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Twilight Fandom: Taking a Bite of Gendered Backlash

June 29, 2010

(Cross posted at In Media Res)

With Eclipse due to premiere in theatres this evening, this past week has been brimming with Twilight -related events. Last week, for example, a so-called “tent-city” brimmed with fans camping out in anticipation for the Friday night Los Angeles early-release premiere. Then, on Saturday evening, the night of the lunar eclipse, Summit Entertainment hosted “Twilight Night” events around the country that included celebrity appearances, live music, and back to back screening of the first two film adaptations.

A review of San Diego’s “Twilight Night” for Blast by Conception Allen reports such events reveal Twilight “fanaticism” continues to “cause hysterics.” Describing fans’ “ardent screams” and noting those turned away once the venue had reached capacity “threw tantrums,” the piece represents fans as temperamental toddlers.

Such a tone is typical in mainstream depictions of Twilighters that rather uniformly depict fans as childish and/or hyperfeminine. Words such as hysteria, fever, obsession, and mania are often deployed – words that the recent text Bitten by Twilight: Youth Culture, Media, and the Vampire Franchise aptly describe as “Victorian era gendered words.” This rendering of the fandom in terms that simultaneously infantilize and feminize it reflects the historical repudiation of females and femininity generally and the derision targeted at female fandoms more specifically.

Scholars such as Angela McRobbie and Milly Williamson document this enduring contempt for female fans, examining how cultural studies has tended to position male fans as resisting or subverting mainstream culture while female fans are either not considered at all or framed as dupes, uber-consumers, or, most often, as silly girls. This framing is particularly apparent with regards to the Twilight fandom, with fans depicted as crazy, frenzied hordes that shriek and gasp over “anything possessing a penis.”

This gendered backlash dismisses the productive and engaged nature of Twilight fandom, allowing for widespread ridicule that is not only about not liking Twilight but also participates in the historical tendency to mock that which females enjoy (such as romance novels, soap operas, teen idols, etc).

There are, however, exceptions. For example, the Vampire-Con Film Festival (which took place June 24 through June 26 in Los Angeles) distanced itself from the Twilight phenomenon via its promotional clip. Featuring an Edward-looking vampire enjoying the viewing pleasure of fellow cinema goers by “sparkling” in the theatre, this “All bite, No Sparkle” parody distances “real” vampire fans from Twilighters in a way that is humorous rather than derisive, clever rather than mocking. Similar to the “Vampires Protest Z Day” clip that promoted Vamp-Con 2009, this year’s video relies on parody rather than attacking the Twilight fandom directly or framing fans as “silly girls.” As such, the clip proves that differing fandoms can be critical of one another or disagree about what cultural products are deserving of fans without resorting to misogynistic laced disdain.

As argued by Melissa Click, the Twilight fandom “presents an opportunity to disrupt the persistent stereotypes about girls, the media they enjoy, and their cultural activities.” As she insists, cultural studies scholars must not “let the gendered mockery of Twilight fans continue unchallenged.” I agree entirely – Twilight may sparkle, but the critique of it need not bite…

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