Abjection and Fictional Girl-Animal Relationships

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I’m not usually big on the psychoanalytic tradition, but Jennifer Marchant’s analysis of fictional girl-animal relationships (including Lessa’s relationship with her dragon, Ramoth, in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight (1968)) is interesting. The questions she poses are worth considering and the approach she takes is fruitful. Her explanation of ‘abjection’ is also perfectly accessible  and fits rather perfectly!

“…what did that relationship between girl and dragon mean to [the protagonist of Dragonflight,] Lessa—and to me, the young reader? In this article, I want to suggest that, in Dragonflight and many other novels, the powerful relationship between adolescent female protagonist and animal plays a vital part in the protagonist’s psychic development. Moreover, I wish to make the argument that Kristevan theory is an especially useful lens for examining this bond and for considering the appeal these books have for many adolescent readers.” (p.3)

Abjection
“The time of boundary establishment is difficult and painful for the infant. On the one hand, she longs to continue the blissful unity with her mother’s body. But on the other, she fears being reincorporated with her mother, “falling back under the sway of a power as securing as it is stifling”. In order to establish herself as autonomous, she needs to separate herself from her mother’s body. Kristeva calls this period between unity-with-mother and autonomy “abjection.” Abjection is uncomfortable, both to the abject and to those within the social order. Kristeva describes it as that which “disturbs identity, system, order. [It is] what does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite”. This is where the imaginary father comes in, comforting the child with “his” love, and thus preventing her from merging back into nonidentity. Abjection is not confined to infancy; it appears at any point in which someone is temporarily or permanently in a state of in-betweenness, not really one thing nor the other. This in-betweenness occurs both on a relatively small scale (concerning the individual and/or her relationships with family members) and on a larger one (concerning the individual’s relationship with community or country). The need for an imaginary father, then, is not outgrown, but continues throughout adult life, although “he” may change form. [-p.5] For example, the imaginary father may reappear in adults’ search for totally satisfying sexual relationships and/or a loving and comforting God.
Adolescents may have an especially strong need for imaginary fathers. Kristeva suggests that adolescence is a time of “psychic reorganization,” a time when people “begin to question their identifications, as well as their capacities to speak and to symbolize”.” (pp.4-5)

“Not only is the adolescent trying to establish boundaries between herself and her parents, but between her own community(ies) and those she deems “outsiders.” In addition, she must deal with her developing sexuality.” (p.5)

“Thus, the adolescent may have to deal simultaneously with several sorts of abjection, and so be powerfully drawn to descriptions of fictional imaginary fathers and their relationships with similarly abject protagonists. Such descriptions may not only reassure the reader that her experiences are not unique, but suggest that abjection can be resolved.
Lessa, in Dragonflight, is a good example of adolescent abjection and resolution.” (p.5)

It is through Ramoth that Lessa is eventually able to come to terms with both her social and sexual states of abjection.” (p.6)

“Moreover, Lessa’s uncertainties about her sexuality and her relationship with F’lar are resolved when Ramoth mates with F’lar’s dragon.” (p.6)

“For both Lessa and Opal [in Because of Winn-Dixie], companion animals play a vital role in drawing boundaries.” (p.7) “The animals also help the girls move from being “outsiders” in their new communities to being accepted members. In these ways, they act as imaginary fathers.” (p.7)

“Considering the animals as imaginary fathers suggests one way in which to interpret a common motif in girl-animal stories. While a child may have to share her parents’ love with siblings, the imaginary father’s love is for the child alone. In a similar fashion, the animal in these stories often displays a marked preference for the protagonist. Usually, this is for an unusual aspect of her personality, rather than because she is the one who feeds it.” (p.7)

