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Good Morning Midnight November 29, 2009

Posted by monty in movies.
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There’s something about excessive fandom that never fails to turn me off.  I can’t explain it, but the more excessively people love something, the less likely I am to give it the time of day.  This is why I haven’t read any of the Harry Potter books, nor have I read The Da Vinci Code (despite this brilliant piece of advice from Roger Ebert: “Sometimes it’s good to read a book like The Da Vinci Code just to remind yourself that life is too short to read books like The Da Vinci Code“).  I have not, and will never, watch an episode of American Idol for this same reason – it’s just a hopped-up version of 80’s favorite Star Search, only instead of Ed McMahon you’ve got a surly Brit who likes wearing t-shirts so tight they display his flabby, middle-aged nipples.

This is also true of things I actually like (the obsession, not the nipples).  I love Radiohead, have seen them in concert on multiple occasions, and their Kid A album is definitely in my all-time Top Ten (and, considering what day you ask me, it might sneak into the Top Five).  But sometimes I get so tired of their fans obsessively fawning over them that I absolutely hate Radiohead (see also: Arcade Fire).  There are lots of great bands out there, and some of them – whisper it – are actually better than Radiohead.  But don’t tell their fans that.  They won’t listen.  And while they’re not listening, they’ll casually tell you your taste is lousy simply because you dare give another act the time of day.  The more people who love something – and the more ardent their fanaticism – the less likely it is that I’ll want anything to do with it.

And that brings me to Twilight. One thing I want to say right off the bat is that I wouldn’t even be writing this if the series had kept its fans isolated to its primary demographic: kids.  I have no problem with kids loving weird things, and loving them obsessively.  That’s part of what being a kid is all about: being undiscerning and just following your passion wherever it takes you.  You don’t know any better because your experience is limited.  As you get older, you develop a frame of reference, and you begin to realize that A) some of the things you love aren’t actually all that good, and B) it’s okay to maintain some affection for those things, but that affection is tempered by a recognition of their flaws.  Even though I’ve never read a single one of the Twilight books (nor have I seen either of the movies), I know enough about the series to see why it would be popular with young girls: mysterious creatures, forbidden and unconsummated love, hunky dudes fighting over a likable female character.  It’s a Harlequin romance, only with vampires instead of pirates.  I can even understand why older people would read (and like) the books.  The story is clearly engaging, and I’m not going to begrudge people their decision to read something trashy (I’m currently working my way through a collection of Stephen King short stories, so who am I to judge?).

There is, however, a difference between liking trash (which, again, I advocate) and becoming so wrapped up in it that you turn into the people above.  There’s a point where fandom crosses a line from respectable to creepy, and I think a lot of it is contingent upon A) age, and B) how that fandom manifests itself.  I’m almost tempted to give the people in the picture above a pass.  Despite their tacky, 9th-grade-English-class-quality sign, they probably just sneak in under the wire of acceptability.  But how about this motley assortment?

This was taken at a Twilight DVD release party back in March.  Finding someone under the age of 25 in this photo (and if that girl in the yellow jacket weren’t in the foreground, I’d raise that number to 40 – curse you, girl in the yellow jacket!) is as difficult as playing Where’s Waldo? To flip out over the mediocre movie version of a book series that is, after all, a Mormon abstinence parable is, frankly, weird, and these women should know better.

So should these.

One important thing to note is that I’m not, even for a second, impugning their taste.  It’s well-documented on here that I like plenty of stuff for which my hipper friends automatically deride me.  No, it’s more a question of decorum.  See, it’s one thing to like a movie or a book.  It’s another thing entirely to be a middle-aged woman sporting a Team Jacob shirt or brandishing a sign that reads, “Bite Me, Edward!” (although, to be fair, at least that person’s sign has correct comma placement – and that’s how I know it wasn’t designed by a 13-year-old).  This kind of behavior is unbecoming once you reach a certain age, and it’s even less appropriate when the object of your adoration was designed for someone young enough to be your daughter – or your granddaughter.

My initial thought was that maybe it has something to do with the actors playing the roles – maybe these women were simply responding to the attractiveness (using the term loosely) of actors Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner.  Maybe this was just another version of middle-aged men going to the Transformers movies and losing their collective shit over Megan Fox.  But it’s not the same.  Not really.  It would be the same if these middle-aged men went to the movie premiere dressed as robots, or sported Team Mikaela shirts, or made signs that read, “You can shift my gears anytime, Mikaela!”  But no.  These men go to the movie, get their action fix, mentally drool over Fox’ vaguely greasy sexuality, and call it a day.

The Twilight fans’ obsession, on the other hand, transcends merely thinking these two actors are hot stuff.  Instead, they get overly wrapped up in the plot – displaying bizarre partisanship with their Team Edward and Team Jacob shirts – and seem instead to love what their characters represent.  For Pattinson’s Edward, I guess it’s the unrequited love aspect – that he has to love Kristen Stewart’s character chastely, romantically, and without giving into his baser instincts (essentially neutering everything that makes vampires even remotely interesting in the first place).  Lautner’s Jacob, by contrast, represents – what?  I don’t know the story well enough, to be honest.  The promise of protection?  Noble savagery?  He’s a werewolf who looks like he’s 12, so I’m not exactly sure what the attraction is.  But my point is that the fans have latched onto the characters in ways that have more to do with the story than with the actors portraying the characters.

