Thursday, January 01, 2009

FYI (Twilight Edition)

To understand the popularity of Twilight, you need to understand 4 things:

1. - Adolescence is depressing and confusing

2- Teen girls are discouraged from being so unfeminine as to be depressed - ever, but when they are upset they tend towards mopey since being angry and violent and actually making people pay attention to them is even more discouraged

3 - YA books are mostly for girls not just because girls read more than boys, but because boys read adult (ie - violent) books earlier than girls do; this is mostly because girls parents freak out more when girls read adult (ie - sexually graphic) books than when boys do

4 - even teen girls tend to like the Twilight books less and less with each book (you just can't tell by the sales bc the overall sales keep growing with time)


I do not think any of these things (with the exception of #4) is healthy. I don't think the way the Twilight series ended sounds even remotely interesting (which is why I haven't read the last book), much less healthy.

I do however find it extremely unsurprising that teen girls like this series. I also think that anyone that is upset by the popularity of this series by itself (as opposed to culture overall and are simply dissecting the Twilight series as part of something larger) needs to stop underestimating teen girls. Bella isn't blah because teen girls are okey dokey with heroines with no personality, Bella is blah because teen girls know that everyone else expects them to be blah - and they hate that, but they don't like disappointing people. Edward does stuff and Bella feels stuff, but never the twain shall meet, because together they make up one complete character. Not because women need men, but because Bella, who feels like half a person like many teen girls, needs an exciting alter ego who can do the stuff that she thinks she can't.

(Note that she spends the entire first book not just wanting to be with Edward, but to actually be Edward, or rather a vampire. In fact, she even ends the first book with the decision that being a vampire - and yes, being with Edward in the long run - is more important to her than doing what Edward wants her to do.)

Also, Bella may not cross the "no sex in ya books" line but it flirts with it really well, because the one thing it does have is discussion about desire and the the fact that girls want sex. (not Men, not boys, not women, but girls.) Which happens in ya books, but rarely to the degree that Twilight takes it, and almost never outside of ya lit and mags.

That the author wrote the later books to explicitly say that women need a man to be whole is bad. That girls feel like half a person because they are teens and because girls are pressured to be blah (and think of sex as something they have but that only guys want) is a fact of life. That teen girls like Twilight has more to do with the latter than agreeing with the author on the former - which is obvious by how actual teen girls and young women react to the books. That a series that makes the former argument is so popular is depressing, but more in the sense that it's sad that it's easier to address this split that teen girls feel by falling back on bad gender roles. Not so much in the "OMG impressionable teen girls are reading this!" sense.

I certainly wish they had something better to read, but I also don't find it entirely worthless. In fact, I think the first books is fairly good and intriguing. Because while Meyer's series comes to some disturbing conclusions, she captures how teen girls feel really well. Which means that despite glossing over all the bad things her solution to this problem will create in its stead, teen girls are still exploring this feeling of being half a person more than if they simply got the same bad gender roles from, like, every romantic comedy ever written. Which means they are more likely to come to a different conclusion about how to deal with it by reading Twilight than by not reading it, despite the overall message of the series itself.

It would be much better still if Twilight presented a different solution altogether and there are a lot of other things to complain about. (God forbid I should ever tell anyone to not complain about anti-feminism in media.) However, in order to create and talk up the kind of media that is better than Twilight, it really helps to understand why Twilight is so popular. What really doesn't help is talking down to teen girls and making condescending assumptions about the media they consume and why they choose it.

So, can we please lay off the OMG the vampires are sparkly and how in the world could teen girls like this stuff?

PLEASE?!?!?!? PLEASE?!?!?!? PLEASE?!?!?!?