Twilight is Junk

Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight,” based on the best-selling novel of the same name, opens today in movie theaters across the nation. Deadline Hollywood Daily has predictions of a $60 million weekend box-office. By all accounts, “Twilight” is a huge marketing and social phenomena. Yet it is bad, truly bad, fantasy, just on it’s own accounts, and even worse in it’s social effects.

As commenter Wiredgrenadier noted in a comment on my post “More Scary Vampires”:

”Twilight” is basically female wish-fulfillment fan fiction, full of completely shallow characters (who never really grow in depth), centered around a Mary-Sue of the worst kind and a supernatural being for whose love a compelling reason is never given.

More so, the characters also never face true challenges. The Twilight vampire type is immortal, wealthy, has a superhuman physique and is, quite frankly, indestructable. From a standpoint of character development and story suspense, those vampires and the world they roam in are about as interesting as a heap of bricks. Nothing of true impact is ever done with them (which is already symbolized through the first novel: its 600 pages could just as well have been 300, so little does truly happen).

This is quite true. Moreover, “Twilight” is not alone. Other examples, would include Laurel K. Hamilton’s “Anita Blake” series (which skews slightly older, young adult women rather than teen girls as with the “Twilight” series) or the “Sookie Stackhouse” novels by Charlaine Harris.

All of these novels have various female fan-fiction characteristics. This would include “Mary Sue” wish fulfillment, resolution of conflict through rather icky sexual situations and encounters, mostly devoid of any mention of the word “Love” or any depiction of realistic romantic love, and a huge dose of “specialness” in relation to the female characters powers of sexual attraction and control, of powerful, dominating, supernatural male characters. All of whom are far older and more powerful than the female characters.

Other examples of this kind of fusion of female fan-fiction meets “Chick Lit” would include “Lonely Werewolf Girl”, and “Cry Wolf” which provide a werewolf instead of vampire setting.

In all cases, with these new female fan-fic fantasies, the traditional settings of fantasy, which are mostly rural, fantastic worlds far removed from mundane settings, are up-ended. Instead, magic exists right alongside the modern, urban setting, with magical societies being merely jumped-up versions of the publishing, fashion, advertising, and public relations occupations/industries that dominate Chick Lit. While certain male-oriented authors such as Tim Powers (“Last Call” and “Expiration Date”) have used modern urban settings (modern Southern California and Las Vegas), the magical secret societies exist outside and completely separate from the mundane world, and have no rules save that of the jungle.

The main concern of the female heroines are that of Chick Lit. Finding the most dominant guy, remaining thin and beautiful, becoming successful in a “cool” field filled with status and “important people.” The important people may be werewolves or vampires, the field may be a magical private eye, or a vampire, or werewolf, instead of fashion or publishing, but the strong appeal to single young women are the same: STATUS.

This is a far cry from traditional female romance novels that centered on family, romance, the word “Love” and the desire to find or create the right family. It is also a departure from the traditional female fantasies written by authors such as Ursula K. Le Guin (“Wizard of Earthsea”) or Anne McCaffrey (“Dragonriders of Pern”) where tensions between utopianism and necessity, feudalism and modernism, tradition and the future, all collide. The mostly female heroes have things to accomplish that are more than merely status-climbing and becoming important, with an important boyfriend.

The female fan-fic type of works, whether “Twilight” or “Anita Blake,” are of recent vintage. The Blake series is the oldest, and dates only back to 1993. These novels are as commenter Wiredgrenadier noted, poorly written, with little dramatic structure, tension, or resolution. Things just happen, the protagonists are “Mary Sues” with a strong resemblance to Chick Lit characters, and sex as the solution to all problems (often the ickier the better) characterizes the novels. Even the “Twilight” series, that many clueless older female conservative columnists love, has lots of graphic sex, though no sexual intercourse.

The novels themselves are terrible influences on young women, particularly given the collapse of traditional culture and institutions. Young women are mostly influenced by peer groups and the media and entertainment environment. Thus, these fan-fic novels have an outsized influence. An influence that is toxic and bad for young women and society.

The heroines enter into relationships with powerful, much older men, that are controlling and socially isolating. Rather than achieve anything by their own independence, they merely exert power through their relationships with these powerful, older men (who merely look young and “hot”). The relationships are characterized by violence, with rape a common theme. Often the female characters have sex with characters they do not love to control or influence those characters. Remarkably absent is the Western ideal of romantic love, of consensual choice by two roughly equal young men and women, who form a lifetime partnership for both child-rearing and mutual support and affection, including deep romantic love after physical passion has burnt itself out.

