Twilight: The Gender Reversal of Female Subjectification in Sci-Fi?
Last night, I read Bob “MovieBob” Chipman’s wonderful deconstruction of the appeal of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. He manages to make a lot of solid points, and I think he’s got it about right: the key to Twilight’s appeal is not in its quality, but in the fact that it manages to tap a cross-section of the book market largely ignored by other writers in the fantasy genre: young female readers.
I read the first book out of curiosity. My man-card was surprisingly not revoked in the proceedings. I didn’t think the book was an atrocity, and I could see the appeal, but it is not near what it’s cracked up to be by fans. What it is is a decent bit of pulp fantasy with a female protagonist and a lot of corny romance. It’s a typical outing for a freshman author looking to get noticed.
That it made her one of the best-selling authors of the new millennium is what generates a lot of the controversy and “love-it-or-hate-it” attitude surrounding it. If it gets more young girls to read books, I’m all for it. I disagree with the consensus that it’s the next Harry Potter, because J.K. Rowling’s accomplishments significantly overshadow Meyer’s. The comparisons were inevitable as soon as the Twilight hype train hit the tracks, but they don’t hold water. Rowling’s series was widely beloved by just about every kind of reader, apocalyptic Evangelical outrage over “witchcraft” aside. Meyer’s series does not have that degree of appeal, because it’s not as good. Plain and simple.
The movies are the same story. Everybody knows that when you make a movie out of a classic literary work, the book is almost universally the better of the two. Twilight is no different, so a hyped average book becomes an overhyped abyss of a movie. The cast has no charisma or chemistry to speak of, the dialogue is even more halting and awkward in adaptation, and the genuine energy that at least made the book an enjoyable light read is completely gone. Robert Pattinson turned in a passable Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but he’s not ready to play a major role at this stage in his career. Casting him in a role as a conflicted and century-old vampire was practically setting him up to fail. Kirsten Stewart is generally a capable actress and has given several very good performances as support in films like Adventureland, but she’s clearly overwhelmed by being the lead and just phones it in towards the end. The direction and script are no better, but the film raked in millions and ensured that we will continue to see more of Pattinson’s pale chest for the next three years. I haven’t seen Twilight Saga: New Moon and don’t have any plans to do so, but the reviews in so far suggest that the actors have still not managed to grow into their roles.
Is the success of Twilight a bad thing? Hardly. In fact, I think it’s a good thing for fantasy in general. While recent years have seen a flood of derivatives seeking to cash in on the vampire craze, it’ll calm down. What we’ll be left with is a book series that blazed a trail and introduced a new generation of predominantly female readers to the joys of fantasy.