By Anna Ellermeier/The AS Review
At 7 p.m. on Nov. 19 in AW 204, The AS ROP Women’s Center will be hosting “A Feminist Response to Pop Culture: Twilight.” The event will be a panel discussion about the wildly popular “Twilight” books, focusing specifically on looking at the books from a feminist perspective. One of the speakers on the panel will be Andi Zeisler, the editor of Bitch magazine. The AS Review spoke with Andi from her office in Portland about all things “Twilight.”
The AS Review: Could you explain what the Bitch magazine’s focus is for people who are unfamiliar with it?
Andi Zeisler: The magazine’s subtitle is “A feminist response to pop culture” and basically, it’s a quarterly nonprofit, reader-supported magazine that is dedicated to looking at the intersections of popular culture and feminist activism. … We look at all aspects of popular culture — movies, blogs, advertising, music, books — with an eye toward representations of women and men, representations of different sexualities and look at pop culture as a site of feminist activism.
ASR: On Nov. 19 you’ll be speaking on a panel at Western about the “Twilight” series, specifically the feminist perspective on the series. Could you give us a brief overview of some of the things you’ll be talking about at the panel?
AZ: I think I’ll be talking mainly about the social impact and the phenomenon of “Twilight” fandom and what the movie and the characters represent. I was actually just polling people in the office here about it because … I was working on this theory that every generation has their own version of “Twilight” in the sense that the main fan base for “Twilight” seems to be teenage girls. And all of us, when we’re teenage girls, tend to have some sort of romantic vision that’s sparked and nurtured by pop culture that becomes very heated and … it often spreads and becomes a phenomenon. I was thinking about, for instance, when the movie “Titanic” came out in the late ’90s, that was a huge, huge movie for teen girls and Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead character was the subject of so much teen girl devotion and it was sort of like his character and his handsomeness but it was also the romance of the whole story and the plot line of the girl being saved by him. I feel like “Twilight” is very much along those same lines. I think most generations do have something like that. Having been a teenage girl and having had my own romantic attachments to fictional characters in popular culture, I don’t begrudge the teen girl fans of “Twilight” their attachment to it and to the story. But I do think that from a feminist perspective, it puts forth some kind of troubling ideas about gender relations, about teen romance, about what girls do and don’t have to compromise for love. I think it has some layers and I think the fandom phenomenon is, for that reason, really interesting to me as a feminist to look at.
ASR: Why do think “Twilight” has been so popular?
AZ: A lot of people have theories about the importance of fantasy in relation to the state of the real world. I’ve heard a lot of people opine that stories about vampires and supernatural phenomenon in general are much more appealing when people feel that the world is in peril or just in a state of chaos that they would rather not think about. And stories about supernatural characters and certainly supernatural romances become a really crucial kind of escapism. It’s possible that that’s the reason. Again, from my own experience as a 13 or 14-year-old girl, I’m not really sure that I was aware enough about the state of the world to seek escapism for its own sake. I think that the source material, the “Twilight” books, are… they’re character driven, they’re somewhat simple, they don’t demand a rigorous historical competence that a lot of previous vampire literature has demanded. I’m thinking of, like, the Ann Rice novels, which were really popular when I was a teenager. I think that the fact that the characters, in particular Bella … is so much a blank slate that girls can really superimpose whatever they want to on her. It makes it really easy to absorb and feel that they are becoming that character.
ASR: What implications do you feel these books have for young adult fiction in the future?
AZ: I worry, just as someone who loves books and who knows how fickle and formulaic the entire publishing industry can be, I worry that the success of books like this, “Twilight” in particular, are going to circumscribe what’s possible in young adult literature on a large scale. And you can sort of see it happening to some extent with … other series about vampires. ... I think there’s the danger that books and book packagers are going to say things like, “Well, we need another ‘Twilight’” and thus end up overlooking a lot of possibly great young adult literature that isn’t about vampires, that isn’t about supernatural romance. It’s hard to say. … I have heard some people that I know who are much more into young adult literature than I am and much more aware of the trends … say that they’re upset that more sophisticated, more nuanced and more female-friendly young-adult literature is getting ignored. … But, everyone has their own opinion and “Twilight” has clearly resonated with a ton of people, so it must be doing something meaningful.