Of all the things I imagined writing about when I first started seriously book blogging back in 2007, defending the Twilight franchise was not one of them. I think I’ve told the story of how I discovered Twilight before, but I’ll share it again. My sister cornered me and read the first three chapters aloud to me.
“Neato,” I said to myself, because that’s how nobody talked in 2006. “I can’t wait to go back and finish this excellent coming-of-age story about a young girl who has to adjust to living in darkest Washington and dealing with her prickly dad. It’ll be like all those YA books I read as a kid, only updated for modern readers.”
When Edward was introduced, and continued to dominate Bella’s every waking thought, my interest in the book dissipated. I mean, if I wanted to read paranormal romance, even back in 2006, I could find a lot more stuff out there, most of which contained appropriate amounts of smut. Twilight didn’t even work for me as crack, because sparkly vampires aside, it was mostly just boring.
Skip to several years later. When 50 Shades of Grey was published, I dismissed it out of hand. After all, I could go read some Harlequin Presents if I really wanted to read about alpha-hole heroes and terrible relationship dynamics. I could find badly written BDSM on Literotica for free, even. I did read all of the recaps Jenny Trout wrote of the series, and that convinced me they were really not for me. But I couldn’t seem to stop reading the criticism of both Twilight and 50 Shades.
I really liked Jenny’s take on 50 Shades, because I thought it was pretty ballsy of her to snark like that about another author’s books. Plus, the recaps were funny, and they came from a romance writer, so there wasn’t any of the subtle condescension I’d encountered in a lot of the 50 Shades material I’d seen online.
Since my abortive attempt to read Twilight, I have successfully read a lot of feminist theory as well. One of the things I’ve taken away from what I’ve read is that sexism isn’t always horrible and flashy and obvious. Often it’s quieter and more insidious. It’s finding myself on one of my favorite communities online having to read yet another screed by some know-it-all nerdy dude in his early twenties who used “Twilight” as shorthand for “awful writing.” It’s listening to other women say things like, “I mean, I like romance, but ugh, Twilight, amirite?” It’s being one of those women myself. It’s realizing that Twilight and to some extent 50 Shades can be the shorthand for “stupid romance that girls like.”
Lately I’ve been reading Anne Jamison’s excellent Fic, which is a brief overview of a few moments in fannish history. Jamison is a literature professor who’s taught courses on fanfic, and she devotes a lot of time to the Twilight fandom, including the pull-to-publish phenomenon, and what she’s written has really intrigued me. Some of the fics she used to teach actually have been pulled to publish, but she points out that they were doing interesting things with the source material that made them worthy of analysis.
Which is why I checked out several of them from the library: Christina Lauren’s Beautiful Bastard, Sylvain Reynard’s Gabriel’s Inferno, and I shelled out money for Shay Savage’s Transcendence.. I’m curious if I’ll find any of these works derivative or transformative. (I’m particularly excited about the Reynard piece because he’s a man and I’ve been promised actual Dante and fewer marriage contracts. Also, the Savage is about a cave man who can’t speak and the time traveler who loves him. Sounds delicious.)
Jamison’s book has made me think a bit more on my position about fanfic with the serial numbers filed off. It’s not quite as easy as changing some names to make a buck, and it’s not as if alternative universe fanfic didn’t exist before Twilight. (Hello, Uber Xena… which provided a struggling bisexual wee Shannon with her first taste of healthy and sexy lesbian relationships.) So I can’t entirely say it’s always wrong. I can be dismayed that 50 Shades entered the cultural zeitgeist instead of something I find less problematic, but, I mean, Twilight didn’t give me well-rounded characters. Maybe these ficcers turned pro writers can at least improve on that score.
I don’t know how this will go. Or even if I’ll end up reading any of these books. But I’m kind of excited to see what happens.