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?