Any book or movie that achieves popular success is bound to have its detractors and generate a certain amount of hate, especially when its popularity is fuelled mainly by teenage girls. But the hate on for Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series is something else. Meyer’s novels have been derided even by fans and writers of the young-adult, romance and vampire genres, with, it seems, special ick reserved for the last book of the series: see, for example, this very bad review by fantasy writer Elizabeth Hand (“Reader, I hurled.”) in the Washington Post.
But recently (no doubt due to the release of the second Twilight film, New Moon), the critique of the Twilight series has gone beyond simply calling it out for its insipidness. LiveJournal user kar3ning compares Bella and Edward to an emotionally or physically abusive relationship (via io9). And Wired’s Underwire blog has the 20 lessons girls learn from Twilight — see, for example, number four: “If a boy tells you to stay away from him because he is dangerous and may even kill you, he must be the love of your life. You should stay with him since he will keep you safe forever.”
Okay, that’s kind of creepy. And while I haven’t read the Twilight series, it does not sound like the kind of thing I’d be interested in reading, even if it didn’t sound relentlessly inane. I’m not into vampire stories, for one thing, and teenage girls and I tend not to share the same tastes. But when people start talking about the kind of messages girls are getting from the books they read, no matter what I think of the books, I start flinching. Because that sounds to me like that old Victorian reflex that says that girls need to be protected from inappropriate reading material — the reflex that, for example, bowdlerized Émile Zola’s novels when they were translated into English in the late 19th century. We are, in other words, in the middle of a latter-day moral panic.
Because, let’s face it: young girls have plenty of other ways to learn how to have a bad relationship.
Enough with the creepy. Let’s get back to the mockery.