The relationships the female characters have is built on pure lust and physical passion. The reason they love the older, socially dominant, male characters is never explained. Nor is the reason the older, dominant male characters love the female characters explored, save youth and beauty. The young women in the stories don’t struggle and sacrifice, don’t accomplish concrete, physical goals, have no plans for advancing themselves outside a relationship, and are merely pretty and desired. Jane Austen would be horrified.

Because the choices the young women make are abysmal. Violent, bad-boy brooding men, who have no capacity for compassion, integrity, self-control, cooperation (with other men), leadership (that does not include sheer intimidation through physical violence), or providing for a family. The stories, and “Twilight” is among the worst, read like a how-to manual for one bad-boy, abusive relationship followed by another, leading to single motherhood and the pattern repeating. Since in real life, not fantasy, girls turn into young women, who turn into older women. “Twilight” alone, with both the book and the movie, will turn out quite a number of single mothers who perpetuate misery and unhappiness from generation to generation through stupid choices in men, and rejection of the proven ways to advance in wealth and status: education, wise choice of career, saving money, and deferred gratification.

Be that as it may, it’s instructive to examine the possible reasons WHY these fan-fic stories are so popular. As noted, the earliest of them (Hamilton’s “Anita Blake” novel “Guilty Pleasures”) dates to only 1993. The earlier female fantasy authors wrote strong, independent heroines who’s primary accomplishments lay outside relationships, and even echoed the structure of male fantasy. Only instead of “save the day and get the girl” it was “save the day, win the heart of the proper guy.”

What has happened is demography and marketing. There is a huge entertainment market, focused on women, young and old. Disney makes a considerable amount of it’s money marketing one wish-fulfillment Pop Tart after another to pre-teen girls. If it’s not a young Britney Spears it’s Miley Cyrus as “Hannah Montana” or the “Cheetah Girls” or the “High School the Musical” actresses. Older girls, in their teens, have “Gossip Girl” and various other conspicuous consumption tales, in luxury goods or luxury sex, to amuse them. Women in their twenties, thirties, and beyond, have “Sex and the City” to titillate them. Though “Sex” has as the Wall Street Journal noted, a substantial teen and pre-teen female audience, through the repeats (censored) on various cable outlets. Women are getting married later and later, earn more money than male counterparts (in urban areas) and have more educational achievement (often an indicator of income). Indeed, the American Medical Association lists women as making up fully 50% of all incoming medical students. All that delayed marriage, higher disposable income, and free time leads to consumption of luxury goods including tales of luxury and luxury sex-relationships. A demographic and cultural shift that moves downwards into teens and tweens, as well.

Note the pattern of wish-fulfillment. A “career” where the girl or woman is “important” in some industry like fashion or pop music (never say, classical music where rigorous and demanding regular practice is required). In many cases, fame and celebrity are on offer. Wealth and status among an insular, wealthy in-group is the major part of the story. Romance with various bad-boys of dubious character is on offer, and the men are always quite literally at the top of the heap (“Mr. Big”). Nowhere are the themes of Jane Austen, i.e. choosing carefully the right man for a husband (or boyfriend) evident. Nor are the other concern of Austen and female writers like her anywhere in these stories: deep romantic love, and romantic love explained to the viewers/audience.

It’s a consumerist approach to live, and sex, with love and human connections completely absent.

This sort of approach, which Disney pioneered, and the publishers of junk like “Twilight” copied, rests of course on the assumption of good times. Disney depends on enough disposable income from parents to pay for Hannah Montana related T-Shirts, concert tickets, movies, and more. Not the least of which is the cable or satellite package for the Disney Channel where the “tween” girl stars like Cyrus and company are launched. [Amusingly enough, to the constant consternation of Disney, the young women who portray the “tween” wish fulfillment idols regularly engage in the practice of posting inappropriate to provocative photos of themselves on the Internet, no doubt preparing themselves for overtly sexual roles as they inevitably age out of their Disney roles and can no longer credibly play teen agers. The path of a parent of young girls is not an easy one.]

