Up until a year ago, I was fairly oblivious to the cash cow that is Twilight, a young adult book series about a vampire that falls in love with a teenage girl. I had heard of the books, knew that they were about vampires, but because they were ‘young adult’ I had no interest in them. Like a lot of people, my friends kept telling me how great they were and suggesting I read them, and so I caved in and borrowed the series from the library to see what all the fuss was about. After I finished reading them I started paying attention to all of the news reports, articles and various things I saw popping up on the internet; the stories about the upcoming film adaption, the stars of the film, the fans of the series.
And over the last several months I have observed a steadily growing trend; hatred of the series and its fans, and while I can certainly understand a strong dislike of a book, or a film, or a particular musician, the absolute vehemence that some people have expressed towards the fans of Twilight perplexed me. Sure, some of the fans are extreme. For example, the woman who asked actor Taylor Lautner, who plays Jacob Black (the ‘werewolf’), if he would sign her underwear while she was wearing them, and the girls who have approached Robert Pattinson, who plays Edward Cullen (the vampire), with cuts on their necks asking him to bite them. But every large fandom has its zealots such as Star Trek fans who legally changed their names to those of the characters and/or wear Starfleet uniforms in their every day life.
As I became more aware of all the negative commentary about the series and its fans, I decided that I wanted to know why. I wanted to understand where these people were coming from and what their arguments against the series were. The media is absolutely drenched in all things Twilight, but most of the negative press comes from either film reviews, or articles expressing concern over the messages young girls might be receiving from the books. There are blog posts and Youtube videos in which people voice their hatred of the series, but a single person’s opinion is easy to ignore and chalk up to bias.
So I decided to approach the ‘haters’ as a group by presenting them with a questionnaire about why they hate Twilight and then compiling the data to see what I ended up with. I posted the questionnaire in several online groups and communities dedicated to hating Twilight. The following is what I found:
Please note the use of the word ‘haters’ is solely my own.
First, I gathered statistical data such as age, gender and level of education. This was to determine if there was a common thread amongst the haters, and to see if it differed at all from the fans. (I sent out a similar questionnaire to fans for the purposes of comparison)
From the haters I received 205 responses. 53 indicated that they had not read any of the books but rather gleaned their information from the internet. For this study I chose not to include their data. It is my personal feeling that one can more thoroughly dissect and criticize something if one is personally acquainted with it. I want those individuals to know that I do appreciate their taking the time to fill out the survey and that I felt it was important to know how many haters had never actually read the books.
The gender of the responders:
CIS female: 2 (According to Urban Dictionary: A non-transgendered female.)
And one chose not to identify by gender.
The average age was in the 20-24 range with 15-19 being the runner up. The youngest was in the 10-14 range and the oldest was in the 50-54 range.
161 were college educated. One was in middle school. One was home schooled. And one received their GED.
I asked which books in the series they had read.
New Moon: 160
Breaking Dawn: 111
Midnight Sun: 16
The reason I asked this is because a number of the fans who have had encounters with haters accuse them of having never read the books. One fan who responded to the fan questionnaire had this to say:
“Those that say they hate it are narrow minded and mean, usually because they just don't understand it, haven't read it or are offended by a deep and abiding love like Bella and Edward's, often because they have never experienced any depth of emotion in their lives and are consequently miserable.”
I asked both the haters and the fans how they had heard about Twilight, and the most common answers were either from the internet or from friends. A number of people said the book cover is what caught their eye, and several indicated that they were ‘forced’ to read them.
I asked if they considered themselves readers. I felt it was important to know if they had read other literary works to compare to Twilight.
185 said yes.
21 said no.
And 19 said only of fan fiction. (Fan fiction is fiction written by fans of things such as movies, films, books, etc., utilizing the characters from those works ‘for the love’ meaning without any compensation, and often published in online communities created for that purpose)
I asked if any of them were authors. The reason being that I have found authors are more critical when reading the works of others.
50 said no.
33 said they write fan fiction.
And 23 indicated they write fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
Now to get to the meat of it and what I considered the most important question; I asked them why they hate Twilight. The resounding and highest ranking answer was ‘poor’ writing. Spelling and grammar errors abound throughout the series, and as an author and editor myself, I was amazed that so many mistakes made it through the editing process. I can understand an author missing some stuff as that’s a fairly common occurrence even among seasoned authors, but once it hits the hands of the editors these errors should be caught.
The second highest ranking complaint about Twilight was Edward’s stalking behavior, which primarily took the form of him watching his human love interest Bella Swan sleeping. He did this for months without her knowledge. He spent a lot of time following her and watching her, unseen, from the woods. Their relationship was often described as abusive, with Edward being the abuser. Edward talks down to Bella a lot in the books.
