Thursday, December 04, 2008

Old People Totally Don't Understand Twilight

I guess it's easy to ignore sweeping generalizations and indulge in oversimplifications and stereotypes when you're not part of the target group being written about. See, I thought Caitlin Flanagan's article was a pretty fair and insightful take on the girl culture of Twilight until I read this and drilled down through the links to read all the exasperated responses.

There's two things I know:

1. Flanagan is sort of notorious for her prelapsarian views on the feminist movement and her unpopular articles on the Mommy wars.

2. Young people hate being talked about by teh Olds (who should just crawl off somewhere and, like, die or something).

So, it's really a lose-lose situation here, and really why spill anymore ink on Twilight. Someday it will have all of the impact of a stack of Flowers in the Attic library discards. Which is to say, meh.

What I liked about the article (and the thing that seems to rile the Youngs the most) was the way it looked at the psychology of why we read what read. The way it took seriously the notion that people are motivated by emotions and ideas that they may not even be aware of. This to me is pretty interesting and shouldn't just be dismissed.

When you think about it, the conscious mind is a powerful engine and a very busy machine that does its level best to get you through all the things you need to be and to do during a given day. One thing it does not like to do, is look at itself. It does not like to examine its own processes. It does not like self-awareness. These things are dangerous and crippling and are likely to throw everything out of joint. Instead it prefers balance and stability, so it will rationalize whatever is going on in your head in order to keep things moving and all those dark, scary thoughts get smoothed over and ignored.

Let's face it, you'd never get out of bed much less go to school or work if your brain let you sit around and think about how stupid and pointless everything is all the time. The rationalizing mind keeps enough of "the happy" bubbling up to keep you moving, getting your work turned in, the bills paid, and food in your stomach.

Similarly, when you read, you might think that what your doing is for pleasure, or for escapism but that's just your ego trying to keep things light and happy. What you're really doing is looking at your mind, getting under the covers to look at all of those nameless creepy crawly things in your brain that drive you and motivate you even if you don't know it. Literature is a tool for examining minds, looking at how other minds solve problems, make judgments, reach decisions, and achieve goals. The details of any given story are the examples used to support the mind's argument. They are the evidence presented in order to persuade you of whatever was in the writer's mind at the time she was writing it.

So if Flanagan wants to argue that the readers of Twilight, or the readers of YA fiction occupy a different headspace than the readers of Ulysses or The Road, I'm inclined to accept that as a given. And I'm also sympathetic to the idea that those same readers are trying to satisfy different emotional and intellectual needs in different ways. What she forgets to acknowledge is that readers don't know that that's what they're doing when they're doing it.

Readers prefer to think that they're reading for pleasure or reading to learn. They want to remain at an intellectual remove from whatever's percolating in their id. They want to engage emotionally and empathetically with what they read, but they don't want you to talk about it and trivialize it. Reading is a great pleasure, but it can also be really, really embarrassing.

So yes, the Twilight series probably does use vampirism as a romantic metaphor for how girls blossom into women, but don't talk about it. That just, like, totally gross.

Now go lock yourself in your bedroom and listen to the Vivian Girls or something.