July 6, 2010

Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend

Alright, that’s it, I’ve had it.

After years of reading, watching, and being utterly horrified at the current popular trends in literature, after wondering what had gotten into the minds of young people and middle-aged-soccer moms, after enough time grumbling and mulling from the shadows; I have made a decision.

I am weighing in on the Twilight debate.

This is going to take more than one blog entry.  I’m sorry, I really am, but I just cannot allow this to continue without putting my two cents into the universe.  I can promise you a few things: this will be as unbiased as I can possibly make it, as interesting as I can possibly make it, and as entertaining as I can possibly make it.

Before I begin, let me clear up a few cardinal facts and set a few rules about this exploit.  Yes, I have read the Twilight series.  Yes, I have seen the movies.  No, I don’t pay any attention to the tabloids and I have no idea what Robert Pattinson does in his spare time (be that Kristin Stewart or Taylor Lautner…).  I am going to try my best to write this as much as possible without giving you my direct opinion about the franchise in hopes that perhaps the arguments will be more academically persuasive (you know, as academically persuasive as you can be about Mormon vampires).

On that somber note, let us begin.

How about we start with the big question that has been plaguing troubled minds of the vampirically inclined: why is it that people like this series so bloody much?  You can’t deny it, people either love Twilight or hate Twilight.  There is no in between.  I would argue that Twilight apathy is simply a lack of exposure; find someone who says that they could take or leave Twilight and then sit him down and make him read it and/or watch it.  Then ask him again.  I nearly guarantee that his answer will prove different.

First and foremost, I would like to say this.  I think that little video is a good base point for this conversation.  Yes, it’s true, horribly true, horribly and vividly true.  But what this guy says is true of a great deal of other stories as well.  Any escapist reality written for women pretty much follows this same formula, especially if the story is written in first person PoV.  Honestly, the best example I have (and the closest to the Twilight style) is a romance novel.  Take Karen Marie Moning’s The Immortal Highlander (yes, her name is Moning… she writes romance novels… this is hilarious).  Same PoV, same he-man + superman + Jesus = male lead formula, same story of frustrating and semi-requited lust/love between gawky mundane and perfect immortal.  Bing, bang, boom, you have a female fantasy.

So what makes Twilight different?

Well, vampires.  Vampires are the epitome of all things teenager.  I mean really, a creature that is beautiful, powerful, emotastically different from everyone else, secret, self-loathing, utterly sexual, and eternal.  Anyone who has ever thought “nobody will ever understand me”, anyone who has ever wished bloody revenge upon her enemies, anyone who has ever wanted something more than the mundane humdrum life of a normal person is prey (literally and metaphorically) to the vampire.  The world of the vampire is the world of intrigue, darkness, passion, lust and extremes.  It is a world of misunderstood good guys and hauntingly lovely bad guys.  It is a world of creatures who have a concrete reason to hate themselves, despite any good they may do.

When you become a vampire, your gangly awkwardness is transformed into perfect beauty and primal ferocity.  Your financial troubles vanish, your boundaries disappear.  So what if a small case of sunlight or stake-through-the-heart kills you?

Never before Meyers have vampires been so accessible.  Read Anne Rice or Laurell K. Hamilton and you are a black-eyeliner-wearing goth freak.  There is an edge to these other vampires, and the stories surrounding them are darker, more violent, more intensely sexual.  Meyers’ vampires are… well... Mormon.  They are still dangerous, but for the most part their hard edges become soft.  In Meyers’ world there are no mangled corpses, no people going crazy, anything too intense for polite company is kept almost entirely offscreen.  Yes, there is the requisite blood and sex, but it’s more alluded to than directly addressed.

Meyers’ vampires are fuzzy vampires.  They civilized, more human than monster (even the evil ones).  I mean ferchrissakes they SPARKLE.  No longer are they banished to the night, the darkness of dungeons and crypts, but they become even more beautiful and perfect in the daylight.  Their stories may be slightly disturbing, but never freakish.  If anything, the disturbing back-stories go towards highlighting human traits over monstrous ones.  This creates a vampire story that is accessible to younger audiences, and moreover is acceptable to the parents of said younger audiences.

The Urban Fantasy genre is seductive.  It allows stories to enter the mundane world, causing lines between what is real and what is imagined to blur nearly past any visible recognition.  Rather than a mirror up to nature, the fantasy becomes nature.  Meyers’ use of this genre to tell her stories contributes to its nature as a role-playing fantasy.  These stories become possible because they are so deeply rooted in a world that we already know and live in.  Rather than take us through history, as Rice does, or take us to a slightly tweaked contemporary world, as Hamilton does, Meyers sets her stories in the all-too-mundane world.  Aforementioned teenager, already feeling awkward and out of place, is able to believe herself into Meyers’ story because it so closely mirrors her own life. 

Moreover, the Cinderella story, time and again, is a magic vacuum.  I don’t care what the feminists say; every individual of the female persuasion is (to some extent) waiting for her prince charming.  An extra dimension of allure is added to the Prince Charming when he sparkles (literally). 

Everyone wants to be desired.  How many industries make millions of dollars trying to augment a person’s desirability, especially to the opposite sex?  Here is a story of a girl (or “shell” as my friends at The Oatmeal and Epipheo Studios so aptly contend) who is so desirable that supernatural creatures start wars over her.  This seemingly average person, someone who anyone could be, is the epitome of desire.  As a result, the readers want to be her.  Since the readers want to be her, they will buy her.  In any form they can.

So that’s my addition to the popularity debate.  Tune in next time for another Twilight-themed discussion, though I promise it will be as painless as this one was.

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