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Posted at 3:45 PM ET, 06/30/2010

Is the media fair to fans of the 'Twilight' franchise?

By Jen Chaney

During Jimmy Kimmel's special devoted to "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," which aired on ABC last week, the host invited audience members to ask questions of the cast members assembled on stage.

A teenage girl who looked as sweet and innocent as a newborn Care Bear immediately stepped up to the mic and kicked off the Q&A by asking Taylor Lautner, very politely but with no apparent sense of shame, if he could take off his shirt so the crowd could verify that his abs are real. The request prompted a chorus of whoops and screams from the Twi-hards around her.

For the record, Lautner did not comply with the request. In fact, he looked a little embarassed. And, perhaps, so were many of the "Twilight" fans watching at home.

There's a reason the mainstream media often depicts the admirers of the "Twilight" franchise as a bunch of screaming teen and tween girls: because many of them are. I've gone to my share of "Twilight" events. I've stood among the shriekers. And I have the semi-altered sense of hearing to prove it.

But the emphasis on the more hormonal aspects of the fandom sometimes obscures the fact that, as the Post's Monica Hesse pointed out last year, plenty of "Twilight" fans are intelligent women who could care less about Lautner's abs or the possibility of touching Robert Pattinson's deliberately tossled hair. In fact, as the documentary "Twilight in Forks" demonstrates, some of them are even guys.

Yet -- and I freely admit that I have been guilty of this on more than one occasion -- the language most frequently used to describe "Twilight" fans often makes them seem like a bunch of screaming ninnies.

Melissa Click, a professor at the University of Missouri, took note of this in a post on the site Flow TV.

"The media have belittled the reactions girls and women have had to the Twilight series and the actors who play their favorite characters, frequently using Victorian era gendered words like 'fever,' 'madness,' 'hysteria,' and 'obsession' to describe Twilighters and Twi-hards," she wrote, later adding, "These reports of girls and women seemingly out of their minds and out of control disparage female fans’ pleasures and curtail serious explorations of the strong appeal of the series."

Those reports also sometimes frustrate "Twilight" fans, who appreciate the Bella/Edward experience for completely different reasons.

"We pick apart the books like we were in English class and we really delve into the lore and the sc-fi fantasy and the symbolism and all that stuff," says Britten Johnson, an administrator for Twilight Moms, the Web site geared toward adult female "Twilight" fans. "That’s what really gets us going."

Johnson, 34, says she and some of her friends in Twilight fandom have been bothered by segments like the one that ran last month on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in which Ali Wentworth interviewed a few cocktail-sipping Twi-moms who host Twilight parties, complete with life-sized cutouts of Edward Pattinson.

"For the most part, most of the women I’ve met are not like that," the Fresno, Calif., mother of three says. "We really get annoyed with the way that the media portrays that."

Jen Yamato, a film critic for movies.com and writer who closely follows the "Twilight" series, acknowledges that some fans do squirm when they see fellow Cullenites asking questions like the ones posed during that Jimmy Kimmel Q&A. But she notes that there isn't any animosity among Twilighters because of it.

"The 'Twilight' fandom is really one of the most inclusive fan bases there has ever been in pop culture," she says. "They are very welcoming."

In fact, Johnson says it's that welcoming spirit -- the sense of sisterhood born out of a shared interest in Bella Swan -- that has ultimately made "Twilight" so meaningful to her.

"We do like seeing the books portrayed in the movies, but we aren’t really oogling over the actors and screaming like banshees," she says. "We're really in it for the friends now, for the close connections we've made with other women."

What do you think? Does the media really get the "Twilight" phenomenon and portray its fans fairly? Weigh in with a comment.

By Jen Chaney  | June 30, 2010; 3:45 PM ET
Categories:  Movies, Pop Culture  | Tags:  Twilight  
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Comments

We pick apart the books like we were in English class

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

right.

Posted by: VaLGaL | June 30, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

I just can't find it in me to defend these people. It makes me slightly ill that so many girls and women are so invested in this pathetic story, especially the sullen, unpleasant, uncoordinated and perpetually-in-peril-and-helpless Bella. And if they will behave like hysterical teenagers then labeling them as behaving like hysterical teenagers is simply...apt.

Seriously, I keep imagining Cher from Moonstruck smacking both Jacob and Edward across the face and saying "snap out of it!"--there is nothing in Bella's character or Kristen Stewart's portrayal of that character that makes her worthy of such brooding adoration.

Posted by: sorcerers_cat | June 30, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

i think liz should just google "im getting really sick of the breaking dawn haters!!!" - i think everyone will get where i stand on this issue from there...

(is adoring glorified fan fiction any worse than the fan obsession with Lost?... the thing that i always love about these bandwagon social obsessions is how low the LCD gets - Glee being the latest 'if you ever have a flashmob singing journey around me there's going to be a stabbing')

Posted by: quintiliusvarus | June 30, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I read Monica Hesse's piece on the adult Twilight fans and proceeded to waste precious brian cells reading Twilight. The writing is awful, the characters rarely even reach two dimensions an dthe story itself is just plain boring. And I love the Harry Dresden series, so it's not as though I'm anti non-humans.) Twihards are the new Trekkies.

