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Squealing. Squealing.

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This Utne Reader article quotes Sady Doyle’s assertion that Critics Pick on Twilight Fans Because They’re Girls, while at the same time acknowledging that they are both stupid and unfeminist.

Doyle’s point seems to be that 1. Twilight is stupid escapist fantasy for girls, 2. Things like Tom Clancy novels are stupid escapist fantasy for boys*, and 3. Media backlash against Twilight is vehement and condescending, while virtually nonexistent against things like Tom Clancy novels or Harry Potter, therefore 4. Media backlash against Twilight is driven by the fact that Twilight’s biggest fan base is a maligned group, teenage girls.

I am not sure I believe this. The last time I remember something being primarily luv-luv-luved by teenage girls, it was Titanic, and they made it like the biggest movie ever and it got an Oscar and everything. Yeah, there was backlash, but it mostly seemed to be about James Cameron and his giant ego, not about the “squealing” fangirls.

I think there really is something different about Twilight: a genuinely unique combination of exceptionally rabid fan base and exceptionally poor, but very peculiar, source material.

Now, as an SF fan, I’m used to rabid fan bases. But usually SF fans are SF fans in general, and then Star Trek fans or Joss Whedon fans in specific. Twilight fans seem to be Twilight fans, period. Twilight fans don’t go to WorldCon. And people who go to WorldCon are not huge fans of Twilight. It’s not an integrated fan base. I’m not even sure that it’s an effective gateway drug. I’ve heard people talk about teenagers who read all the Harry Potter books and then looked around for more fantasy, I haven’t heard the same stories about Twilight.

There’s also something odd about Twilight, where if you don’t get what makes it so great you really, really don’t get what makes it so great.

I’ve talked to a lot of people who liked the Harry Potter novels to a varying degree, there seems to be a continuum of enthusiasm there. But reaction to the Twilight novels seems more binary: either you’re of the body and looooooove them, or you think they’re some of the most godawful things ever written. It’s like there’s an artistic taste receptor that some people have and some people don’t, although I’m not sure whether having it or not having it makes you like Twilight. Maybe there’s some horrid bitter flavor that its fans just don’t taste. Or maybe there’s some delicious sweetness that I’m missing so that it all tastes like chalk to me.

Most fiction bestsellers, in my experience, are good, partly good, or kind of “enh,” where they’re not incompetent enough for me to call them bad, but I don’t end up caring about the result anyway.

Twilight belongs in that special category, along with The Da Vinci Code and Left Behind, of truly humongous bestselling novels that are actually very bad. (Of these, Left Behind was by far the worst. I actually slogged my way through the other two.)

So, is it sexist that Twilight fans are always presented as “squealing”? Yeah, probably. Except if they really do that, and then I’m not so sure. I mean, if they really do squeal, is it sexist to notice?

*Note: Doyle actually identifies Tom Clancy as “male” escapist fantasy, putting the target as a bit older, and anyway aren’t teenage boys all illiterate?

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13 Comments

  1. * LJ gets dissed a lot as well as being a sandbox (doll house?) for teenaged girls.

    * “Twilight fans seem to be Twilight fans, period. Twilight fans don’t go to WorldCon. And people who go to WorldCon are not huge fans of Twilight.”

    That’s because no one goes to WorldCon, proportionally speaking. They go to ComicCon (125,000+) or DragonCon (30,000+). Recent WorldCons, generally in the 5-6,000 range, pale by comparison. Googling shows that Twilight fans definitely go to both DragonCon and ComicCon.

    * “…and anyway aren’t teenage boys all illiterate?”

    Please tell me you mean this ironically.

    • LiveJournal? Huh, that’s funny. I thought that was MySpace.

      * “…and anyway aren’t teenage boys all illiterate?”

      Please tell me you mean this ironically.

      Heh. Yes. Since I was talking about cultural stereotypes. It’s funny, I think our culture does seem to look down on teenage girls — not for the particulars of their passions so much as the unhinged strength of their passions. Yet they get passionate about things like books and pop stars and films, things that in general we think are precursors to growing up into a good citizen. So it’s a slightly affectionate mocking, maybe?

      Our culture doesn’t seem to look down on teenage boys. Rather, our culture seems terrified of teenage boys. Everything teenage boys are seen to like — video games, skateboards, hard rock music — is seen as a threat to the very fabric of society and likely to turn you into a hoodlum at best, a mass murdering psychopath at worst.

      Which makes me think of Heavenly Creatures, where the passions of teenage girls meets the violence we associate with teenage boys. Hmm….

