Saturday, 28 November 2009

Not a Remake: In Defense of the Twilight Saga

Disclaimer: This is a pretty long post. I needed somewhere to air these views. I would love it if people read this, and massively appreciate anyone who does. Please do leave me your thoughts and comments.

I would like to state something very clear from the outset – I’m a fan of Twilight. I don’t think the books are well-written (far from it), nor do I think the films are good, never mind brilliant. But it’s a franchise I enjoy. I have no problem at all with anyone who thinks that The Twilight Saga is the worst thing to happen to recent pop culture. I do, however, have a problem with the utter vitriol with which some reviewers, critics, commentators and bloggers treat the franchise, and, in turn, more specifically, its fans.

I come at this topic specifically as someone in the horror community. Naturally, the horror community pretty much hates Twilight and all it stands for. What seems to be consistently ignored – even though debates about it always seem around – is that Twilight isn’t a horror movie. Yes, it features really lame excuses for ‘vampires’, cute looking werewolves and the most pathetic heroine ever committed to page or celluloid, but the inclusion of ‘vampires’ and ‘werewolves’ does not a horror movie make. This saga has never been marketed as a horror franchise. I do not mean to say that I don’t think horror sites should provide coverage of the films, but it seems useless to me to bitch and whine about these films because they’re horror-lite, when they’re not trying to or supposed to be anything more than that. The Twilight Saga is an epic romance (whether or not you buy into that romance is another matter). It’s a flight of fancy. It’s not horror.

What I find really odious about some of the coverage of this saga – and not just from the horror community – is some of the nastiness that creeps into it. I would be tempted to assume that an age- and gender-gap figures largely in this, but I don’t think that’s the case. Men, women, girls and boys across the board hate the saga. While I dare risk to say that some of the nastier comments come from men, I guess it’s to be expected – these are films aimed firmly at teenage girls. Men - young, middle-aged or old - aren’t really going to get Twilight, are they? Why would they? But men, whatever age, are awesome enough to remind themselves that hey! maybe a certain kind of teenage girl likes this sort of thing? If only.

I know, I know, I’m generalising. For the sake of my current argument, let me continue generalising for a moment. One of the most common complaints I’ve read in regard to the latest instalment, New Moon, concerns the amount of time the two male leads spend shirtless. Aw, poor you. You had to sit through one film which decided to linger over the male chest for once? You don’t mind so much when it’s chicks running around in tiny skirts or tank tops, right? I don’t mind the shirtlessness being criticized because a commentator thinks Robert Pattinson/Taylor Lautner/Second Werewolf to the Left isn’t attractive enough. That’s fine. What gets my goat is the utter hypocrisy of some reviewers who feel the need to bemoan the camera’s lingering shots of Taylor Lautner’s chest simply because they’re there because teenage girls will enjoy it. God forbid a teenage girl should be allowed a little decent eye candy, instead of the parade of T&A normally found in any Hollywood film.

Like, I say, this assumes that the reviewer/commentator is male, and I don’t want for a second to say that this sort of hypocrisy is present in all coverage of Twilight, be it by male or female writers. There are plenty of other minutiae that I could whinge about that are prevalent in the coverage of Twilight, but to be perfectly honest, it seems too petty to counter-argue them. My main point of irritation concerns the way in which fans of Twilight are treated in said coverage, particularly the teenage girls who so predominantly make its audience. A reviewer recently decided to review New Moon in a comedic fashion. Now, while I think some of his snark was spot-on, but tone was not. Firstly, he did something a great deal of reviewers and commentators seem to do – they assume that all Twilight fans take it absolutely seriously and are fully invested in the story and the characters. Well, sorry to break it to you, but we’re not. None of the Twilight fans I know – both online and offline – are fans who take it seriously. We each have certain characters we love, or aspects of the story we enjoy, but we sure as hell don’t believe that this is the love story to end all love stories. Yes, there are those crazy fans who believe Stephanie Meyer can write a better story than Stephen King, or who think that buying Edward Cullen underwear is cool, but every object of fan attention has its crazies. They might not get the same level of attention, but they’re there.

