed me to your interesting site. (I tried to leave a comment but I don't think it went through. Apologies if this is redundant.) I like your blog and Just wanted to say that I didn't choose the Time title and would never have used the word "bigotry"! Authors are never allowed to choose titles, at least measly freelance authors like me. This was not my agenda but Time magazine's; they wanted something controversial, which they got. My working title was "Twisome," which was a playful spin on the stereotypically male sexual fantasy of having a "threesome." I'm also not saying Twilight features healthy fantasies, merely that it features a certain kind of female fantasy -- abbhorent or alien to some, apparently appealing to others -- and I can't understand why men are allowed the full range of cheesy and/or offensive fantasy life but we are so protective and controlling of women's inner lives. My own views of Twilight are irrelevant (and complicated!) but I will go on record that there are at least a few relatively benign themes, for example the non-violence, which is quite powerful, and the fact that the male leads are objectified for a change as opposed to the young woman. And I believe a few of the objections are over-played. For example, the excessive critical focus on Bella's sacrificial status as a virgin and so forth; it's actually Edward who acts like a professional virgin and spends three books trying to fend her off and leave her - hardly stalking behavior. At any rate, I am not defending Twilight, merely defending women's right to have the same bad taste that men do. That said, I do think there is "something" behind these fantasies that is real and not 100 percent ridiculous. For me, it was the dangerous physicality and bloodiness of the narrative in Breaking Dawn combined with a strangely tender realism in the sex scenes (which were, indeed, love scenes) as well as moments of emotional ambiguity like the discovery of the surprise pregnancy. Deeply ironic that a teenage vampire movie can try to pull this off and not the vast majority of reality-based grown up movies. I could't even remember the last time I saw people making love on film who were actually laughing together and expressing joy. Well, enough! All the best and I enjoyed your views.
    Erika Christakis

  2. Hi, thanks for responding! I like your title a lot better! I think that's a much more nuanced and interesting perspective that's much less dismissive of people's views, but I guess it doesn't drive as much traffic, huh?

    I guess--and maybe I do just take things too seriously, but I really do see entertainment/literature as a lens into our collective beliefs and trends--I see those male fantasies to be just as damaging if they are predicated on the idea that women are subservient and less-than men (and many of them are. I'm thinking in particular of the female superheroes that are still sexualized and dependent upon the male gaze--or, as someone in Miss Representation called them, "fighting f**k toys").

    I do think that your view about the emotional connection of sex and intimacy is interesting. I also think that Bella is a pretty blank character, and that's part of the commercial success of the film (I mean, I can't argue with those box office numbers). The text of the books goes out of the way to say how plain she is, and (at least in the film I saw) she's very passive without many strong personality traits. In your view of the film as exploration of fantasy, I think this portrayal makes sense. If female viewers are to be able to enter into the fantasy, they have to have a fairly easy entry point, and Bella allows that. She's like a background that viewers can step in front of--be they teenage girls or 40-year-old moms, and we've seen plenty of both.