“Freud suggested that the ego ideal—one’s internalized sense of what is right and good—is founded on the infant’s identification with the “father in prehistory” (or, to use Kristeva’s term, the imaginary father). The child’s later identification with her parents reinforces this. However, an adolescent has presumably already incorporated her parents’ standards, and is now in the process of separating herself from her family. At this stage, then, one might expect an imaginary father to help her explore parental standards as she decides whether to keep or reject them. Indeed, this pattern often appears in girl-animal stories—although, at least in the ones I surveyed, the animals are far more likely to reinforce the parents’ standards than to instigate rebellion against them.” (p.8)

I think it is probably significant that so many of the protagonists in this genre are attached to animals associated with power and freedom—horses, large dogs, wolves, dragons, and falcons. It is also worth noting that animals are outside the patriarchal social and linguistic systems that marginalize women. In identifying with animals, girls and women may seek an alternative social system in which they are not regarded as the inferior “other.” Although animals are not generally believed to use language, many of those in girl-animal stories communicate very effectively via vocalizations, body signals, and/or telepathy. In this sense, they may represent an alternative to male-privileged language. Thus, while the animals still ultimately function to integrate the protagonists into patriarchal society, they may also imply that this society can be questioned, subverted, and perhaps eventually changed.” (p.9)

In a number of novels, the protagonist learns that the animal itself is less important than the supportive structure it has helped her develop.” (p.13)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Marchant, Jennifer ‘An Advocate, a Defender, an Intimate”: Kristeva’s Imaginary Father in Fictional Girl-Animal Relationships’ Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, 30(1), Spring 2005, pp. 3-15

the fear of crime as a phenomenon shaping the life of cities

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Over a decade ago (and, perhaps significantly(?), before 9/11), Rachel Pain reviewed the literature on “fear of crime as a phenomenon shaping the life of cities” (p.899), focusing on  “debates on race, age, gender and fear in the city, as these are the social identities which have received most attention.” (p.899). She wrote:

Much thinking about social identity and fear of crime has tended to be dichotomised. … For example, different groups of young people are widely constructed either as threatening, or threatened; there are powerful discourses which position people of colour as offenders or victims; and in much of the literature men are viewed as fearless but fear-provoking, and women as fearful and passive. Such dualisms reflect a wider criminological fallacy that certain groups commit crime and other are victims of it (except for people in low-income areas who are widely viewed as involved in both). Recent research is pointing to the diversity and complexity of issues around social identity and fear; so that although theoretical frameworks can and should be developed (one which emphasises social exclusion is applied in this paper), the currency of stereotypes and even the usefulness of gender, race and age as social categories need to be critically appraised and the intersections between different identities in their relationships to crime and fear require further explorationAnother set of dualisms which the geographical literature has begun to problematise is around the spaces and places in which fear is situated—for example, public versus private, safe versus dangerous, low-income estates versus suburbs—and the ways in which people negotiate them. In fact, most discussions of fear in the city deal only with public spaces which are shared with strangers. As recent research has shown, crimes such as domestic violence, acquaintance violence and elder abuse also have a role to play in the construction of fear. This paper includes in its scope homes, workspaces and other private and semiprivate places, which are as much a part of ‘the urban’ as streets, shopping malls and parks. While many people strongly associate fear with speciŽfic places, reflecting wider [-p.900] ideologies of public space as dangerous and private space as safe, fear and safety in different spaces are interconnected—for example, experiences of danger in private space affect feelings of security in public at an individual and societal level.” (pp.899-900)

For the purposes of this paper, Pain defines ‘fear of crime as “as the wide range of emotional and practical responses to crime and disorder made by individuals and communities.” (p.901)

Fear of crime can be considered to create and reinforce exclusion from social life and from particular urban spaces in a number of ways [which she goes on to discuss ].” (p.902)

