Brace Yourself for New Moon and ‘Screaming Teens’

November 19, 2009
By | 9 Comments

twilight_fansAs every talk show, morning show, and magazine has informed us (ad nauseam?), the second installment of the Twilight Saga, New Moon, premieres tonight. With it not only comes the appearances, interviews, and other promotional efforts of the stars, but also the images of Twilight fans. Variety‘s coverage of New Moon‘s Hollywood premiere was as much about teen girls as it was about the film, with a sub-head that read “screaming teens swarm New Moon preem,” and a lead paragraph about “how much louder teen girls can scream with a year of anticipation.”

In reading about/watching the coverage of the New Moon premiere, I find myself increasingly conflicted. On the one hand, it’s encouraging to see young girls and women recognized as an audience and a significant economic force. Advance ticket sales are breaking records at sites like Fandango, and reports of these sales are quick to point out that New Moon tops sales figures for The Dark Knight and movies from both the Harry Potter and Star Wars franchises.

But on the other hand, I struggle with the fact that so much coverage depicts Twilight fans as swarming, screaming, unruly mobs of girls that are othered in some way.  Matt Lauer warned Meredith to “keep the smelling salts on hand for this pandemonium” as Robert Pattinson made an appearance on this morning’s Today Show. Variety‘s coverage of the Hollywood premiere ends with Kevin Smith claiming his daughter’s love for the franchise is totally foreign:  “I was watching it with my 10-year-old daughter, and it made no sense to me whatsoever. It was as inscrutable as an Israeli film. I just don’t understand the politics of the region.”

It’s an image that persists over the last 50 years, since the days of Beatlemania – screaming girls possessed, crazy, and constructed as a complete misfit engaging in behavior no one understands. From New Kids on the Block concerts, Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus events, Jonas Brothers appearances, and even new-comer Justin Bieber’s recent performances, the young female fan is continually constructed as a psychotic, mysterious other. In decades of increasing awareness of the complexities of girlhood, have we really come very far from the “threat” of Beatlemania?

To be sure, some coverage has increasingly given a nod to Twilight fans including more than just teen girls, but also middle-aged women. Many of my friends are fans of the franchise looking forward to New Moon. But even their Facebook statuses or tweets reveal qualifications like “is that wierd?” or “hanging my head in shame” along with their announcements to attend the premiere. While some of my feminist friends pin their embarrassment on the franchise’s arguably anti-feminist characteristics, I can’t help but think how some of my other friends’ shame in liking or seeing New Moon emphasizes just how much young female fandom is devalued in American culture. It’s a devaluation that just continues through these images and coverage of screaming, ‘swarming’  Twilight fans.


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9 Responses to “ Brace Yourself for New Moon and ‘Screaming Teens’ ”

  1. Liz Ellcessor on November 19, 2009 at 2:19 PM

    Thanks for this, Lindsay! I always wonder how tied this is to cultural antipathy toward female seriousness. These girls really like Twilight – and they undoubtedly have some good reasons – but their enthusiasm is constantly repackaged as an indication that girls/women aren’t interested in anything else. Girls’ fantasies, interests and fandoms are dismissed as unserious even as they make money, and even as masculine fantasies of giant explosions are treated more respectfully.

    I hate to drop the “p” word, but it just sounds like classic patriarchal culture – offering women images of what they “should” want (romance, etc.) and then belittling them when they do want it. After all, if women’s interests were taken seriously, it could be a threat.

  2. Erin Copple Smith on November 19, 2009 at 2:39 PM

    Just chiming in to say that, while waiting in line at a coffee shop this afternoon, I overheard the following conversation between 20/30-something baristas:

    Barista 1: I have to take a nap after work. I’m going to a…um…midnight movie.
    Barista 2: Wait. Of New Moon!?
    B1: Yeah, yeah. I know! I’m so ashamed to even say that.
    B2: Ohmigod. I can’t even believe that. Why!?
    B1: Well, I’m going dressed up as a character from True Blood just to annoy all the die-hard Twilight fans. Ha!


    I think this conversation sums up exactly Lindsay’s points above. Post-teen (hee) fans of Twilight feel the need to distance themselves from the “screaming teenage girls” image of Twi-hards.