Decades long expanding economies, a whole series of industries built on disposable female income, from either parents (“tweens”) or single young women, have built the economic and demographic and marketing structure to create the environment for “Twilight” and the books like it. However, this structure looks increasingly shaky.

Chick-Lit books, and the fantasy cousins of “Twilight” and “Lonely Werewolf Girl” are dependent on disposable income. As the publishing, public relations, fashion, beauty, and advertising industries come crashing down, during what looks to be a prolonged, lasting recession, there won’t be that many employed in those industries, and women young and old will have less disposable income. [High incomes for women are disproportionally distributed in these professions, plus the legal, and medical professions. There are relatively few female Mechanical or Chemical engineers, for example, but many female publicists, lawyers, fashion designers, and associates and assistant in book and magazine publishing.] It is possible, of course, that female readers would want even more feel-good fantasy of wealth, power, and luxury, and increase rather than decrease the appeal of these books and stories. However, there is far too much competition among the female market in books, magazines, television, and movies, and so far indicators are that the appeal of these kinds of luxury goods sex-status stories have peaked.

ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money,” which was an adult version of “Gossip Girl” has been canceled due to poor ratings. “Gossip Girl” is struggling to stay above 3 million viewers, and so far is on track to repeat last season’s performance, of about 2.5 million viewers. Viewers and readers generally don’t have an appetite for contemporary based luxury, status, and relationships characterized by the same, during economic hard times. Preferring instead to be taken out of the present day for fantastical settings of the past, an alternative reality, or the future.

So far, in the extraordinary run of general economic good times from the early 1990’s to the present day, the fan-fic vampires of “Twilight,” and other supernatural versions of “Gossip Girl” are seemingly immortal. But just as sunlight kills most vampires, prolonged hard times and the required shift by women along with men to sheer economic security rather than luxury good consumption (including luxury good relationships and sex) may kill vampires like “Twilight’s” Edward Cullen after all. It is not set in stone, but quite possible that female fantasy may return to traditional themes of accomplishment and actual, real, romantic love-based romance (instead of icky and violent sex) that used to characterize the genre. Let’s hope so.

Update: reader/commenter Wiredgrenadier passed on this link with the quote by the actor who plays “Edward Cullen” in “Twilight” :

“When you read the book,” says Pattinson, looking appropriately pallid and interesting even without makeup, “it’s like, ‘Edward Cullen was so beautiful I creamed myself.’ I mean, every line is like that. He’s the most ridiculous person who’s so amazing at everything. I think a lot of actors tried to play that aspect. I just couldn’t do that. And the more I read the script, the more I hated this guy, so that’s how I played him, as a manic-depressive who hates himself. Plus, he’s a 108-year-old virgin so he’s obviously got some issues there.”

The actor also complained that fans, including a six year old, asked him to bite them.

Historically vampires have never done well in recessions, quickly turning into figures of ridicule as the real scary monsters are poverty and unemployment. The ridiculed “nerd” or “beta provider” may well win out for a while as incomes crash and single motherhood becomes unaffordable, a luxury good of good times long past.

About whiskeysplace

Conservative blogger focusing on culture, business, technology, and how they intersect.
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11 Responses to Twilight is Junk

  1. Kadorienne says:

    I enjoy your blog very much. However, as a fanfiction reader and writer I have to protest your referring to those dreadful novels as “fanfic novels”.A fanfic novel is a novel-length fanfiction, such as if I wrote 100,000 words about the characters of Star Trek.Though “Mary Sue” is a term from fanfiction jargon, the presence of a Mary Sue type character does not make a work of original fiction fanfic. Mary Sue characters go back to the nineteenth century at least (read St. Elmo by Augusta Evans to see what I mean) and seem to be how every young fiction writer starts, in fanfiction and original fiction alike.The vast majority of fan fiction does not revolve around Mary Sue characters. Indeed, anyone who writes a Mary Sue fic is greeted with so much criticism that they generally break the habit fast.Please, try reading more than two or three fanfics before dismissing the entire genre this way. You might as well watch Manos: Hands of Fate and judge all movies by it.

  2. Whiskey says:

    Point taken. I was referring to the bad fan fic, which tends to dominate the perception. The vampire/werewolf novels certainly are not well written, so something certainly has to be at work to make them popular.