Posted by: kbockl | June 30, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

The media at large tends to disparage most female (as well as geeky male) fandom interaction, in ways that it never does for mainstream male/macho fandom interaction. It's not just Twilight--look at the way nobody questions male fans putting on body paint at football games, or knowing every arcane little fact in the history of hockey, or putting together fantasy baseball teams, or whatever. But people do question women who may critically analyze an admittedly crappy book series, or male geeks who know everything there is to know about Star Trek. The mentality is the same as the that of the idiot who paints his chest burgundy and gold and stands shirtless in freezing weather, but the shirtless idiot is more accepted for some reason.

Posted by: dkp01 | June 30, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

"Deathly Hallows" top trending topic on Twitter 3 days running. "Eclipse" or "Twilight" nowhere to be found.

Signs point to quality over quantity.

Posted by: NotForYou1 | June 30, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Twihards are the new Trekkies.

Posted by: kbockl


*******************************************

You take that back! I refuse to have you sully the good name of Trekkies everywhere by comparing us to those...those...twithards.

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | June 30, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Going to have to agree with dkp01 here; I don't see a lot of difference between my brother's minute knowledge of the Redskins offensive line and my minute knowledge of World of Warcraft class trees. (Negative: Cannot play WoW in stadiums on pleasant fall Sundays. Positive: Do not have to deal with Dan Snyder.) And if you participate in an activity that's a little non-mainstream, it's always the vocal (and sometimes unstable) folks who get picked up.

That said, I've never read (and have no plans to read) the Twilight series; from what I've heard, it's not well-written; and I'm not wholly comfortable with some of the messages it seems to send its readers. Contrast it with the Harry Potter series, which is a similar group of fantasy books that's well-written and inspired a lot of fans of all ages and genders.

Posted by: Bawlmer51 | June 30, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

OK, OK, Dorkus, I take it back - as long as you promise not to paint yourself to match your favorite sports team.

Posted by: kbockl | June 30, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Bawlmer51, I tried to read the first Twilight book, and I could not get through it. It might be the only book I didn't grit my teeth and finish. It was pretty horrible, and not in the way either vampire novels or trashy guilty pleasures ought to be.

Posted by: dkp01 | June 30, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

The media has always been unfair in portrayals of fans of TV shows and movies, sports, and other interests. They know if they show the most extreme fans, it's what people will pay attention to, even if those extremists only represent 0.1% of fans.

If they go to a movie premiere, which person in the crowd do they want to talk to? The young woman who is decked out in an outlandish costume and makeup from the movie and is screaming on camera she wants to have the children of the lead actor.

If they go to a pride event, they're talking to the guy who is running around with his shirt off, covered in body glitter and wearing a rainbow wig.

So why is this such an issue now? Holy crap, someone made fun of Twilight fans, the world is going to end! If it's really that terrible, then stop covering these events and paying attention to the extreme fans.

Posted by: theblackdog | June 30, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

"In fact, Johnson says it's that welcoming spirit -- the sense of sisterhood born out of a shared interest in Bella Swan -- that has ultimately made "Twilight" so meaningful to her."

How can anyone be interested in Bella Swan? I read all the books in order to discuss them with friends, but any potential discussion circled back to how annoying the characters were. All Bella ever achieves is falling in lust with a guy who's borderline abusive. My only interest in Bella is what advice she'd get from Carolyn Hax.

Posted by: honed | June 30, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

This article made me wonder if it's because it's a girl/woman thing. Men go crazy for Star Wars (eewoks? really), Scarface, the Sopranos, etc.. Now women have fallen in love with a story & it's not the first time. But with the internet & marketing on steroids it is easy to once again call us "hysterical." I'd rather share a book with my daughter than sit playing video games with her. I also can't help but think some men are jealous. It must be hard to see your wife/girlfriend so consumed by a love story. Openly speaking about how they love Jacob or Edward. Let's be honest it's just a story and if reading has brought so many people together than it's great.

Posted by: Whogivzafk | July 1, 2010 1:06 AM | Report abuse

I don't know much about Twilight but I do know that a professional journalist should not be making the common (but still unacceptable) mistake: "...intelligent women who could care less about Lautner's...". It's 'COULDN'T CARE LESS', not COULD CARE. If you could care less, then in fact you do care to at least some degree. If you're going to publish in a world-renowned newspaper, please, please get the grammar correct and stop influencing others to continue promoting this error.

Posted by: freakymf | July 1, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

It seems that both the media and the disparagers of the Twilight series frequently miss the impact that the series has had on readers. I've worked security at a Twilight convention and had many opportunities to both observe and question the fans, and have been pleasantly surprised at what they revealed.

One effect the series has had is that it's brought romance back into many of the relationships and marriages of the fans. Those feelings of first love are remembered, bringing a sense of renewal to the readers and their partnerships. Anything that reinforces the bond between two people can't be all bad. I doubt Harry Potter did that for its fans.

And speaking of bonds, Twilight has also strengthened the bonds between mothers and daughters like nothing has in a very long time. They've found something that they can share and discuss - together. This is critical in an age where it is so easy for young people to distance themselves from their families.

A third, and very important impact, is that Twilight sparked a whole new group of readers. I've spoken to many women and girls who've stated that they never read books prior to reading Twilight and its sequels. And now they are hooked on reading. They are constantly looking for that next "Twilight" experience of disappearing into a story and feeling like they are part of it.

I realize that Harry Potter had a similar effect on readership. No matter the reason, we need to encourage reading in this day and age of TV, video games, and cell phones.

So regardless of how poorly you think Twilight was written, or your opinion of the characters, remember this: the Twilight series has brought millions of women and girls a taste of love and a love of reading.

Now how bad is that?

Posted by: hobie1 | July 1, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

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