    The fact that she’s trying to get in a dig at that culture by participating in fan activity for another vampire fandom is just too dense to unpack in a comment on a blog post. Seriously.

  3. Kelli Marshall on November 19, 2009 at 4:28 PM

    As I was watching TODAY this morning, I had similar thoughts, wondering, “Did my friends or I ever act that way about anyone when we were teenage girls? And if so, who was it that got us so worked up?” After sitting there for a few minutes, I can honestly say that I came up with nothing, nobody. No movie/TV star, film premiere, or musical group has had that effect on me (or my friends)–ever.

    And you’re right: mobs of girls who act in this manner are “constructed as psychotic, mysterious others,” and it is troubling. What’s even more troubling though is whom/what they are currently so crazy about. I have not seen the film, nor have I read the books (so perhaps I should just shut up?!); but from what I can tell, both seem to be reinforcing the conventional image of a female who constantly needs a male to protect her. As well, doesn’t the Bella character attempt to KILL HERSELF just to get close to the vampire character (I’m going by the trailer here)? If so, this seems a far cry from those girls who were infatuated with the Beatles, doesn’t it?

  4. Annie Petersen on November 19, 2009 at 4:37 PM

    The coverage of Twilight fans angers me to no end. Granted, I’ve had first hand experience with the fans and their anger, but I’m still no less offended by the blatant sexism and misogyny that inflects coverage of the phenomena.

    In other words, fanboys are “obsessed” or “nerds,” but ‘Twi-hards,’ as they’re often called, are “crazy.” As if the transferal of passion from robots and lightsabers to vampires and romance somehow makes ridicule okay, sanctioned, even necessary.

    For me, it comes down to a question of ridiculing others’ forms of pleasure. I have friends who glue their eyes to fantasy sports computer screens (and television screens) while engaging in self-destructive behaviors. They cry, they pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars to see their heroes and idols perform up close. They buy merchandise with those idols’ (and their ‘performance names’) nicknames embossed. They anticipate the day of their passion’s arrival (for a sequel, if you will) with childlike abandon. They skip work, neglect household chores.

    And yet those invested in a romance, as opposed to a game with a ball, are crazy.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m not intending to make fun of football fans. I, for one, like football. But even if I didn’t, I would respect that others take pleasure in what I might deem a time and emotion suck, and that’s enough to justify the time and emotion they expend.

    As for the feminist angle, my own pleasure in the series prompted me to perform a semester’s worth of research and contemplation and ethnography. Crucially, feminists taking pleasure in non-feminist objects and texts is nothing novel. But for arch feminists to dismiss Twilight — including the pleasures it provides burgeoning and established feminists — will only serve to alienate and divide the already fractured feminist community. (Bitch Magazine did just this in a vitriolic article last year). Tania Modleski reminded us of this fact as concerns the soap opera way back in 1980, and we appear to have developed a case of scholastic amnesia.

    Indeed, the shame articulated by 20-something and middle-aged fans has everything to do with cultural expectations, including the stigma of “reading down” or “cross-generationally.” In other words, as a 28 year old feminist, I “shouldn’t” be reading in the YA section — if I do own the books, I should always introduce my fandom with a caveat. Do we require caveats for other passions? Even academic ones? “I know it’s sometimes degraded within the academy, but I REALLY LOVE CULTURAL STUDIES!”

    What’s more important is to think through the ways in which this text is important at this particular moment. I, for one, am attending a screening tomorrow night with a gaggle of Twilight-loving Ph.D. student feminists. I’m not wearing a Team Edward shirt or painting fake blood on my neck, but I’m also not ashamed.

  5. Lindsay H. Garrison on November 19, 2009 at 11:03 PM

    Thanks for these insightful comments.

    Kelli, I concur that certain narrative elements and representations in the Twilight Saga are absolutely troubling. For instance, aspects of Bella and Edward’s relationship certainly allow for readings of control issues and stalker-esque behavior. As a feminist and a scholar, it’s important to me that we take up the project of interrogating the text, its representations, and how audiences make meaning of it.