“Almost every survey of fear of crime Ž finds that women report being more fearful of crime than men. Whether in the home, the workplace or the city, it is fear of sexual violence and harassment from men which underpins women’s higher fear (Gordon and Riger, 1989; Valentine, 1989). Feminists have viewed women’s higher fear of crime as a manifestation of gender oppression and a damaging form of control of women’s lives, reproducing traditional notions about women’s ‘place’ in society (Hanmer and Saunders, 1984; Pain, 1991; Valentine, 1989).” (p.903) “However, there are some conflicts between theoretical development and empirical evidence around women’s fear of urban spaces […and it has been suggested] that men’s fear may be considerably higher than previously thought….” (p.903)

“Much relevant research on women’s fear has revolved around two key paradoxes. / The Ž first and earliest is the paradox between levels of fear and violence discussed in the introduction—when women’s high fear of crime was Žfirst discovered, it appeared far greater than their actual risks of victimisation….” (p.903) “A second paradox has been identiŽfied and explored by geographers—most research shows a mismatch between the types of location in which physical and sexual violence usually occur (private space) and the locations in which most women fear (public spaces), calling into question the idea that levels of victimisation can explain fear alone. To resolve this spatial paradox, feminists have argued that women are misinformed about the main location of danger, through the institutions of the family, the education system and the media (Hanmer and Saunders, 1984; Valentine, 1989). More recent research has indicated that misinformation does underlie fear in public space; most women are aware that domestic violence is more common than stranger attacks, but this knowledge has little effect on their fear of crime unless they have personal experience of domestic violence (Pawson and Banks, 1993; Pain, 1997).” (p.903)

“…feminist writers such as Wilson (1991) have emphasised that the city is frequently a place of excitement and opportunity for women, not just a place to be feared. City centre spaces at once have varying meanings to different people (Pain and Townshend, forthcoming). / Different notions of femininity are also entwined with different constructions of the fear of crime. For example, some have suggested that the emphasis on ‘fear’ and its negative consequences in writing about women and crime reproduces notions about feminine weakness (Segal, 1990).” (p.904) [I couldn’t help thinking about the typical kick-ass female protagonist of much (recent!) urban fantasy here…]

“Koskela’s (1997) analysis of women’s fear of attack in Finland emphasises that women respond to the threat of crime with ‘boldness’ as well as fear and ‘spatial conŽfidence’ as well as spatial avoidance.” (p.904)

Meanwhile, “In direct contrast to women, men’s low reported fear of crime appeared anomalous from the earliest crime surveys because they experienced relatively high rates of violence. Aggregate data suggest that men are largely at risk from strangers and acquaintances in public places including streets, pubs and clubs, but there is also a risk from partners in the home.” (p.905)

Where men have been the subject of qualitative research, this has suggested that, at least for some, the effects of fear may be just as great as for women (Gilchrist et al., 1998; Stanko and Hobdell, 1993). Gilchrist et al. (1998) examine the cases of fearful men and fearless women in order to demonstrate that fear and boldness, although they may be gendered, are not essentially female or male qualities.” (p.905)

“…it is inappropriate to deal with race, gender, age and other social identities simply as descriptive categories in analysis of the fear of crime. Rather, in each case, fear of crime (and the crimes feared) are often structured by age, race and gender, as this paper has outlined. When gender, age and race are viewed as social relations which are based upon unequal distributions of power, they begin to explain who is most affected by fear, and where.” (p.910)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Rachel Pain (2001) Gender, Race, Age and Fear in the City Urban Studies, Vol. 38, Nos 5–6, 899–913

Hermione in the Bathroom (the construction of female gender through the Gothic elements of Harry Potter) – June Cummins

