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

Tags: , , , , ,

11 Comments so far

  1. Shawn Colton November 22, 2009 11:36 am

    I could not possibly agree with you more. David Tennant is GOD ! The blog entry is spot on too.

    I won’t lie and say I’ve never been snobby about my interests in the past and I’m not going to force myself to watch/read/listen to things I know I won’t care for but I’m not about to tell fans of a harmless entertainment genre that they’re stupid or worng. I love Godzilla movies for pete’s sake.

  2. David Anaxagoras November 22, 2009 12:28 pm

    I’m going to go ahead and hate NEW MOON. Sparkly vampires are stupid. And I’m not a fan of any kind of vampire. You can dick with the mythos all you like. I’m not protective or snobby. But if you come up with sparkly vampires, I’m going to laugh at you. And walk out of your movie. Which I did.

    Not jealous. Don’t wish I thought of this idea. Because this really isn’t about the idea or the story. It’s about sparkly brooding underwear models and SharkBoy’s chest. No one reads Playboy for the articles and no one watches Twilight movies for the story. So I don’t see any reason to be excited unless I can get SharkBoy to be in my next movie and then to take off his shirt.

    I don’t like that NM outdid Dark Knight, not because I’m snobby about movies, but because I want studios to be excited about making GOOD movies. I want to hear “We want the quality of writing that was Dark Knight” not “Can you write in a role for Shark Boy and can we get a good butt shot?”

  3. kristen November 22, 2009 1:08 pm

    Okay, in the interest of riddling this all out…

    I’ve read the first book. I was once a 13 year old girl who read Sweet Valley High books concurrent with Stephen King novels. I was pretty much the EXACT demographic for this franchise: girly and also into horror. I assume that girl is still somewhere inside me and has childish themes/concepts/characters that still appeal to her.

    That being said, I thought the Twilight book was lame and the movie was unwatchable, and I agree with Dave: vampires that sparkle are stupid.

    I don’t get what it is that girls and grown women are finding so hot about this franchise, but my speculation is that they’re attracted to fake danger. Edward isn’t really dangerous. He’s annoying. I suppose he’s ardent, but in what I consider to be a highly unromantic and unbelievably immature way for a guy who’s like 120 years old. He stalks and he eavesdrops and he taunts, and his demonstrated intelligence is blunt at best. He’s quite a bit like the guy I was crazy about in high school.

    I think that girls and women are liking the idea of an unattainably sexy guy being drawn irresistably to a plain Jane, clumsy dork. Maybe they also see “the guy I like(d) in high school” in Edward and are superimposing their favorite supercilious ass onto the body of a supermodel, and that’s enough for them.

    I guess what alienates me about this series is that I don’t think being treated like a vampire’s personal pet is romantic, and I don’t think having sweet blood and hidden thoughts is a compelling enough reason to make an unattainable hunk attainable.

    If he’s drawn to her because she’s brave, clever, kind, and loyal to her mother and friends (read: Buffy), I buy that. If he’s drawn to her because has blood that tastes like pinot noir and he doesn’t want anyone else tapping that vintage, I cry foul. I just don’t get why everyone else isn’t crying foul along with me. I think maybe it has to do with the fact that most teenage girls really don’t think there’s anything special about themselves, ergo they identify with Bella, who is totally unspecial. That just makes me sad! At least Eliza Bennett had her brains and wit and outdoorsiness and loyalty to her family.

  4. Shawna November 22, 2009 1:18 pm

    Dave and Kristen:

    As I said, I don’t like it either. I read the book and yes, I think sparkly vampires is kinda lame. BUT, there’s obviously something about this story that is speaking to girls and some older women, and I think we, as writers need to try to figure out what it is. Kristen, I think you make some good points — Bella isn’t the protag either of us wants and we are both in the sweet spot for the demo who should have some affection for this type of story. Maybe there’s a generational thing, or a culture thing or maybe even an awareness thing…I don’t think these fans are actively choosing to like Bella over other heroines of genre, I think they just see something of themselves in her, and like the fantasy of these intense guys both in love with this clumsy awkward girl. Who doesn’t want that fantasy, at least a little bit? Okay, the fact that it’s a vampire and a werewolf doing the fighting just adds the element of danger and over the top fantasy to the mix.

    And don’t get me wrong – I don’t have a problem with hating Twilight for what it is/isn’t. That’s not the problem. The problem is when we go beyond the criticisms of the story itself to denigrate those who do like it. That’s just mean.

    Thanks for the blog feedback, as always!

  5. kristen November 22, 2009 1:31 pm

    I haven’t read New Moon so I don’t know much about the story, but sure – two hot ripped guys fighting over you is a definite draw. And in the first book, she moves to a new town and pretty much every straight guy in sight is instantly in love with her – so there’s that. Wish fulfillment. Guys dueling over you. Having too many dates for the prom.

    I think this story is a lust story, not a love story. Maybe it appeals to girls who are really hormonally charged (vs. romance-driven) but aren’t quite ready for sex, since that’s delayed through several books, right? Girls get more messages about sex from the world around them today than we did in the 80s. Maybe she tapped into that confusion of knowing you’re sexy (because the media tells you so) but still feeling like a kid inside.

    I guess to figure out exactly why it resonates, you’d need to survey a sampling of teenagers and ask why they identify with Bella and what they see in the two guys.

    I definitely agree with you – it’s worth figuring out, if you’re at all interested in writing for teenagers.

  6. David Anaxagoras November 22, 2009 3:12 pm

    I’m interested in writing for teenagers. I’m not interested in pandering to them.

    I think a movie can be good and smart and sexy and wish fulfillment and all those things and not drag down the dignity of all involved.

    But I could be wrong. I could be $80 million wrong.

  7. emily blake November 22, 2009 4:18 pm

    Twilight reminds me of Cosmo magazine. Annoying and sending out all the wrong messages.

  8. kristen November 22, 2009 11:07 pm
  9. Shawna November 22, 2009 11:28 pm

    Fascinating essay, Kristen! Thanks for the link. 🙂

  10. daveed November 30, 2009 11:04 am

    Is it me, or is the obsession with slagging Twilight equally as annoying as the obsession with the franchise?

    Fans of the film are the Harry Potter kids (for the most part; I know a few adults who are into it) now hitting puberty. It’s part of the natural progression of pop culture tastes. When the Hanna Montana fangirls hit that age, it will be something else. Remember boy bands, anyone?

    I wonder whether the more vehement detractors saw — and likedTransformers 2. If so, then I certainly take their criticisms with a grain of salt.

    I’m a know-nothing with regards to Bella, Edward, and their ilk. The films won’t be taking any slots on my Netflix anytime soon. But good on the filmmakers for making a bucket of cash. My only regret is that we’re due for a spate of Twilight clones for the next few years.

  11. Dayna December 27, 2009 3:52 am

    What these jaded people don’t get is that the movie and the books are geared towards pre-teen and teenager girls. It’s a market. Now it just so happens my grown woman book club went nuts for it and after reading three of the books in the series I quit the book club because the books ARE geared towards girls who are at an incredibly annoying stage. And Bella’s interior monologue makes my head hurt, but I’m not nor ever have been an incredibly insecure teenage girl. But Vampires and Werewolves are interesting and a great pitch. If you’re an adult go see it with a teen or don’t see it at all, the series will do fine without you.

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