Heroines with Teeth: Pop culture blogger takes bite out of Twilight series

Popular culture blogger takes a bite out of the Twilight series

If the goal of Nebraska Wesleyan’s Women’s Resource Center was to increase awareness of its presence on campus, its decision to sponsor a discussion on the popular Twilight series was nothing short of brilliant.

An overwhelmingly female crowd of NWU students filed shoulder-to-shoulder into the Callen Conference Center to hear fan culture expert and Toronto blogger Nikki Stafford (nikkistafford.blogspot.com) speak on the vampire/werewolf/teen-obsession epic. She titled her lecture, “Love Is Irrational: Why We Love and Loathe Twilight”.

Stafford is fascinated by television and popular culture and has published companion guides to such series as “Xena,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Alias” and “Lost.” While her publications remain mute on Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, the bio picture on Stafford’s blog tips her hand. In it, Stafford stands smiling with arms crossed in a black T-shirt that reads in Gothic script:

Students ask

After Stafford’s lecture, students voiced some excellent questions.

How do you respond to people who say, “Anything that gets young people reading is a good thing?”

Nikki Stafford: Candy bars will get kids to eat. That doesn’t mean it’s good for them.

What impact might these books have on teen relationships? Does their popularity increase the likelihood of abuse?

NS: The what-ifs are so tough. I’m skeptical when people claim that the arts or media cause certain behaviors. But I do worry. People say, “Obsession is becoming the new love.” That’s not good.

Will you let your children read the Twilight books?

NS: I don’t want my 7-year-old daughter to pick these up. But I don’t think I’d stop her if she did in a few years. If she does, afterwards, we’ll chat. We’ll talk about relationships in the books and in her life.

Why study this stuff? Why not stick to more literary things?

NS: Examining popular literature is important because we can’t allow popularity to be the sole measurement of something’s value. If we do that, we’ll continue to be spoon-fed things you really shouldn’t swallow.

AND THEN BUFFY STAKED EDWARD.  THE END.

A “Twi-hard”, Stafford is not. But, resisting the urge to dislike things based solely on what she hears, she decided to dive headfirst into the books, reading them all in the span of several days. She came out the other side unchanged, calling the books “so colossally bad as to make good dinner conversation.”

Ouch.

Far worse than Edward Cullen’s “abusive, patronizing nature,” or Jacob Black’s “pushiness” was, in Stafford’s estimation, Bella Swan’s “endless moaning, whining and ingratitude.”

Stafford prefers her teen heroines cut from stronger fabric. She pointed to Buffy Summers in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as an unbending young woman willing to fight ruthlessly for what she believes in. “Does Bella have anything on Buffy as a fighter?” she asked.

And Stafford “adores Katniss (Everdeen),” the teen protagonist in Suzanne Collins’s young adult novel, The Hunger Games, who sacrifices tremendously to protect her sister. “Does Bella have anything on Katniss’s pain?”

But in drawing these comparisons, Stafford came to see Bella’s legitimate appeal as a character. “Buffy and Katniss are not who we were as teenagers,” Stafford told an audience that included a good number of students still shy of their 20th birthdays. “They’re who we wanted to be."

“As adults, we can be Buffies and Katnisses. We can suck it up. As a mother, I can say I’d do for my daughter what Katniss did for her sister in a heartbeat. Every mother would. But as teenagers, it’s different.”

Bella is not who we wanted to be. She is, instead, who we were. “She is us,” Stafford said. “Stephenie Meyer, for better or worse, has captured a time in our teen lives.” A time when we did moan and complain pretty much constantly. A time when we obsessed irrationally and deeply. A time when it was dangerously easy to confuse obsession for love.

Twilight shows us that. It’s little wonder so many of us cringe at the sight. Nor is it any surprise that so many others watch and read in wonder. What is surprising is the great many of us who do both.

NWU Associate Professor of History Meghan Winchell has also published work on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Go to archways.nebrwesleyan.edu to see our review of Winchell’s Buffy in the Classroom: Essays on Teaching with the Vampire Slayer.