Twilight’s fandoms and critically interactive readerships

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Some really great critical material came out of the phenomenon that was ‘Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga’. One of those pieces, by Rachel Hendershot Parkin (2010), looks at the way the Twilight Saga evidences a particular kind of relationship between author and reader – a particularly critical, interactive readership. Here are a couple of the points Hendershot Parkin makes:

The Twilight saga’s enormous popularity is closely tied to its author’s tense relationship with her fans. Meyer’s frequent interaction with fans via online media disrupts their expectations and leads to competing interpretations.” (p.61)

“I would suggest that, […] the more fans interact with and read the books, the more the constructed world of the texts becomes collectively defined and anticipated. When the fandom’s collective vision of the textual world is undermined, fans personally feel deceived and misled and resist the altered structure. The fandom then turns to the most accessible outlet for its frustrations—the Internet—which gives a united voice to its displeasure and a venue for its action against author and text.” (p.61)

The constant scuffling and ensuing stalemate between Meyer and the Twilight fandom encourages us to consider the Twilight saga as a model for thinking about how online media has changed horizons of expectation and equalized textual ownership. In Textual Poachers, Jenkins argues that “fans operate from a position of cultural marginality and social weakness” (26) and that, in inhabiting such a weak position, “fans are peasants, not proprietors” (27). In his more recent study, Convergence Culture, he admits that fandoms have grown into a more participatory culture, rather than remaining in a culture of isolation. While he certainly captures the essence of online fandoms with the term “participatory culture,” he still fails to recognize the real power to influence ownership that fandoms have garnered through co-operative Internet use. The Twilighters certainly do not exist as “peasants.” Full-fledged “participants,” they enact a constant tug-of-war with Stephenie Meyer for proprietorship of the Twilight saga.” (p.81)

feminist criticism and the discussions between author and fans over how to interpret the texts…

The friction between Meyer and the Twilight fandom appears most visibly in feminist responses, which are in turn complicated by a connection to the romance genre, and in disagreements over what is “canon” in the series. Online communities and conversations, then, develop a sense of ownership in fandoms by creating a more shared horizon of expectation that is centred on its fans. As Meyer shows us, the result is that, by engaging with fans, authors actually empower their fandoms in a way that tips the balance of power and the ownership of text toward the reader.” (p.62)

“In an interview with MTV, Meyer admitted to enjoying questions about Bella and feminism because they give her the opportunity to set the record straight by explaining her version, an indication of the level of control Meyer likes to retain over her creation.” (p.67)

remaining faithful to the internal canon of the series – fans’ reactions to the pregnancy and what it shows about the author-text-reader relationship

“…a large body of the fan reaction to Breaking Dawn was […] acerbic and accusatory, indicating the personal level at which the fans felt betrayed by Meyer’s alleged departure from her canon. The Twilighters’ horizon of expectation had grown so concrete and was so disturbed by the last book that they rebelled against it. […] As Bella’s pregnancy is confirmed and her attachment to the unborn child grows, the fandom’s attachment seemed to sever. Instead of leaving the fan community and the books behind to move on to more satisfying reading, however, many Twilighters continue to participate in the fandom by expressing their disappointment and by focusing on their love of the first three books in the saga.” (p.71)

An overwhelming fan consensus on Renesmee’s birth suggests that Meyer’s failure to prepare fans for the possibility of Bella’s pregnancy, coupled with her insistence that the vampire-fathered child fits into the established Twilight canon, created a sense of betrayal. Between accusations of stealing from fan fiction, physiological problem solving, and comparisons with other vampire media, Meyer emerges from the Breaking Dawn release not as a celebrated author of the final instalment of a saga with a cult-like following, but rather an author accused of unfaithfulness to her own canon—accusations, it should be pointed out, made possible and even forcible through massive online agreement in forums, blogs, reviews, and other such discussions.” (p.73)

choice, free will and Bella’s easy out – how this evidences fans unique relationship with the series…

The first three books of the Twilight series revolve around choice, namely Bella’s life-altering choices such as pursuing a relationship with Jacob or Edward, getting married, and changing into a vampire, suggesting a privileging of free will in the series’ canon.” (p.74)  “…in the first three books, autonomous choice plays an integral role in plot development and establishes itself as an important canonical feature of the Twilight saga.” (p.75)

“There is a strong feeling in the Twilight fandom that besides taking the final choices away from her [Bella], Meyer rendered her previous choices less meaningful by the happy ending to the saga, in which she gets everything and everyone she wants.” (p.75)

“Summing up these common fan responses, K. Bray writes that “Breaking Dawn betrays the story of Eclipse and makes Bella’s struggles and difficult choice almost meaningless—she doesn’t have to sacrifice anything after all.” While online discussions offer a multitude of different views on how the saga should have ended and what exactly Bella should have been forced to give up, the common thread that ties them together is the feeling that she should have given up at least something. All these reactions in their many and varied forms, from respectful to flaming and biological to comparative, show how closely fans adhere to canonical precedent and the horizon of expectation and how such adherence fuels ownership claims throughout the fandom.” (p.76)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Rachel Hendershot Parkin (2010) ‘Breaking Faith: Disrupted Expectations and Ownership in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, Volume 2, Issue 2, Winter, pp. 61-85

Some of the critics she refers to (and which sounded interesting) include: Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992.

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