Snow White Doesn't Live Here Anymore

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Five Reasons A Smart Young Woman Adores TWILIGHT (Part 2 of 3)

All these girls are in love with this boy--myself included
Regina Barreca
This post is a response to Why Do Smart Teens Love Twilight? Part I by Gina Barreca, Ph.D.

In Rebecca’s own words:

I never thought I’d be one of  those obsessive, maniacal, “OME”-ers (“OME”  stands for “Oh My Edward!”), especially since I mocked my sister endlessly when she first started reading the TWILIGHT series. I’d automatically lessened my opinion of people when I found out that they were followers (yes, followers).  But one night, sick of constant mockery, my sister handed me the initial volume. “Read a hundred pages,” she ordered, “and if you don’t like it, you can stop.” 

Unfortunately for my pride and self-esteem, I made it far past the first hundred pages. In fact, I finished more than half of the 500-page book that night—and I didn’t start reading until 11:30. But because I found myself so quickly sucked in, I couldn’t stop thinking about why—why these books? Why this fascination for “Edward”? What is it that is so exceptionally obsessing about these books?

When Gina asked me to explain my obsession, she asked for ten points. I thought a little bit, and then wrote the number ten at the top of the page. As I started to write, I realized how difficult it was to explain exactly why these books are so beloved. So here are my five best tries at explaining pop culture’s most recent obsession:
 
5. It is anything but realistic. Reading Twilight, I think of it as an alternate reality that I am a part of in some way or another; and Meyer includes enough specifics and details to make our image of that reality three-dimensional and vivid. For one, half its characters are vampires, but more than that, it ignores most high school or relationship clichés and is something completely different. It abandons, well, common sense, which would (I hope) require the main character to be alarmed, not flattered, if she found out a boy was spying on her every night. Because of the books’ other-worldly nature and the simplistic style of writing, it becomes easy to read them as you might read a trashy magazine—without thinking, without questioning, without making any connection to real life. And this is lucky, since the book really falls apart if you probe it any further. Sure, you can discover some pretty annoying messages without looking too hard—ahem, abstinence—but I found it quite easy not to think about messages at all. The books seem entirely detached from reality and are written, well, like drugstore novels, and thus seem separate from the world of political messages and life lessons.  

4. Suspense. Since it is after all a vampire story, we for once don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. I admit that I have atrocious taste in movies, but in most movies I see, I can predict exactly what’s going to happen. And while I clearly enjoy that, since I go back to see new versions of the same movie every weekend, I also like not knowing exactly what’s going to happen—will he kill her? (Doubtful, since there are four books.) Will he leave her? (Again, doubtful, though he flirts with it in the second book.) Will she become a vampire? Yes, I have heard people call it boring, but, personally, I have never read faster—I literally ripped pages as I turned them.

3. One reason why I was so invested in the characters is because I, like every other reader, identified with Bella. I think she has a personality, certainly more defined in the book than in Kristen Stewart’s sullen representation of it in the movie—but I do know how easy it is to project yourself onto her. I read Bella as a more upbeat character, an essentially happy and outgoing girl, while my more quiet friend read her as slightly more brooding and intense. In any case, in uniting myself with Bella in my mind, I became that much more invested in the story—and in what is my next point…
 
2. Edward. It would be impossible to discuss the obsession with Twilight without addressing the pivotal character of Edward. The obvious explanation for the obsession as that all these girls are in love with this boy--myself included. Why? Besides the danger aspect (bloodsucking, death, eternal condemnation, and so forth), the best reason I can come up with after many months of thinking about this is that he exists solely for the needs and desires of Bella (i.e. the reader). He is rarely preoccupied with his own problems, which you’d think, as he’s a vampire, would be plentiful, and devotes himself entirely to her—exhibit A, he stays with her every night. Oh, and he loves her unconditionally.
 
1. Finally, it is very easy to see the Twilight-obsessed girls as a kind of cult. And, indeed, that’s a bit what it felt like when I first started reading. I was welcomed in with a “Isn’t he great?” by my friends who were fellow obsessives—though not, I am proud to say, by any weird, preteen, Edward-devoted websites. Though the hearty welcome didn’t really make me feel any cooler for having read the book, it was kind of a thrill to be joined in this alternate reality by your friends—to discover that what you thought was a private universe that took place in your room was actually shared by people you know (and millions of others, predominantly twelve-year-old girls—though I prefer not to think about that). Ultimately, Twilight becomes more than a book—it is an experience.  

(Next post: Five Reasons A Middle Aged Woman Loathes TWILIGHT)

Gina Barreca, Ph.D., is Professor of English at UConn, and author of It's Not That I'm Bitter: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World.

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