I attended a science fiction convention earlier this year, and as I’ve invariably seen at various cons around the country, a panel went off-topic to make snide remarks about the novel Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer. Ever since wildly successful movies were made of her books, those involved in the science fiction community at large, professional and fan alike, have gone out of their way to shun and demean Twilight, its author, and its fans.
This behavior has gone on in regards to Ms. Meyer’s work ad nauseam, and I’ve found it nauseating. Picking on Twilight and its fans is nothing more than schoolyard bullying on a mass scale. We as a Science Fiction and Fantasy community are guilty of intolerance and outright hatred of authors we don’t think have credentials or fit in with our worldview of what this fandom should be.
After hearing the mean-spirited comments at the convention, I decided to look up Ms. Meyer, see what she’s been doing in recent years. Ms. Meyer shies away from the public eye, which is understandable given the amount of backlash thrown her way over having written a teen romance novel. Her most recent interview I could find was on Variety.com, in 2013. It shows exactly how the treatment fandom has given her has impacted her as a writer and as a person:
“DM: What about a return to “Twilight?”
SM: I get further away every day. I am so over it. For me, it’s not a happy place to be.”
Why is this not a happy place to be? She elaborates on her own blog:
“Even those of you who love Twilight the most (in fact, especially those who love it the most) have probably noticed that there’s been just a teensy little bit of backlash following the success of the books and films. I try my hardest to be thick-skinned, but I’m not much better at that than I am at brevity. So when I speak of Twilight becoming a negative place for me, it is entirely that near-omnipresent Twilight antipathy that I am speaking of. And I’m not complaining or saying it’s unfair—I totally understand and even empathize with its existence. I’m just saying that Twilight isn’t the wholly positive place for me that it once was.”
(Source: http://stepheniemeyer.com/ )
It’s clear that Ms. Meyer is deeply hurt by the comments she receives. The treatment she’s received is due to no crime on her part, but solely because her portrayal of vampires, characters in her book do not align with some vocal others’ thoughts of what those “should be”.
Upon seeing her blog, I made the decision to purchase and read Twilight, to see what the fuss was about. I mentioned this on Facebook, and received more comments with visceral reaction on my decision to read this YA novel than anything I’ve ever posted or commented upon. These comments came from a range of professional authors to casual fans. A microcosm of what I’ve seen at conventions across America. This must be some book to evoke such an emotional response.
Twilight is a quick read. The characters are compelling and realistic as teenagers, and most importantly, every page drips with emotion. There are some prose elements I take exception with and would have edited, but for the most part, the book is fine for what it is: a teen romance novel. It’s billed, marketed and sold as a teen romance book, so what are people taking exception with? No one was lied to in the course of Twilight’s marketing. Ms. Meyer doesn’t make any promises in or out of the prose that would lead people to believe Twilight is anything other than what it ended up being.
There are two reasons for the hatred:
1. A Mainstream Work. The science fiction community has a hipster mentality when it comes to one of their beloved creations reaching the masses. You can see this reaction with Star Trek, Star Wars, or any franchise that was a niche fandom, that exploded and became mainstream. I’m guilty of it myself.
2. Mainstream Fans. Its fans don’t match what the core fandom perceives as correct or “being one of them.” Twilight fans are on average popular, teenage girls. As much as SF/F fandom champions open-mindedness and inclusiveness, this kind of different is something that they don’t want intruding upon their territory. This group of fans represents those who bullied us when we were younger, so we don’t want to open the door to having our fandom ripped away from us. It’s fear of someone that’s different.
The constant barrage of criticism, calling Twilight crap, and its fans stupid is bullying—plain and simple. It’s the exact same scenario as a jock calling a glasses-wearing Star Trek fan a geek, pointing and laughing at them in the high school halls. This larger scale reaction hurts authors, fans of their work, and finally our own fandom because 1. We’re losing out on a lot of different people and perspectives and 2. We’re being hypocritical in our self-proclaimed open-mindedness.
This hatred isn’t unique to Twilight. To a lesser degree, this happened with Harry Potter. More recently, Kylie and Kendall Jenners (of Kardashian fame) released a YA novel. The internet summarily ganged up and loaded their book with 1 star reviews before the book was even released. (source: http://io9.com/the-ya-novel-by-kim-kardashians-sisters-has-nothing-but-1586705251 ) There are enough examples of this group-hate to fill books.
This bullying is disconcerting to say the least. But what can we do about it?
1. Remember this is just a story. Authors write their own worldview may not align with yours. The book may not be written to your tastes because it wasn’t intended for you. Stories may have a point, have a theme, be read for fun, or have any other number of reasons to exist. Criticizing because it doesn’t appeal to your own reasons for wanting its existence is an exercise in futility. Do we really want a world where there’s just one book because a single person decided that’s all that plays to their tastes? Our culture and fandom is stronger for its diversity. Its appeal to other’s worldviews doesn’t make the piece of art trash or something an author should say “I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail,” as one author wrote regarding another.
2. Welcome everyone to fandom! Fans of any work are passionate about their fandoms. Why not accept them into fandom, which will allow for more and richer programming, creating larger and more fun conventions for all? We can still enjoy the art we respectively enjoy, while others can enjoy the art they enjoy, and we all can come together and celebrate our passions as equals. You may find more common ground than you think.
3. Speak out. If you see something, say something. Defending a person or work of art is bold move, but it will help the long term health of our community. Be respectful, don’t name call or engage in anger. If enough people get on this bandwagon, we can put an end to negativity, exclusiveness and hatred in fandom.
I hope this has been helpful to anyone reading, and remember: this can apply to a person’s politics, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs or any aspect of life. Just substitute the bullying in regards to books, and apply it to another topic. It’d be whole separate essays to address any of these points specifically, but it’s easy to see where the intolerances and hatred in the science fiction community exist. My goal is to make sure our fandom is a safe and welcoming place for everyone. That includes vampires who sparkle in the sunlight.