Amanda Zhang: There's no shame in liking "Twilight"

Wednesday, February 6, 2019 - 6:04pm

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The Michigan Daily

As a little girl, I was something of a tomboy. I played jackpot in the mud at recess, and my Christmas wish lists consisted of baseball mitts and remote controlled cars. Skirts were my mortal enemy, and, much to my parents’ chagrin, I was always unbearably uncooperative at the mall. While I have incredibly fond memories of those times, my adolescent years were also haunted by a dark secret — I was a Twihard.

I distinctly remember watching the first "Twilight" movie and gawking at Bella and Edward’s forbidden love and Edward’s mysterious disposition. But to those who knew me — or so they thought — "Twilight" was just a stupid movie. Bella was boring, Edward’s sparkly skin was absurd and their romance was over-the-top cheesy. After the second movie came out and the world divided itself into Team Jacob or Team Edward, my guy friends and I judged the “obsessive” fans with disgust. Little did they know, I was a closeted Edward supporter.

As a disclaimer, I have since grown up to realize the many flaws in the "Twilight" franchise and the problematic power dynamic between the two main love interests. That being said, "Twilight" fans have faced a uniquely harsh judgment in our society, and a lot of it has nothing to do with these flaws. For whatever reason, the franchise has become the poster-child of anti-intellectual, unartistic, cinematic garbage. Even as a little girl, I knew that if I wanted respect from my male friends, I had to join the camp that disdained the vampire-obsessed girls. I couldn’t be seen as a member of Team Edward because everyone knew that the people who bothered themselves with that nonsense didn’t know "good" film.

"Twilight" is an extreme case, but it is certainly not the only example of a franchise whose fan base receives frequent criticism and judgment. In middle school, it was "Pretty Little Liars," "Gossip Girl" and "The Vampire Diaries." In college, it’s "Grey’s Anatomy" and "The Bachelor." It’s no secret that all of these shows and movies share a common thread: Their target audience is female.

Yes, the criticism these shows and movies face is not entirely unfounded. Was “Twilight” a groundbreaking, Oscar-deserving film? Obviously not, but the degree to which our society loathes these particular shows and films is rooted in something more than just their lack of originality. It is rooted in a sexist attitude toward entertainment that goes almost entirely unrecognized.

Society spends far too much time judging works that target female audiences. Yes, when artists release a piece to the public, they must be prepared for strong opinions, and it is perfectly within the rights of the public to share their praises and criticisms. But among public reception of certain works, particularly in the film and television industry, is a commonplace contempt for those that target female audiences.

The judgment towards fanbases of traditionally “girly” works is dehumanizing. Girls are painted as irrational and foolish for succumbing to the appeal of drama, romance and fantasy. They lose credibility and respect merely for enjoying certain forms of entertainment. Moreover, the girls who take part in the judgement of those who like such works earn praise for managing to “rise above” their sex’s tendency to gravitate toward such primitive cliches.

For some reason, when girls enjoy "Twilight," their lack of taste is irreconcilable, but there is no such equivalent in entertainment that targets a more traditional male audience. In fact, when girls like these traditionally male-targeted films, it is seen as an impressive display of good taste. If you like "Twilight," you’re irredeemable, but if you like "Star Wars," you’re a game changer.

We all know the popular complaint against shows like "The Vampire Diaries" and "Grey’s Anatomy." They’re repetitive, predictable and overly dramatic, and those that enjoy such entertainment simply have no taste. While these series receive a seemingly constant stream of backlash, television shows and films like "Criminal Minds" and the millionth installment of "Mission Impossible" that cater to a more general or male audience receive virtually no such criticism. Yes, sometimes we make fun of these works for being repetitive and predictable, but nobody is shouting that those who enjoyed them are intellectually inferior.

The fact of the matter is, franchises earn success with unoriginal work because there are certain tropes, that, no matter how overused, pique our interest. Nobody is watching "Mission Impossible" expecting a life changing viewing experience. We watch because it’s entertaining to see Tom Cruise save the world with some last ditch effort, even if it is for the seventh time. Similarly, girls don’t watch "Twilight" seeking enlightenment. They watch because forbidden love and vampires are exciting.

There is a disturbing double standard in public reception of film and television, and it is reflective of a greater societal perception of traditional femininity. Succumbing to conventionally “girly” norms is not a bad thing. There is nothing inherently worse about liking "Twilight" than there is about liking any other cliche action film, and our punishment as "Twilight" fans has lasted far too long. It’s time we let it go.

Amanda Zhang can be reached at amanzhan@umich.edu.