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Twilight's Gender Divide

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Tuesday, Nov 24, 2009
Is Twilight backlash a result of its predominantly female fan base?
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The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene, Billy Burke

(Summit Entertainment; US theatrical: 20 Nov 2009 (General release); UK theatrical: 20 Nov 2009 (General release); 2009)

Review [20.Nov.2009]

In an article on Prospect.org, writer Sady Doyle posits that the backlash against the wildly popular Twilight series of books and film adaptations isn’t so much based on the poor writing, overwrought performances and anti-feminist message, as it is on the fact that its fan base is almost exclusively female.


Doyle concedes the series’ many faults, but also points out that Twilight engenders a different kind of derision than nerdy fan-boy fare.


Twilight is more than a teen dream. It’s a massive cultural force. Yet the very girliness that has made it such a success has resulted in its being marginalized and mocked. Of course, you won’t find many critics lining up to defend Dan Brown or Tom Clancy, either; mass-market success rarely coincides with literary acclaim. But male escapist fantasies—which, as anyone who has seen Die Hard or read those Tom Clancy novels can confirm, are not unilaterally sophisticated, complex, or forward-thinking—tend to be greeted with shrugs, not sneers. The Twilight backlash is vehement, and it is just as much about the fans as it is about the books. Specifically, it’s about the fact that those fans are young women.”


It’s an interesting take on the Twilight phenomenon—one that I hadn’t really considered because, well, there are plenty of perfectly valid reasons to scorn Twilight: the central message of the story aimed at teen girls seems to be that if you really, really, really like a boy, you should seriously consider giving up your soul for him. Franchise stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson spend most of their time together onscreen staring dolefully at each other for interminable stretches. Author Stephenie Meyer never met an adjective she didn’t like and her prose is uniformly awful. (The sentence, “He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare,” simply should not occur in the English language. Ever.) Gender issues aside, all of this makes the series ripe for mocking.


Still, it’s undeniable that entertainment aimed specifically at women is often relegated to a fluffy, pink ghetto. For years, I listened to male friends carp about the vapidity and silliness of Sex and The City, although it never occurred to them that their beloved Entourage was essentially the same show re-packaged and targeted to a different gender. Doyle raises a good point in questioning whether Harry Potter would have been such a universally embraced phenomenon if it had a more feminine perspective.


I may not understand theTwilight obsession, but I can empathize with it. After all, I was once a 16-year-old who saw Titanic three times in the theater. I know a little something about falling head-over-heals for a cinematic hero who is tailor-made to appeal to adolescent girls and bored housewives.


What is also undeniable is that The Twilight Saga: New Moon, the second installment in the saga, made $140 million last weekend—the third highest opening ever behind The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 3. If there were any lingering questions, it’s now clear that the vampire-loving ladies now have just as much power to set the cultural agenda as the superhero-worshipping lads.


The rest of us had better either get on board, or get out of the way.


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