  3. Mad Minerva says:

    Hear, hear on your post. I read the “Twilight” book to see what all the fuss was about, and well…Not only is the book itself badly written, but the story itself (once one gets past the endless pages of Bella gushing over Edward with words like “dazzling” and “Adonis” and “perfect” and all) presents a distressingly unrealistic and even flat-out dangerous view of relationships. Edward Cullen is no Mr. Darcy — let’s put it that way. If anything, Edward seems extremely driven by what he wants, and Bella seems perfectly willing to revolve all around him and to be driven in turn mainly by her (volatile) emotions. That’s no way to go through life.Then again, I’m not a squealing schoolgirl anymore, so perhaps I can’t relate. I *teach* squealing schoolgirls. ;-)By the way, reading “Twilight” made me want to rush right back to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which — comparatively — presents a better role model for girls.

  4. @ KadorienneI think my initial comment that Whiskey represented might be responsible for the beating he receives now, so I dare say it would better be directed against me. You are right, of course, that most fanfiction does not revolve around Mary Sues (even though you have to admit there is still *a lot* of it that does), but still, 90% of fanfiction stands for fiction with meager quality, shameless self-insertions (with Mary-Sueish tendencies) and the desire to simply write “pairings” instead of actually doing something interesting with the setting and the characters. My short glimpse at the “Twilight” section of FF.net more than supports that observation.That being said, like with all literature also fan fiction can and does produce high quality gems that on their own would warrant to be published by professional publishing houses. Not being shy about that, this is the kind of fanfiction I try to read – and write. Twilight, however, resembles the former rather than the latter: it’s bland, it doesn’t make much sense, it’s a shameless self-insertion, and little is done with the universe at large. This, I assume, are the points that Whiskey harked on, and quite correctly so.I recently got my hands on an ebook of “Twilight”, which is about 260 virtual pages thick. I am doing a re-read right now, and I’ve reached page 61 – and between the 29,000 words so far, horribly little (besides swooning over the perfect E.C. and Bella being the new top girl at her highschool) has happened. And that is simply and sadly bad.Good fiction, and yes, good fan fiction, manages to fully introduce all major characters, flesh them out and flesh even completely different background universes out in less words and drive a story forward. There are tons of examples out there, not only on FF.net, that outclass everything Meyer has written and will ever write by a fair margin.(if requested, I will point to some)

  5. Jay Fink says:

    I saw on the news mobs of teenage girls waiting to see this movie. They were so excited and emotional, it was a disturbing sight to see. They wouldn’t be so passionate if this movie was simply entertainment. I hope you are correct that the bad economy reverses the alpha male trend. I was a teenager in the 1980s. I clearly remember that more girls liked me during the early 80s recession than they did latter in the decade when things were booming. They went from flirting with me and telling me how cute I was in 1982 to telling me I was too skinny and wimpy in 1986. Yet I didn’t change at all, the culture did. Around 1985 it first became a requirement for men to have a muscular physique to date women, they started demanding physical dominance. I didn’t become buff and paid a huge price for it. I don’t regret it though, I have no desire to look or act dominant, it just isn’t me…at all.

  6. Jun says:

    You might be interested in Dirty Harry’s take on the movie:A Little ‘Twilight’ Story To Occupy As I Finish My Review…DHP Review: Twilight

  7. Excellent post as per usual, Whiskey. I’ve been following your Vampire essays with great interest. I’m wondering what’s your take on the Blade series? Would love to read your analysis. Thanks!SalaamMu

  8. Well, if that movie review is correct, good for them. Doesn’t change the fact that it working with a lousy piece of base material. Seriously, as I continue my re-read, it’s so cringeworthy over whole pages I grind to a halt time and again.If the actors made good of that, more power to them.

  9. Whiskey says:

    Here is another review .”Like OMG! Vampires!”Sad.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Man…………I dont think I ran across one positive review of this movie. Is it really THAT bad? Im not going to see it or anything, but did anyone come close to enjoying any of it Whiskey? Its very suprising this thing got out of production the way that it is if its as bad as Ive read. Everyone above 20 seems to think that its a massive stinker.

  11. Whiskey says:

    Anon — I have not seen one good review either. Hollywood just can’t execute even simple genre pictures any more.Compare/contrast crummy action movies like say, “Commando” with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the “Transporter” movies. Neither are very good, but at least “Commando” was coherent and competently executed.This should have been a no-brainer, a teen-idol pic for girls. Not even the lead actor liked the movie, from all that’s been said.

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