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June Cummins writes:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 2Anyone teaching, as well as many people reading, the Harry Potter series is aware that J.K. Rowling borrows from, or blends in, a number of literary genres while writing her books. A learned, sophisticated reader could rattle off the names of particular genres, such as school stories, the Bildungsroman, high fantasy, epic, medieval legend, and so on; while even a relatively untutored or inexperienced reader can sense the connections between Harry Potter and well-known stories such as Star Wars or famous fairytales like Cinderella Yet, despite the classic ‘trappings’ of a Gothic novel, including ‘castles, ghosts, corrupt clergy, and so on,’ as described by Donna Heiland in Gothic and Gender (2004: 4), not much mention of the Gothic has been made in the critical discourse of the Harry Potter novels. For example, as of June 2006, a search on the terms ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘gothic’ through the MLA bibliography database yielded zero hits On the first page of her article ‘Generic Fusion and the Mosaic of Harry Potter,’ Anne Hiebert Alton lists ‘gothic’ as one of the genres within the series, along with ‘pulp fiction, mystery…horror stories, detective fiction, the school story and the closely related sports story, and series books’ (2003: 141), but does not go on to explore the Gothic elements of the books. This lack of attention is understandable for the very reason addressed in Alton’s article title: ‘Generic Fusion.’ The Gothic elements merge so smoothly into so many other genres within the Harry Potter series and are so natural to [-p.178] its setting that they are almost invisible or at least so normalized that it appears as if they do not merit attention.” (pp.177-178)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneCummins continues: “Yet Rowling’s use of Gothic elements or conventions goes beyond the architecture of Hogwarts or the inclusion of classic haunted characters such as ghosts and werewolves throughout the series. Significantly, Gothic elements of the novel rise to the surface of the stories when the topic under consideration or at least narrative exposition is that of female development. At crucial junctures, the Gothic is blended with elements of Horror or the Grotesque in a swirl of allusions that evoke age-old narrative traditions surrounding female development. Specifically, Hermione, a most decidedly un-Gothic heroine for the vast majority of the Harry Potter series, slips into a Gothic mode at a moment of important psychical and perhaps physical transformation. Another character, however, Moaning Myrtle, very much a Gothic, as well as comic, character shows up in and remains in a Gothic mode throughout the series. …J.K. Rowling pushes hard on these elements when she needs to tell the story of female development.” (p.178)

Cummins analyses closely the scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1997) (i.e., Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) when Hermione locks herself in the bathroom, crying, and Ron and Harry send a troll in there (and then proceed to defeat it). Cummins reads this scene as pivotal to Hermione’s character – and to her relationship with Ron and Harry. She begins by demonstrating its connection (through the setting of the bathroom) with menarche and female growth, then discusses its role in changing Hermione into someone who is not just bossy, argumentative, intelligent, competitive, etc., but also willing to lie for her friends, worry about what others think of her, and rely on her (male) friends to get by. Among others, one “intertextual device linking the scene to the Gothic is that of the damsel in distress,” Cummins explains, “a character stereotype totally opposite to Hermione’s character in all other dangerous scenes that include her in the series. During this scene, Hermione becomes a traditional ingénue character.” (p.184)

Cummins poses the question: “Is Hermione an ‘agential’ adult who opens the way for social transformation and a postmodern heroine who subverts patriarchy and other forms of oppression?” (p.187) Her answer is interesting, in that it involves a parallel reading of Moaning Myrtle…:

“Moaning Myrtle, with her tears, sighs, pimples, and suicidal tendencies, is, among other things, a parody of a teenage girl. Part of that parody is her residence in the girls’ bathroom, and her intimate familiarity with sinks, pipes, and toilets. With Myrtle, Rowling simultaneously makes fun of and points out the important status of the girls’ bathroom in the lives of (pre)teenage girls.” (p.179)

Hermione’s story slips into a Gothic mode when she reaches puberty/becomes a woman, but she then exits that mode to go on to become a much more dynamic and genre-busting character. Moaning Myrtle, however is stuck in the bathroom, which is the very site of female development [Cummins explains the connection between bathrooms and menarch in YA lit earlier in her essay], and is stuck in a Gothic mode as a permanent ghost. We can argue that Myrtle is sacrificed to the Gothic plot. While there are parodic and comedic elements to her, and we laugh at her character, her tears are actually quite symbolic of the sadness behind the way girls still get arrested – stuck- in certain patterns of behavior and expectations, even today, in our supposedly post-feminist world. Myrtle, then, is a kind of heroine in her own right, as she serves as a reminder of a path many girls take, while Hermione represents the potential alternative.” (p.190)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold, mine) June Cummins ‘Hermione in the Bathroom: The Gothic, Menarche, and Female Development in the Harry Potter Series’ pp.177-193 Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats and Roderick McGillis (c2008) The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York