“Bella, it's not my fault if you are exceptionally unobservant.” Twilight pg.81
“Bella, you are utterly absurd.” Twilight pg.82
The most damning evidence comes in the third book, Eclipse, when Edward takes apart Bella’s truck engine so that she cannot go see her friend Jacob, whom Edward believes to be dangerous.
The character of Bella was next on the list of most hated things about the books. Bella has been described as a ‘Mary Sue’ by critics, or a character who lacks any noteworthy flaws, and exists primarily as ‘wish-fulfillment’ for either the author and/or the readers. Bella’s only flaw seems to be that she is ‘clumsy’. She is immediately popular upon moving to Forks, Washington, the town where Twilight is set, and has no less than three suitors within her first few days of school. Midway through the series she ends up with not one, but two incredibly handsome, supernatural beings vying for her love.
Other reasons that listed highly were the imprinting and the sparkling vampires. Imprinting is the process by which a Quileute male (the Native American tribe that lives near Forks) falls in love with his soul mate the moment he lays eyes on her. The problem with this possibly romantic sounding concept is that it is not uncommon for the boys/men to imprint on an infant whom they thereby feel the need to protect until such time that the child comes of age so that they can pursue a more intimate relationship. This screams of real world child grooming in which an adult establishes a friendship and emotional connection with a child in order to prepare them for a sexual relationship with said adult.
In regards to the sparkling, something Meyer’s vampires do when exposed to sunlight instead of bursting into flames, the general consensus seemed to be that Stephenie Meyer in essence “castrated vampires”.
“Real vampires DIE in the sunlight”, said one responder.
Despite all of the negative commentary, not all the haters were so critical of Stephenie’s merits as a writer. One had this to say when I asked if they believed Twilight had gotten people to read:
“I totally agree. Stephanie Meyer isn't a bad writer, she's just uninspired. But she was also writing for a specific demographic, so her books are an easy read. They're entertaining and they do suck you in and weave an entertaining tale. You have to start someplace, right? Yeah, the Twilight series is no great American novel, but if a teenage girl picks them up and reads them and it encourages her to move on to other books, then I'm happy they exist.”
Which brings me to a point that the haters seemed to be divided on; about half of them disagreed with the notion that Twilight gets people to read, while the other half were open to the concept that Twilight might broaden people’s reading horizons.
Earlier I mentioned that I also sent out a questionnaire to fans of the series. I did it to find out if any of the assumptions from either the fans or the haters actually had any merit. As already noted, most of the haters have read the books, contrary to what a lot of fans believe. But before I get into the specific comments, let’s review the numbers:
As with the hater questionnaire, I sent the fan questionnaire to various online communities and forums comprised of and run by fans of the series. I only received 32 responses. This baffled me. Did they not want to defend themselves? Did they feel they had nothing to say?
All of the responders were female and the majority of them were between the ages of 15-19. The youngest responders fell between 9-14, and the oldest fell between 55-59. Twenty-two of them had a college education. They had all read the entire series, with the exception of only 8 having read Midnight Sun. Midnight Sun is an unfinished novel written from the perspective of the vampire Edward Cullen. It was leaked onto the internet, and Stephenie Meyer posted it on her website with no promise from her to ever complete the work (despite many people saying it far surpasses the quality of the rest of the Twilight series).
Many of the haters claimed that the fans read nothing but Twilight. Because of this claim, I made it a point to ask the fans how many times they had read the books. One woman claimed to have read the series more than thirty times, and another more than twelve times. Half of the responders read the series at least twice, but from there the numbers jumped all over the place, (though mostly in single digits) depending on which book in the series they seemed to favor.
In regards to whether or not the series had inspired them to read anything else, the top answers were Twilight fan fiction, “The Vampire Diaries” series, and “The House of Night” series. They also mentioned Wuthering Heights, along with a few sentiments about seeking out vampire fiction in general. One woman even said that she sought out the classical music mentioned in the Twilight series.
I asked the fans the same question I asked the haters in regards to what, if anything, they disliked about the series. The top answer was the character of Bella Swan. A lot of them disliked her lack of independence and found her to be boring and/or selfish.
The character of Renesmee was the second top answer. And I should caution you that if you haven’t read the series yet, you are about to encounter a major spoiler.
Renesmee is the child of Edward and Bella, conceived on their honeymoon while Bella is still human. The science behind this is…iffy…at best, and it is commonly agreed that this plot twist was both a way for Stephenie to instill her family values into the series, and to also tie everything up in a neat package. Jacob, the shape-shifting lovesick wolf who has been pining after Bella throughout the series, suddenly imprints on Bella’s child solving the ‘problem’ of leaving a character even remotely unhappy by the end of the series.
“The thing I hated in the book is the "imprinting" story. The thought of a grown man being obsessed with a child is not something I could wrap my head around. It reeked of pedophilia and the thought of Edward and Bella even letting him be around her made me sick. At least in the book Edward had the good sense to abhor the relationship as well.”
Other reasons for disliking the books included a lack of character development or differing points of view and a general lament in regards to the lack of more mature material and themes.
