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Posts Tagged ‘fandom’

Reading the Twi-Hards

The other day when I was getting a haircut, my 30-something female stylist told me that she had been reading Twilight, the bestselling novel about teenage romance between Bella the human and Edward the vampire.  My hairstylist and I talked about the book for a while (which I have not read), and then she described the evening when she first watched the film version (which I have seen) at home on DVD.  She told me that at the end of the film she was in tears, and she inexplicably cried out to her husband, who was working on his computer in the next room, “Why can’t you love me like that?”

Last spring, an undergraduate student in my popular culture class told a similar story.  A friend of hers had broken up with a boyfriend because the love she had with the boyfriend did not approximate the love that Bella and Edward shared.  And that was the kind of love that the young woman wanted.

When I share these stories with friends, their responses always range from disbelief to disgust.  No one coos, “Ah, how sweet.”  Even the hairstylist told me she was embarrassed by her behavior.  Why do fan stories like these make us so uncomfortable?  I’ll offer two perspectives, one cultural and the other historical, that may help us think about this question.

One of the negative stereotypes we have of fans of any cultural phenomenon is that their behavior potentially verges on fanaticism.  Being a fan is okay, but being a fanatic is not.  Showing loyalty to a professional football team by wearing a jersey on game day is a reasonable way to express fandom.  Maintaining a candlelit shrine to the quarterback in one’s living room is excessive.  Why?  As a culture, we feel the need to differentiate between acceptable and extreme fan behavior, even if we don’t necessarily agree on what exactly the demarcation is.  Moreover, we often believe that our own personal expressions of fandom are completely reasonable; it is always others who are fanatical.  As a 39-year-old fan of Star Wars, I have a Mr. Potato Head Darth Vader on my desk, and I talk like Yoda sometimes with my friends, but that’s normal.  Someone shouting out, “Why can’t you love me like Edward loves Bella?”—well, that’s downright bizarre.

There is also a long history in the United States of women’s reading habits being subjected to public scrutiny and harsh judgment.  Over 200 years ago, for instance, (male) commentators warned about the impact of fiction reading on the female sensibility.  Consider this passage from “Novel Reading, a Cause of Female Depravity” (1797): “The poor deluded female imbibes erroneous principles [from novels], and from thence pursues a flagrantly vicious line of conduct.”  Or this admonition from a 1792 tract: “Novels not only pollute the imaginations of young women, but likewise give them false ideas of life, which too often make them act improperly.”  When we tut tut the Twilight fans, we actually evoke a long standing, biased discourse about gender, leisure, and the cultural construction of romance in America.

I believe it’s important to take fandom seriously, even if it makes us uncomfortable.  Fandom is one way that everyday people express their sense of identity, community, and cultural participation.  Studying fandom can also reveal our societal biases about “good and bad” recreation, or “right and wrong” expressions of cultural enthusiasm.

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