Why you should care about the success of “New Moon”

Okay, I’ve about had it with the Twi-hate.

No, I’m not a fan of the books or films myself, but people who I respect keep missing the frigging point about why these films are successful and why we should (as writers and fans of creative content) be happy about the success of the “Twilight” series.

This morning I see headlines, relieved headlines, that “New Moon” didn’t break the record for largest opening weekend haul.  It was “bad enough” most of them lament that it broke the record set by “The Dark Knight” for midnight shows.

Seriously, people.  Get ahold of yourselves.

You are raging about a MOVIE, a movie a lot of people obviously like and want to see.  Okay, so it isn’t your cup of tea, but why focus so much energy on hating the property?

I think there are two reasons people hate on this in particular, both rather ugly.

First, jealousy.  As writers we want to have the work we create loved and cherished by others.  We want it to be understood, embraced and perhaps even worshipped, as these fans do for Twilight.  They have “Teams” for which guy they support or prefer for the lead FEMALE (yeah, I’m coming back to that point too).  Sometimes when we see the kind of devotion we’d like to achieve being expressed for a creative work which doesn’t quite measure up to our standards, we get jealous.  “Why couldn’t I have thought of that?”  It’s easier then to scoff and disregard it as not very good or a lesser artwork than deal with the fact that there is an audience for it.

And boy is there an audience for “Twilight.”

That’s the other thing — it’s not centered around a boy.  Now, I know how many fans there are of “Buffy” – the Whedonites are legion in their devotion, and there are probably almost equal numbers of male to female fans of “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” as a lead female character.

But why do they like Buffy?

She’s a cheerleader turned somewhat fearless (and extremely witty) Vampire Killer.  There’s a testosterone that flows through her character, even though she has the body of a hot vixen.  There are more than enough academic studies on ‘why Buffy’ so I won’t even bother trying to add to or better what has been said before, but there’s a reason a lot of the Buffy lovers hate Twilight.

Bella isn’t Buffy.

Now, I’m not going to do an academic study of Twilight either, but I’ve actually read the first book, so I can speak with a little bit of knowledge about the two protagonists.  Bella is perceived as a weak character.  One of the criticisms I always hear about the Twilight series is that it’s basically about this girl who apparently really likes freaky guys and can’t decide which hot guy she likes better.

Let’s dissect that a bit, shall we?

First, if the choice of who to be with is Bella’s, how does that make her weak?  It makes her the focal point!  It makes her the one driving the story forward, determining her path.  She CHOOSES which guy to be with (or not be with) at any given time.  She’s the one telling these stories…it’s her story.  Name 5 movies in the last year that were about a female’s story.  I’m waiting…

Okay, so we’ve uncovered reason #1 for the success of the series – Bella is the main character.  Now, not every female lead connects with her audience (“Dollhouse,” anyone?)  So what makes Bella different?

Back up.  It isn’t about what makes her different, it’s about what makes her the SAME.

Most of you reading this have never been a teenage girl, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to understand what I’m going to relate.  EVERYONE goes through puberty.  Everyone at one time or another wonders if they are a misfit, if they will ever find love, if they will ever be truly happy.  Many a teenage girl between the ages of 13-17, that’s a lot of their thinking each day.  Sigh, not ALL of them, there are a few who don’t worry about those things, but if you are in the majority, or if you have ever been a teenage girl in your life, you know what I’m talking about.  And it is almost obsessive thinking: Am I too fat?  Am I too thin?  Will I get any taller?  Will I stop growing finally?  Are my boobs the right size?  Can anyone tell I have my period right now?  Why can’t I stop breaking out?  Will boys like me?  If they do, will I like them?  On and on and on, this internal dialogue — it’s exhausting.

It is at this point I will remind readers that the population is about 50/50 male to female.  That means half of the audience is predisposed to potentially like this movie, based on how we connect with the protagonist.

I hear you now, “But Shawna,” you argue, “you admit you don’t like the series and you are (last I checked) female.”  This is true.  Somewhere at the end of this diatribe I’ll get to why I don’t like it…but there’s a big difference between not liking something and actively hating/loathing/resenting something.

So, the second reason people hate on Twilight so venomously: snobbery.  Fans of genre don’t like to admit it, but there’s a “hierarchy” of sorts of what is acceptable to like in genre and what is not.  Most of the criticisms leveled at Twilight focus on how ‘not canon’ the mythology is – Vampires don’t sparkle!  These vamps aren’t ravenous creatures like you see in other genre fiction or gothic horror!  Edward is a wimp compared to Angel/Spike/Bill/Eric/Lestat/Dracula/Nosferatu…

Okay.  Get over yourself.

Twilight is not going to bring down any of the other genre characters you love.  Dracula has survived more than a hundred years, on the strength of the allure of the story and the character.  That doesn’t go away because Edward shows up in new fiction.  I remember when people were angry about “Interview with the Vampire” — how DARE Ann Rice tread on the hollowed ground of the masters??