I also asked both the haters and the fans if they found the books to be sexist at all. The haters felt that the fans did not find the books sexist. Out of the 205 hater responses 103 felt the books were sexist. Out of the 32 fan responses, only 3 found the series to be sexist.
Many of the haters felt the books are sexist because the men have dominant roles over the women in regards to careers and romantic relationships. For example, Charlie, Bella’s father, is the police chief of Forks while is ex-wife Renee, Bella’s mother, is described as being flighty and unable to hold a job. In addition, Bella never once shows any ambition for her own future other than wanting to spend eternity with Edward.
Another example is the imprinting issue. Did you notice earlier that I only mentioned the males of the tribe? That is because only the males can imprint. Though it is suggested that the females who are imprinted upon reciprocate this love, one has to wonder where the free will in that is.
One hater had this to say:
“It seems like an entire generation just thought one day that maybe it IS good to just be a housewife and look for a man to take care of us! BULLSHIT!”
However, the fans did have some counter-arguments to this.
“There seems to be this concept out there that in this day and age being a wife and mother somehow makes you less of a woman.”
“Being a mother and having an education are not mutually exclusive of each other.”
Getting back to the original focus of this article, many of the haters expressly told me that they did not hate Twilight fans, but rather hated the books.
“I'm generally okay with fans of Twilight, except for people who purposefully go to sites that dislike Twilight to bash the people who don't like it.”
Contrary to that statement I found many instances of members of the Twilight hate communities relaying stories of fights they got into by going to Twilight fan sites and starting arguments. One had this to say about a video on Youtube:
“So I have legit proof now that only dumbass illiterate older women and their stupid daughters read Twilight So I'm on youtube and because I love getting into arguments with Twihards (because no matter what, antis are always right and there's just no way to justify Twishite)…”
Another reveled in ruining a girl’s birthday cake with an image of Edward Cullen on it:
“…with knife in hand and I ask "who wants cake?" Everybody cheers. I proceed to not cut up the cake…but to MURDER it. I give not a cut but a STAB at Edward's throat and cut out the first piece and give it to the father first (he deserved it). I'm about to start cutting from the neck up but some girls protested. I ignored it, the little brother laughed. Each cut is not like a surgeon but as if I were slaughtering Edward Cullen and I had fun though I didn't show it. I didn't laugh, I didn't even smile but deep down I was joyous.”
Some members of the hate oriented sites had very harsh things to say about fans:
“The fans are idiots. Absolutely delusional.”
“I hate Twilight fans because I hate stupid people.”
“I think they are brainless idiots.”
I also discovered numerous videos on Youtube of people cutting up and burning their copies of Twilight, and posting similar images in communities dedicated to hating Twilight.
But, in defense of the haters, I will say this…there is no escape from Twilight. Many of the haters indicated how frustrating this is for them. Twilight is looming around every corner like some sort of commercial version of Edward Cullen watching your every move. I think that at this point the only way you could get away from it would be to live ‘off the grid’. If you watch television, go to the movies, browse the internet, make use of a library or bookstore, or read magazines, you WILL come across something Twilight related. It might be easy to say “just ignore it” but let’s face it, there’s really no way to do that.
In closing, I’m still not sure I understand the hate any better, at least not when it comes to hating the fans. Yes, some of the fans are extreme, but you can find extreme fans in almost any popular entertainment or even sporting culture. If I had to guess I would say that ultimately popularity is likely the culprit. Whenever something is insanely popular and has a huge, and vocal, fan base, it tends to inspire an equally vocal group of people that hate the fans. Earlier, I mentioned Star Trek as having suffered this fate. Things like Supernatural, Gossip Girl and the Jonas Brothers also receive a lot of hate towards their fans. Perhaps it is some sort of unconscious desire to be different from the norm or simply a defense mechanism in response to the feeling that something is being shoved down your throat.
In regards to the Twilight books, I technically got my answers; poor grammar and spelling, main characters with creepy habits and cardboard personalities and a message of inequality between the sexes. However, do those things warrant such volatile behavior and opinions of the fans? Is it right to judge someone’s worth as a human being based solely on whether or not they like something?
As I was working on this article I came across another article about this very subject. “I Didn’t Hate 'New Moon' And I Get Preachy About It” by Patrick Nottingham over at The Raven’s Barrow. While the piece is intended as a review of New Moon, it also spends a good amount of time addressing the hate towards Twilight.
This paragraph from his article sums things up nicely while doling out some sage advice:
“In an age where humans seem to be confusing Facebook relationships with real intimacy and Internet anonymity has given us carte blanche at rudeness and a general lack of civility toward one another it would behoove us all to pause a moment and realize that art is something that evokes emotion and that art is also in the eye of the beholder. Why waste energy hating or making real people feel bad about what moves them?” –Patrick Nottingham
I agree wholeheartedly.