Reference is to: Anne Hiebert Alton (2003) Generic fusion and the mosaic of Harry Potter. In E Heilman (Ed.) Harry Potter’s World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives (pp.141-162). New York: RoutledgeFalmer

Donna Heiland (2004) Gothic and Gender: An Introduction. Malden, MA; Osford, UK; Carlton, Victoria, Australia: Blackwell Publishing.

Challenging normative masculinity and femininity in children’s horror – Heinecken

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According to Dawn Heinecken:

Horror fiction for children, including stories of the gothic, the uncanny, the supernatural, and the occult, is a dominant genre within present-day children’s literature. To date, the developing scholarship around this phenomenon has focused on the works of contemporary writers (Brennan et al., 2001; Jackson et al., 2008; Gooding, 2009). Absent from existing scholarly discussion is a consideration of [-p.119] earlier novels by writers whose works of horror fiction clearly precipitated this trend. [/] Most notable among these early practitioners is John Bellairs.” (pp.118-119)

“Featuring disturbing and uncanny imagery and plots revolving around ghosts, witches, possession, and the resurrection of the dead, his novels emerged as a significant contrast to the serene tone of children’s literature in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century (MacCleod, 1985). Popularly as well as critically acclaimed, fan websites such as Compleat Bellairs and Bellairsia.com attest to his continued significance as a major writer of children’s horror (Stasio, 1991; Sutherland, 1980).
Yet despite Bellairs’ importance in the development of children’s horror fiction, there has been no serious examination of his work to date. While popular accounts of Bellairs’ success often point to the ways that the chills of his novels are mediated by humorous elements and a reassuring message of adult love and protection (Stasio, 1991), such framings overlook the ways that his books may nonetheless be experienced by readers as terrifying, if only temporarily. Indeed, more significant than the reassuring resolution of his novels is their particular construction of the monstrous and the horrifying.

As critics of adult film and literature have noted, horror is a constantly evolving genre, whose shifting forms and content express the uncertainties haunting a society at any given time; it has been particularly expressive of fears related to gender and sexuality (Magistrale and Morris, 1996, p. 4; Williams, 1995, p. 7). Horror may function in a ‘‘reactionary’’ manner, punishing transgressions of conventional gender roles and reinforcing stereotypes, or it may function to subvert existing structures of power located around race, class, gender, and sexuality (Badley, 1995, p. 102). This essay provides a close reading of Bellairs’ foundational trilogy, The House with a Clock in Its Walls (1973), The Figure in the Shadows (1975), and The Letter, the Witch and the Ring (1976), to argue that, like works of adult horror, the trilogy is usefully understood as an exploration of the period’s fears and
anxieties related to gender and sexuality.
Published in the early and mid-seventies, Bellair’s trilogy may be situated against the mainstreaming of horror for adult audiences during the Post-Vietnam period (Schweitzer, 1999, p. 1; Carroll, 1990, p. 2; Colovita, 2008, p. 7), a mainstreaming which has been tied to the upheaval of traditional gender and sexual relations brought about by the feminist, anti-war, civil rights and gay rights movements (Clemens, 1999, p. 185; Magistrale and Morris, 1996, p. 2). These movements radically transformed discourses surrounding masculinity, destabilizing Cold War notions of a (white) masculinity built around an ideology of toughness and the image of the breadwinner and suggested the need for ‘‘a range of alternative masculinities’’ to replace this ideal (Winter, 2003, p. 118).” (p.119)

