I read a review of “Breaking Dawn Part 1” that began with the words “worst movie ever.” My reaction? Had this person never seen “Ishtar”? “Dracula 3000”? What about “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” or virtually anything directed by Uwe Boll? Or the entire “Star Wars” prequel trilogy?
The same week I went to a party. Some one went on about “Twilight” and how nothing but 14-year-old girls watched the thing (this, tellingly, was said with absolute disdain). Having seen the film a few days before, I told him plenty of adults of both genders were in the cinema. He flatly refused to believe me.
Astonishing the emotional impact of these four books by a Mormon housewife. Countless articles and blogs try to answer the questions about its popularity, some of them vivid, even insightful. But what about the other side of it? Why the hate? Not dislike in the same way some of us avoid football or soap operas or refuse to go on Facebook. I’m talking about the sustained loathing that makes it impossible for some to let any mention of the series go by without a disparaging remark. The comments from those who’ve never read the books or seen a movie, but claim absolute knowledge on the subject. People who don’t like the films yet go see them anyway just to gain fuel for their attacks. People who hate “Twilight” the way Birthers hate President Obama, or the way cowboys and farmer used to genuinely hate each other. Why?
Of course, no one answer will cover every Twihater, so what follows applies only to certain popular (or at least loud) factions of the movement…
Much seems to come from gender bias, specifically disdain for the romantic fantasies of teenage girls. This, in a society where the fantasies of teenage boys are very nearly a sacrament! The dream of becoming a professional sports star or a wholesale killer with a lot of style (Batman, the Terminator, etc.), or simply to have that car that does everything but travel light speed–these permeate our culture. But look at the fantasy in “Twilight.” A beautiful, sensitive and lonely young man falls in love with a girl, desires her beyond all reason, but not only maintains his self-control, gets intense pleasure from her presence. That such an idea inspires contempt seems worrying. Especially when you compare this image to James Bond–the ultimate cool guy who personally kills half the women he sleeps with, and never ever seems to even kiss the same woman twice. Misogyny seems sadly alive and well doesn’t it?
Claiming this accounts for all the Twihate would be wrong, inflammatory as well as just inaccurate. But that seems to describe very well those who use one specific derogatory term for “Twilight” over and over: Gay.
Another faction of Twihaters–with some (but only some) crossover with the misogynists–are the hardcore horror fans. To them, Stephanie Meyer seems a purer, more disgusting distillation of Anne Rice–the trend of seeing vampires as fully rounded characters, capable of guilt and other emotions. Some folks just hate that. They adore “30 Days of Night” where the undead are essentially human-shaped piranhas, or “The Strain,” a trilogy of novels that eschew fangs for a meter-long probiscus in vampires that (tellingly) have no sexual organs. Vampires have been stolen, in their minds. What should be the most terrifying of all monsters become (pause for their shudder) people. Not all horrorphiles feel that way, of course. One of the biggest “Twilight” fans I know adores torture porn a la “Saw.” She didn’t like “Sweeney Todd” because it had nowhere near enough gore!
Don’t think I can emphasize this enough–not all Twihaters fall into one of these categories. Nor do all horror fans loathe “Twilight.” Some will find the latter hard to believe, but that doesn’t change the facts.
Finally, a third faction of Twihate approaches it from a specific agenda when it comes to gender roles. The agenda itself is laudable, at least in general terms. Reacting to weary generations of frail ingenues seeking for men to rescue them, some audience members take one look at Bella Swan and see every nightmare that makes their collective gorge rise. We live, do we not, in the age of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Of Selene from “Underworld”? Of Ripley from “Alien” and other kick-ass heroines who refuse to take guff from anyone! Don’t we? How dare anyone try to put women back in that box?
Laudable. Save that insisting women belong in a box that says Action Hero is still a box–one maybe a lot more fun to look at, but no less constrictive a place to live. Or to be forced to live. Personally, Bella reminds me of Xander on the aforementioned “Buffy”–the one without the powers, without any real interest in combat or fighting per se, a loyal friend but one rarely at his best in physical danger (although he tries). If boys find it daunting, this expectation of becoming James T. Kirk (in another generation, it would have been Horatio Hornblower, or Sherlock Holmes, or John Wayne), might not girls find the feminine equivalent equally so? Me, I love a character who can handle pretty much any danger thrown at them, be they Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. Snark is fun to read or hear. But that’s isn’t me. Nor should it be.
Frankly, this image of the swashbuckling grrrl has some problems. When we judge female characters based on this, we not only create a standard impossible to meet, but distort seeing what’s actually present. Bella Swan, for example, is the protagonist of the “Twilight” Saga. This escapes one critic after another. She makes every single important decision when it comes to her life. People try and tell her what to do in all four books. She sometimes listens. Sometimes. More often that not, her decisions also prove right–so much so the other lead characters increasingly follow her lead. Physically, she’s the weakest of the major characters (until halfway through the last book), and that forms part of the plot. Yet she is the one who saves others again and again, albeit not be punching anyone or some death-defying stunt. Amidst all the whining that she’s not assertive (actually, she’s rather shy and humble, but very stubborn) the fact that Bella is the one who pays the piper and calls the tune gets…well, ignored. That she actually grows stronger as the story goes on doesn’t get mentioned either, nor does the growing maturity of the two male leads, Edward and Jacob–both directly as a result of their relationship with Bella.
But she doesn’t fit the paradigm of tough grrrl, so her courage and patience don’t count. Just as housework isn’t considered employment. And men used to congratulate each other for having children, rather than the women who actually went through labor.
A similar reaction sets in because Bella chooses to risk her life rather than abort her unborn child. This pretty clearly results from the view of art-as-propaganda. Me, I’m pretty firmly pro-choice (although some will dispute that after reading this) but I take it very seriously–namely, that people should indeed have a choice. How odd is it that a young woman finding herself pregnant would go through hell or high water to bring that child to term? Really? Indeed, the other characters in the story seem intent at that moment on taking Bella’s choice from her–as do some audience members. But this comes methinks from the volatile nature of current events. Readers, probably accurately, presume Meyer to be conservative on this issue and so reject that plot point not for its own sake but for what they see as preaching. Even if it needn’t–perhaps oughtn’t–be read that way at all.