    But Annie raises a crucial point that rejecting/dismissing Twilight or devaluing pleasures one might derive from it, can ultimately be destructive. It’s a fine line to walk, though, between problematizing aspects of a text and still recognizing the importance and legitimacy of those who enjoy it. This brings me back what Liz said, that we find ourselves in the throes of “…classic patriarchal culture – offering women images of what they ‘should’ want (romance, etc.) and then belittling them when they do want it. After all, if women’s interests were taken seriously, it could be a threat.” Well put.

  6. Kelli Marshall on November 20, 2009 at 2:40 PM

    Absolutely, Lindsay! I apologize if I sounded as though I was completely rejecting or dismissing TWILIGHT altogether. That was certainly not my intent.

    There’s no doubt that the texts–both written and cinematic–are “important and legitimate,” as you and Anne so nicely point out. Indeed, such a phenomenon SHOULD turn the heads of critics, media scholars, etc.

    I guess I’m just wondering if the responses to the underlying questions above (i.e., Why is all of this so attractive and luring? What meanings and/or pleasures are readers/viewers taking from it?) are considerably more complex than the one answer Liz presents.

    In other words, aren’t the books/films attractive and luring primarily because they offer females images of what they are supposed to want (e.g., romance, marriage, a savior, etc.)? Similarly, aren’t the meanings that the target audience likely gleans from the books/films founded on notions of what they are supposed to want (e.g., true romance, destiny, The One)? As well, aren’t box-office lines currently flooded because the reader/viewer is being offered what she has been conditioned to want (e.g., a handsome, caring, protective male character/actor; identification with a lead female who will do anything for love, the ultimate relationship, etc.)? Finally, aren’t even the fans who are screening the film to see a potential offscreen relationship unfold onscreen (see Anne’s blog for more on the Stewart/Pattinson relationship) going for similar purposes (e.g., to see sparks fly, experience “true” love, etc.).

    In brief, do you think the target audience, youngish female readers–not feminists, cultural studies scholars, etc.–would provide other answers to the above? If so, what might they say; and would it revolve around something other than romance and/or domesticity? If not, what does THAT mean? =)

  7. Lindsay H. Garrison on November 20, 2009 at 4:02 PM

    Oh, no, Kelli – I didn’t think you were totally rejecting/dismissing twilight or twihards! I apologize if I implied as much. My response was just my way of stumbling through my thoughts of how challenging it is to really think through how we avoid devaluing fans and pleasures while still troubling the texts. Responding to the underlying questions you raise is absolutely a complex task, especially considering the wide variety of different readings fans bring to the text.

    What youngish female readers are identifying with or finding pleasure in Twilight is as equally a complex question. Some might be drawn to the romance and a savior figure in Edward; others may be drawn to the father/daughter relationship; and still others may be drawn to the experience of community that Twilight fandom offers, (or perhaps all of these at once), to name only a few possible readings.

    I think there are certainly some Twihards that, no matter their age or other forms of self-identification, can and do find meanings in the text other than romance and domesticity. And as for what that means, to me it means that young female fans are active, legitimate makers of cultural meaning, a notion that underscores all of our points here that we should not (cannot?) dismiss Twilight, Twihards, or any other young screaming female fan or the questions they raise, no matter how complex.

    On a related note, I have to say that I’m looking forward to taking four 12 year-old girls to a screening of New Moon tonight (they’re girls I babysit for). I plan to write about the experience in another Antenna post next week. 🙂

  8. Kelli Marshall on November 20, 2009 at 8:34 PM

    Whew–I’m glad to read about the possibility of other meanings such as the father/daughter relationship and sense of community. Thanks for enlightening me to that! Looking forward to your your next post… =)

  9. Annie Petersen on November 21, 2009 at 11:24 AM

    As I mention above, I’ve done *a lot* of thinking on this very topic, Kelli — especially as concerns the ways in which various women negotiate readings from what is, ostensibly, an almost non-feminist text. If either of you (or anyone else who happens to be reading this) wants to read the ethnography/article I wrote on adult feminist Twilight fans, just send me an email. It’s currently under review, but who knows how long that will take.