The second thing this reviewer did, and this is where my main concern lies, is, completely insult the girls who love this saga. Let me quote something for you which, although written jokingly, is quite indicative of a broader treatment of Twilight fans. Of Robert Pattinson: “the stuff fat 14 year old girls dream of” (Latino Review). Another review, more serious, says of a copy of the book: “noting in my own head that within the hour it would likely be scooped up by some pimply, braces-wearing seventh grade girl” (BloodyDisgusting). Now then. Let’s just take a look at this, shall we? What remote relevance does that fact that any of these girls who like Twilight being fat, pimply, or braces-wearing really have to do with the film? That's right, none. Words cannot begin to express how pissed off it makes me feel to read comments like this. As though teenage girls don’t have enough problems with the images of women they see on the cinema screen, they have to see them enforced in commentary of the things they love? If there’s one way in which I will defend Bella Swan – and trust me, I cannot stand Bella Swan – it’s that she’s not perfect-looking in the slightest. She looks great, yes, but she dresses kinda boringly and doesn’t wear much make up, she drives a pickup truck and trips over stuff. I’m far from being a fan of Kristen Stewart – lord knows I think she does a terrible job with terrible material in these films – but I would choose her as Bella a thousand times over, rather than a bland, flawless model-turned-actress picked up by a middle-aged, cynical movie producer from a construction line of countless equally as bland, flawless actresses.

But again, this, major though it is, is even beside the point. It’s the hypocrisy once more. “Let’s make fun of these girls because they’re probably not great looking and they’re daring to take a flight of fancy into a melodramatic romance with some pretty leads! But I’ll tell you what we definitely won’t do – let’s not make fun of ourselves because we’re probably not that great looking and we’re always taking flights of fancy into action movies with pretty leads!” To hell with that! If guys – again, I’m generalising, but this is honestly the impression I get – can imagine themselves action heroes who get the hot girl (who’s probably lost half her clothes during the course of the film), then why the hell can’t teenage girls imagine themselves as the object of desire for mysterious hot guys? The debate as to whether or not they are hot is, in this respect, irrelevant in my opinion.

The way this becomes relevant relates to the primary criticism of the saga itself, which would be a far, far more useful way to review the films. We’ve established almost everything about the films suck, yes? Well, what sucks more, is the completely unhealthy relationships between Bella, Edward and Jacob. More so in the books than in the films (so far), Edward and Jacob behave as unreasonable and dangerously possessive partners to Bella. As much as the feminist in me wishes the problem were due to the crappiness of the male leads, it really isn’t – the problem is Bella herself, and the way in which she responds to both of them, as well as other characters in the film. She’s simultaneously selfish and submissive; while she ignores and mistreats the people who clearly care for her, she hates herself for not being good enough or deserving enough of either Edward or Jacob. That Bella was written by a woman is an absolute embarrassment, in my opinion, and that is something that should be discussed and criticised – and in some places it is – not the fans who enjoy Twilight as the fantasy it is.

There’s a hypocrisy in coverage of the Twilight Saga that’s especially pertinent to horror fans, in my view. So, Twilight and New Moon are crappy films – the acting’s awful, the effects aren’t great, it’s kinda cheap looking and the dialogue is laughable. Yeah, well, guess what? We’re horror fans, for cryin’ out loud. Have you seen Friday the 13th?! That’s as badly acted and written as Twilight, and it certainly looks cheaper – never mind the countless trashy, awful films we all know and love: and rightly so. I do not understand how a horror fan can criticise a Twilight fan based on any of its physically crappy aspects – I don’t mean the story, here. Surely as horror fans, we can appreciate the love for something a little under-par? Having a passion for – uh-oh! – something generally disliked and mistrusted by the majority? Twilight might be insanely popular, but this is primarily amongst teenage girls or ‘Twimoms’. Otherwise, I think it’s become the popular thing to just hate on Twilight for the sake of it, but regardless, an opinion is an opinion and Twilight is an easy target that deserves its beatings. I think it’s fashionable to dislike Twilight. When it comes to judgements of taste and value, however, if you ask me, Twilight fans are in the same boat as horror fans – maybe not the best of shipmates, but I would’ve thought some tiny sense of understanding would be afforded them.