If there’s one thing I know well being a fan of genre, is that most genre fans are snobs.  There are those who hate Star Trek with a passion and those who love Star Wars more than life (“Star Wars IS life!” I hear some of you whisper).  Here’s my confession: I’m not a Babylon 5 fan.  I know, by all accounts I should be, right?  I love J. Michael Straczynski’s work, and I love space opera, but I never got into Bab5.  Or Farscape.  Don’t have a heart attack, the series never appealed to me.  I know the nerdiest of nerds who thinks Doctor Who is stupid.  Now, I think they’re insane, but that’s one ‘world’ appealing to me while another one does not.  It’s personal.  It’s preference.  And it has nothing to do with you.

There is an audience for Twilight.  They read the books, enjoyed them, and when they heard a movie was going to be made, got excited.  The first movie came out and it met or exceeded their expectations.  Now they can buy Twilight clothing/gifts/etc and join with others who love this world as much as they do in enjoying it together.

That’s fandom, and it’s a wonderful thing.  It may not be your fandom, but that’s ok.  The problem with nerd snobbery is that it gets taken to extreme.  I’ve always found it ironic that generally the people who complain the most about being oddballs or outcasts in “normal” society, have no problem with classifying other fans and determining who can stay and who should leave based on what it is they like.  Absurd.  And we’re the open-minded ones.

As I’ve said before, genre fans should be welcoming this series with open arms.  You want YOUR favorite series/film/book to thrive? How about starting with expanding the potential audience.  Here is an audience which isn’t normally disposed to liking genre, and they are here now, excited about vampires and werewolves.  YOU SHOULD BE HAPPY ABOUT THAT AND TAKING ADVANTAGE OF IT, MORONS.  Stop whinging about the teen girls coming in to ruin your party.  The girls are here.  Take them under your wing, show them the worlds you love, and who knows – they may love them too.

But that gets me to reason #2 so many girls love this series, and it isn’t the vampires or the werewolves.  It’s the basic story.  Girl meets boy.  There’s this thing that keeps them from being together (in this case, that he is naturally inclined to eat her).  They try to overcome the obstacles to be together.

It’s a simple story, told over and over again in every culture around the globe.  “Forbidden” love.  Unrequited love.  Young love.  LOVE.

Why do Austen and Bronte(s) stand the test of time?  They told stories that no matter what time period you live in, are transfixing.  We are so far removed from the social mores of the time they lived in, and still we find a way to update “Pride and Prejudice” to “Bridget Jones’ Diary.”  Because what do the protagonists of each of those stories share? An attraction to someone who seems good on the outside but is really rotten, and they can’t stand the person who is perfect for them but a little off-putting.  What’s wonderful about the basic story is that you can shift around the time period, make Bridget more relatable to modern women, cast Hugh Grant as the bad boy, and it doesn’t change the heart of the story.  50 years from now, someone will update it again and it will be successful again, because the story rings true.

I don’t care who you are, where you came from, how you were raised, etc.  There’s one thing people all over want, and that’s love.  Familial love.  Passionate love.  Love in all flavors.  You want friends and family and maybe even someone who really ‘gets’ you and wants to spend the rest of their life with you.

You’re still shaking your head.  “But Shawna,” you chuckle, “the book is STUPID.  It’s LAME.  Why should I care at all?”

Here’s the final lesson to take from this.  If everything else I’ve said is unpersuasive to you as a reason to stop hating on Twilight, maybe this one will get through.

They’re going to a movie.  A movie that cost relatively little to make.  Summit is providing a product that people want and they are consuming it.  What does that mean for you?  Summit (and other film companies) are going to make other movies, trying to capture this audience or some subsect of it.  That is opportunity for YOU as a storyteller.  Art or appreciation of it is not a zero sum game, I like ‘this’ so I can’t like ‘that’.  It doesn’t work that way.  In fact, it is more likely it expands the appreciation to other artforms.  How many people once they discovered Star Wars discovered other science fiction films or books or comics?  How many people discover they like a world in one medium and it drives them to another (from film to books or film to comics or comics to tv?)

As it so happens, I’m a writer.  I’m also someone who would very much like to write things other people like and respond to.  Which is smarter: dismissing the most popular cultural phenomenon of the moment as ‘lame’ or examining why it is popular, and perhaps even learning a few lessons from it to apply to my own work?

You’re just lucky I have a blog and am willing to share what I learn with you.

So, in summary. Stop hating, start listening.  You don’t have to love it.  You don’t even have to understand it.  Just listen to the fans and why THEY love it.  And be happy — Twilight could save the film business.  God knows “Avatar” isn’t going to make the kind of profit margin these films are…

Of course, that Cameron guy did make “Titanic”…I remember how much fanboys hated THAT too…

Posted under analysis, writing

This post was written by Shawna on November 22, 2009

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