August 5th, 2008

Anthropology (Binford)

Observation about Twilight (and sequels)

Your first thick book is your first book in almost every way. It's the one that makes you feel like a grown-up. Not only are its flaws meaningless, but since it's your first, you don't even know about the flaws.

My first thick book is Clan of the Cave Bear. My second was Mists of Avalon. I was 11 with Clan and 12 with Mists, and I felt like those books changed my life, my view of the world, my view of myself, everything. They were the best books I'd ever read. I wept over them. I fretted over them. I thought "What would Ayla do?" when faced with difficult situations in my own life. (Or not so difficult ones.)

I look at them now and think: Clan was really kind of boring, sort of a vicious infodump with a Mary Sue and a lot of nonsense, however well-researched. (My assessment upon a recent re-read.) Mists... oh, urgh. I can't even bring myself to contemplate re-reading it, and haven't since I was 18.

So. That's what the girls--our girls, our teenagers, the girls we would have been if we'd been born ten or forty years later, the girls who are going to pop up in the next decade in the ranks of writers and feminists and online presences--think about Twilight.

Does it matter that Twilight is not the book we would have written? It's what we would have read.

Do you really think that all the girls who read the series are going to become little Bella Swans, Bella, who seems to us passive and self-absorbed and only interested in boys? I don't. She's self-absorbed and they're self-absorbed. It'll pass for them. Not so much for her, since she's all fictional and static.

And they're not passive, our girls, any of them, and Bella Swan won't make them passive. They identify with her because they're young and they don't know yet that they can have real agency in this world, because we're still there, telling them to practice their violin and to brush their teeth, and let's not even get started on the helicopter parents. The girls, they'll get it when the time comes. They've grown up on the other side of feminism, and I haven't met one kid under the age of 19 yet (in my rarefied Ann Arbor circles), male or female, who thinks any of the things about women that were rammed down my throat when I was growing up are true. Or that anyone can really think those things.

And as for being only interested in boys... frankly, it was a consuming passion for me, and it's a consuming passion for them. Of course there's more to their lives. There was more to mine. And even though I actually rarely acted boy-crazy because I didn't want anyone to ever tease me once ever about it, or to think that I actually had emotions that they could get their hooks into, Boy-Crazy was the second level of my consciousness at all times: is he looking at me, does he like me, is he cute, do I like him, am I cute, am I thin enough, am I acting too smart, oh, well, fuck it, I'm smart, he's smart too...

The adage that teenage boys think about sex all the time doesn't seem to get disputed very often. We know that, if it's true, they do other things while thinking about sex all the time, and it's not really all that it's about for them. Your experience of girlhood might have been different, but that's how I was wired--where a boy thinks about sex, I was thinking about relationships with boys. (And sex.)

So, anyway. Twilight is a lot of people's first thick book now. And there's very little about the book that's really going to scar them. Even the Edward/stalker thing isn't going to come through that way. I don't think a single one of them is going to think that Edward's behavior would code as acceptable behavior in real life. Because no boy is ever going to be as perfect and pristine and marbulous as Edward. Which is okay. At that age, holding out for perfection might just save a bit of heartache. And they'll get over it eventually. They'll see the book for what it is. But for now, it's the best book they've ever read.