Writers are absolutely right to dislike, hate or criticise the Twilight Saga. There’s a lot to dislike and a lot to criticise. However, as a horror fan and a Twilight fan, as a rationalist and a dreamer, I would say one thing – leave those girls alone, huh?


drb6 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
drb6 said...

Some interesting stuff here, Nia. I'm going to come out and say that I detest Twilight. I find it vapid, and bereft of any true cultural value even to its intended audience. I'm not arguing that teenage girls should go out and read Poe, or Hemmingway. I'm speaking in hindsight because our generation has lived through one vampire/human pairing before, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While flawed, it tackled the issue of forbidden, supernatural fruit so much better, tastefully, and above all approachable by it's target audience, than the Twilight series does, but I'm ranting, so let me get to the point;

I'm not advocating the harrassment of teenage girls (lord knows they probably get enough of that from their peers, of both sexes), but I find it hard to feel sympathy for them. Maybe because I can't connect to what they're being bashed over. But mostly because this is (sadly) a learning tool; if you're going to associate with something that is not just critically panned, but also treated with contempt by "the big eye" (E.G. popular consensus, especially the media) you need to learn to grow thick skin, and grow it fast.

I learnt that lesson very quickly as a gaming enthusiast - we are consistently getting a bad rap from all sources. Even the President of the United States lashed out against them with his statement "[...] That means putting away the Xbox — putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour." (article link: We've had the finger pointed at us for obesity, anti-social behaviour, decline of intelligence, even as far as an influence and catalyst for murder (Columbine, the 2003 Grand Theft Auto 3 "murders"). Compared to that, these girls have been through nothing.

It's not right, or fair, but audiences will be discriminated against by popular opinion. It certainly doesn't help their case when you read about the insane reactions some of these fans have towards criticism of the Twilight series. It makes them an easy target. I am sure this is probably the minority ruining it for the majority, but that will get blown out of proportion. They're going to have to learn to whether it.

F said...

I agree with a lot of what you said here, Nia. And, while it the criticism DOES come from both genders and all ages, I would say that the harshest of it comes from males (generalizing here) and a certain type of female. As you pointed out, we're not talking about slamming the "crazies" or the people who actually thing the books were well-written; we're talking about the fan who simply enjoys the franchise as one would enjoy any other franchise and, guess what, that's the MAJORITY of the fans.

It's always been the case that men make fun of anything women/girls really seem to enjoy. As an avid reader, myself, my favorite genre is romance and boy do I hear the flack all the time! Ironically, the "haters" are the same folk who "hate" on the average Twilight fan. As a female, we're always trying to put on a bit of a front so that we'll be taken seriously by men rather than having to hear things like, "oh, so you still like trash" which I actually just heard yesterday. No woman wants to feel insignificant or foolish but that's just how we're made to feel on a constant basis, as if all we are is summed up by the little things that make it easier for us to get through this harsh reality. Plenty of men like Star Wars and Star Trek and, while they may get a little flack for being geeks, comments will never have the same tone as the one clearly obvious in the statement above.

The majority of men love the Tomb Raider and Transformer movies strictly for the female flesh involved and it's always okay for that lust to manifest itself in screen-savers, desktops, or posters they proudly display. Have a woman get caught with a Twilight related wallpaper on her phone, by a guy, and she will NEVER hear the end of it. Why? Does our own leap into fancy not hold the same weight? Is the female capacity for lust not as real as a males, not as respected? Or is making fun of it a way to neutralize a threat since most men will never be able to compete with the fantasy?

And the response from women is surpringly similarly based. The usual reaction to not liking a franchise is to roll one's eyes and navigate away, or maybe even chuckle as one observes the fervor with which others DO appreciate it. But to go out of one's way to go on rants against the run of the mill fans (again, not the crazies) brings to mind that maybe there's a hidden reason for the hatred. I think it tends to come from a natural tendency that many women have to tear others of their gender down; this franchise gives some prime material for that. I also think it has to do with the fact that adult women, who've long ago been disillusioned by love, feel that young girls are idiots for wanting to believe the whole "sweep you off your feet" fantasy; they almost hate that the younger crowd can still believe in "love". A lot of them also fear that, if they don't mirror the widely held stance against Twilight, they'll deal with the same ridicule from men and other women that the Twilight fans themselves must deal with. A simple "I don't care" will not suffice.