It’s absolutely fine to relate to or find comfort in a novel or a movie.  That’s one of the reasons we read books and watch movies in the first place.  But again, it’s all in how that manifests itself.  Maybe these older Twilight fans are just doing it in the spirit of good fun, and they know it’s fairly ridiculous for them to be carrying on the way they are.  But to make that leap I have to be willing to bestow on them a level of self-awareness that I just don’t see in the screaming mob scenes and the t-shirts and the crying and the homemade signs.  That level of obsession just strikes me as weird and, again, when we’re talking about 40- and 50-year-old women, a little creepy.  What would we say about a 50-year-old man wearing a shirt with Megan Fox’ picture on it?  Exactly.

Maybe it’s unfair of me to dismiss art (using its broadest definition) based solely on its fans.  I admit that I could be missing out on some great stuff.  Maybe I should be watching Grey’s Anatomy, snatching up the books in Oprah’s club, and rushing out to catch Twilight: New Moon. A good rule of thumb for me, though, is that when something’s most ardent fans are people I generally wouldn’t want to associate with in other situations, it’s probably best that I stay away from that thing.  So: sorry, Twilight. You might be great.  But thanks to the middle-aged woman crying and screaming for Robert Pattinson’s attention, I’ll never know.

*****

Current listening:

Fanfarlo – Reservoir (2009)

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Comments»

1. Tiffany - November 29, 2009

This was a good read. The fandom world is where I cut my teeth. I wouldn’t say I’m a fangirl now, especially not of Twilight. I can see why girls are into this… specifically, the article from The Oatmeal (http://theoatmeal.com/story/twilight) as the author says, the main character is more of a costume that the reader can put on and fall in love with a guy who is, frankly, PERFECT other than his lust for blood. Always young and handsome and ripped (do you think that if Edward was a tubby with zits high-school-aged-forever that girls would be fawning over him, even if he was doting SO much love?). For women who love the unattainable, he is perfect fodder (even if you’re single and waiting for a relationship, or in a relationship that just isn’t AS perfect as the one with Edward)…

As my HS experience was spent more with online friends than with friends from the real world, being a big fan of Harry Potter and LotR. The thing that people outside of the fandom world seem to gloss over is that most of us DO realize how ridiculous it is (um, well, the smarter ones I guess, there are those who would rather replace reality with fiction), but part of the reason we do it and let it consume, uh, even if it’s just for a little while, is this wonderful group aspect to it. Not just necessarily in the online-chat-room-livejournal-friends kind of way. Seeing people who are just as geeky as you and have something to converse about. I’ve met a few amount of friends from all over from Comic Cons and movie premieres, bonding over whatever geeky thing that would usually lead us to another geeky thing.

Arriving at college I met an entire groups comprised of people who were all fangirls or fanboys of past (and even present!) lore. Although it seems that the various binding ones ranged from Harry Potters and Lord of the Rings back to Star Wars, even Star Trek, Bond, and of course Rocky Horror.

Maybe it’s diff. from LotR to Twilight – the 40-50 somethings fans of the movies were always fans of the book first since it’s been around. Harry Potter wasn’t written by someone who wanted to put Mormon undertones, and did get more adult as the series and Harry Potter got older. I cannot compare cause I also am not going to read Twilight either, it’s just of no interest to me. I could really go on and on about fandom, vampire fandom and how it ties into (and even shuns) Twilight, or how the group of geek is becoming a viable market force, and how that effects it being just “a kids thing” to a thing that is encouraged because of the money that can be earned from all the ways to exploit Robert Pattinson’s face or the Twlight logo… if it has an appeal to people who are making money steadily, then someone else can fatten their pockets. But instead I’ll end it here.

rcm - November 30, 2009

Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Tiffany. It’s good to get the perspective of someone who’s more a part of that world than I am. Your comment was as interesting (or more interesting) than my original post.

Tiffany - November 30, 2009

Aww thanks Rob, I appreciate that coming from you. You should check out http://community.livejournal.com/fanthropology or http://www.knowyourmeme.com – to understand the various worlds more. 😉 I mean, if Fandom was a major at school, I would have majored in it (second best thing: PR!), I find the whole phenomena fascinating.

2. thoreauly77 - November 29, 2009

i tried to read the first book, and it was so, so awful. so i watched the movie. why? well, so i could make fun of the movie in front of all of my lovestruck students. it was classic teasing the kids i mean, not the movie!)).

rcm - November 30, 2009

I thought I might see the first movie, Ian, but there was always something better to do. It’s been an easier decision this time around since I hear New Moon is atrocious. Roger Ebert’s one-star review of the movie is pretty funny.

3. Katie Reed - November 30, 2009

The actors in Twilight hate their own fans more than you can.

Also, the Kids in the Hall just finished a project, yessssss!

rcm - November 30, 2009

As a fan of Kristen Stewart, Katie, it’s so painfully uncomfortable to watch her be interviewed. I wish she’d just drop out of the series altogether so she could do the kind of movies she seems to want to do instead.

And I saw that KITH were working on something new. That’s a reason to rejoice!

4. Bossy Betty - November 30, 2009

Did you really use the term “right off the bat” when writing about Twilight? Hummmmm.

I have to go squeeze into my excessively tight “Team Jacob” shirt now and go to work.

–BB


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