      You’re right about the ComicCon/DragonCon dynamic, those attract a huge audience of people who don’t go to conventions in general, and for some reason I wasn’t thinking of it.

      They do go to Radcon, though, so I would be interested in seeing how active Twilight fandom is there.

      • “LiveJournal? Huh, that’s funny. I thought that was MySpace.”

        It’s not an “either” question. It’s “and.”

  2. I think liking Twilight is sort of like liking Diet coke. It has an odd flvor but you get kind of used it. But if you don’t like it a little , you are never going to like it. But when the twilight stars appeared at ComicCon, they were almost mobbed. I don’t think it was limited to squealing girls either.

    • Diet Coke sounds way too appealing, but the analogy stands.

      No, Twilight fans are overwhelmingly female, but there are plenty of adult women in the mix. Which is another thing Doyle doesn’t address. I’m not sure if it undermines her point about sexism, but it does change it. There is a tendency for our culture to see things with a primarily female fan base as “other,” where the same thing doesn’t happen to things with a primarily male fan base.

      But if I were going to talk about this as a phenomenon related to sex roles, I’d talk about something that was actually good.

      Okay, something that I liked.

      • LOL, am I the only one who liked this book /blink blink/

        • Obviously not!

          For me it’s like one of those songs that I hate because, in spite of being unspeakably irritating, it’s irritating in a kind of catchy way that prevents me from simply ignoring it.

  3. well, all I can say is this:

    Ted and I were in the Factoria Target the other night when the sneak preview of “New Moon” got out and all the people who had been attending the film came in to shop. They were overwhelmingly female, yes, & squealing. In fact, they were so loud that I overheard a clerk try to calm at least one group down (it worked for about 3 minutes) and I eventually gave up trying to shop and left without actually making any purchases. Fortunately I’d already made the return which was my main reason for making the journey, so it wasn’t a total waste of time, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been driven out of anywhere by the volume of screaming and screeching of anyone older than three.

    So, if you’d like to overgeneralize from my personal experience, yeah, they squeal. They also wear matching New Moon early opening t-shirts (like concert t-shirts) and mistletoe deely-bobbers. Much later it occurred to me that if I’d stopped and kissed one of the mistletoe wearers, it probably would have provoked some reciprocal ado, since I doubt bi-females were the target of the lures…

    • Re: well, all I can say is this:

      since I doubt bi-females were the target of the lures

      Heh.

      I know teenage girls were like that about The Beatles. But as much as I love The Beatles — and as obsessed as I was over them when I was, in fact, a teenage girl — I’ve never quite gotten the whole squealing thing. I think I don’t have the squeal gene, or something.

      • Re: well, all I can say is this:

        I don’t know if you are familiar with the TV show How I Met Your Mother – Ted likes it, and I have been sort of semi-converted because it has Alyson Hannigan from Buffy playing Lily Aldrin. The episode linked to above is in part about what they call Woo Girls:

        Barney Stinson: The world absolutely needs Woooo girls. If there were no Woo girls, there would be no Girls Gone Wild, no bachelorette parties, no Las Vegas poolside bars. All the things that you hold dearest, Lily, would be gone.

        Lily Aldrin: Those are not the things…

        Barney Stinson: The souvenir shot glass industry would collapse. So would the body glitter industry… and the stretch Hummer limo industry. Tiny cowboy hats would only be worn by tiny cowboys. And when “Brown Eyed Girl” would come up on the jukebox, all you would hear would be silence… and “Brown Eyed Girl”. But who would woo? Would you? Would you… woo?

        Lily Aldrin: Hey, I can woo.

        Robin Scherbatsky: That’s not true.

        Lily Aldrin: I could too.

        Robin Scherbatsky: It’s just not you.

        I think the Woo girls thing is related to the squealing thing, but the woman who wrote the synopsis at the Fancast site says it much better than I could.

        • Re: well, all I can say is this:

          It might be related. But it differs from squealing. There are Wooo boys, for example. And the ages are different, squealers seem to be younger. And squealing doesn’t have a direct alcohol-related component.

          Dig the Dr. Seuss reference in the dialog, though.

          I’ve seen How I Met Your Mother a couple of times and thought that it had snappy dialog and, hey, Alyson Hannigan and Neil Patrick Harris. But I found the stories, and some of the character interactions, to be disappointingly sitcom predictable.

          • Re: well, all I can say is this:

            I don’t watch it regularly, but tonight there were some evil Willow scenes where her eyes got all funky, and at one point she made someone blow up. In her mind.

          • Re: well, all I can say is this:

            Hmmm…. maybe those’ll turn up on youtube.

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