F said...

Continued from previous comment:

I've never read the Twilight saga because the writing is deplorable and for all of the reasons you described. As a rabid fan of all things vampire, I feel SMeyer has butchered the mythical creature to where it hurts. But the movies are win in the cheese and man-meat department. Why is it so bad to want to lose yourself in some of that? Because it's geared towards the female brain? And, as you said, why must every woman/girl who enjoys the Twilight world be automatically relegated to a person who is unattractive, overweight, sex-deprived, etc.? I can't think of a time when a happily married, straight man with a healthy sex-life, accused of that when he ordered his extra copy of Underworld or bought a t-shirt with a latex covered Selene on it? Yet a woman in similar circumstance would probably be made to feel hideously guilty or silly for ordering or buying anything Twilight related. It's sad and unfair and I think critics should stick to criticizing the material, leaving the fans alone.

For the record, it should be noted that the franchise is accumulating quite a number of fans with Y chromosome. Interesting that. Maybe they need a little fantastical romance in their lives as well. You know, as long as they don't take it all too literal. *shudder*

Stonecypher said...

drb6: Thanks for reading!

Okay, my first point would be this - you say Twilight's devoid of any cultural value: does it need any cultural value to be worthwhile? I think most of the things I enjoy are quite lacking in cultural value!

I think these girls do have thick skins. I imagine teenage girls these days have thick skins anyway, Twilight fans or not. To be honest, they probably don't pay all that much notice to their detractors anyway, but, regardless, I think it's wholly unneccessary for them to be subject of such abuse.

I definitely agree that gamers get it hard, but there is a sense of pseudo-seriousness behind it, in most cases, idiotic though any arguments about 'harm' might be. As far as I can tell, there seems to be very little concern for these girls - not past the point of 'they'll have silly ideas about love!' anyway - instead, it's purely mockery.

The crazier fans definitely do get the attention, and I do think they're in a minority - but, relative to the size of Twilight's following, that minority is pretty damn big. It's a shame they're focussed upon, rather than the fans who do treat it just as a guilty pleasure, as escapist fluff, or just a bit of fun!

Stonecypher said...

F - thank you for reading :D

I definitely agree with you that a disdain for things enjoyed by women is a prevalent cultural stance - even when melodramas and 'women's pictures' were popular and making a mint in Hollywood, they were still seen as 'low' entertainment.

You're totally right about the disparity between what men are 'allowed' to enjoy, with relatively little mockery, and what women are 'allowed' to enjoy - with a far greated degree of 'haha, you like trash!'.

"Does our own leap into fancy not hold the same weight? Is the female capacity for lust not as real as a males, not as respected? Or is making fun of it a way to neutralize a threat since most men will never be able to compete with the fantasy?" - I adore these questions you raise, because I think, in many cases, they hit the nail on the head as to what's really behind a lot of the criticism (again of the fans, of course, not the content).

I love your thoughts on why women hate on Twilight fans too, and I think you're right. I think the stereotype of catty women is pretty spot on very true in this situation, in the way you've described.

I definitely wouldn't ever recommend the books to anyone. Breaking Dawn is probably the first and only book I would quite happily burn, it's so bad!

I didn't realise more guys were liking it - I was talking to someone earlier who told me it has quite a strong gay following too, which I was unaware of (although it's not surprising!). I think it's a shame that teenage boys who enjoy the franchise probably rarely get the opportunity to admit so, thanks to the label and stigma that's been stuck to it. But yeah, let's just hope they don't read the books and think THAT'S how a girl likes to be treated! >_>

Anonymous said...

Nia, I pretty much agree with everything you say. Apart from I like Bella, and Kristen. :) I really enjoyed Twilight, I watched it without expectations and really did like it. Hell, I even found out that my boyfriend secretly watched it again the other week after I'd borrowed it from my sister. Who is 26 and waaaay to excited when she got an Edward t shirt for Christmas. :)

As you say, it's okay for boys to love for example Megan Fox in Transformers (which I finally got round to watching a couple of weeks ago and in which I think she looks horrid...and I actually like her!!!) and that's totally fine, yet for girls to love Cedric Diggory is scandalous. There's an awful lot of unfairness at play here.