Clover […] observes that the reframing of masculinity in horror films is often dependent upon particular constructions of femininity and the female body that displace women to even more marginal realms of feminine excess (p. 105).
The three occult novels forming the original trilogy of Bellair’s series reveal a similar pattern of masculine revision and feminine displacement at work in children’s literature. Echoing changing discourses about masculinity at work in the larger culture of the late sixties and seventies, the trilogy rejects hegemonic notions of masculinity and proposes a new form of manhood for young readers built around a reevaluation of the relationship between masculinity and femininity. However, the series continues to reinscribe heterosexist norms at the same time femininity remains tied to loss, lack and unspeakable desires.” (p.120)

“As Barbara Creed notes, horror is often dominated by images of the ‘‘monstrous feminine,’’ those qualities of Woman that are ‘‘shocking, terrifying, horrifying and abject’’ (p. 67).” (p.121)

“Often citing the biographical features of his novels, John Bellairs worked to challenge existing gender norms through the construction of shy, clumsy loners as his protagonists. Like other forms of children’s literature emerging in the seventies, his works of children’s horror are particularly reflective of the period’s changing discourses around masculinity (Herzog, 2009, p. 72). However successful his novels are in deconstructing hegemonic masculinity, they are less so in challenging dominant notions of femininity and sexuality. Despite the apparent gender nonconformism of his characters, women and the feminine are closely related to the monstrous in Bellairs’ trilogy, and ultimately female identity remains linked to loss and uncertainty.
After the completion of the original trilogy in 1976, Bellairs worked primarily on two other horror series featuring the adventures of Anthony Monday and Johnny Dixon. He died in 1991 before the completion of a proposed fourth novel in the series, The Ghost in the Mirror, which was substantially fleshed out and published posthumously by Brad Strickland in 1993. Using the drafts and notes left by Bellairs, Strickland authored three subsequent novels in the Lewis Barnevelt series.” (p.129)

“While children’s horror of the seventies suggested the need for a refreshed, renewed masculinity, it was left up to later works of horror to formulate power as a necessary ingredient of femininity.” (p.130)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Dawn Heinecken (2011) Haunting Masculinity and Frightening Femininity: The Novels of John Bellairs. Children’s Literature in Education (42):118–131

Abstract: “While developing scholarship around children’s horror fiction has focused on the works of contemporary writers, this essay provides a close reading of the novels of John Bellairs, a leading and early practitioner of the genre. It argues that the first three novels in his Lewis Barnevelt series may be understood as addressing some of the same anxieties related to gender and sexuality as those found in adult works of horror. Echoing changing discourses about masculinity at work in the late sixties and seventies, Bellair’s novels propose a new form of manhood for young readers at the same time they continue to tie femininity to loss, lack and unspeakable desires.” (p.118)

Teen girls and genre in the critical reception of Twilight – Bode

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I really enjoyed Lisa Bode’s critical analysis of reviews of the film Twilight – and how constructions of female adolescence are drawn on by film reviewers to patrol the (gendered) boundaries of genre. Great article! …some quotes:

“The critical reception of Twilight (2008), Catherine Hardwicke’s film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s first teen vampire romance novel, though, repeatedly mobilizes an idea of its audience that is not just female but adolescent. This is hardly surprising as the Twilight novels were marketed in the young adult sections of bookshops, and the film features a dangerous romance between an ordinary 17-year-old girl, Bella, and a 108-year-old teen vampire, Edward. However, what is interesting in film reviews for Twilight is how [-p.708] often a (mainly) female adolescent audience, and associated mode of viewing, is evoked, and how this is variously used to denigrate or legitimate the film and its pleasures. The lowly cultural status of the teen girl audience has been examined before in Melanie Nash and Martti Lahti’s work on Leonardo DiCaprio’s disavowal of his teen idol identity (Nash and Lahti 1999, 72) in the wake of his role in Titanic (James Cameron 1997). However, Twilight’s critical reception provides us with the opportunity to see some of the variations in how differently situated film reviewers define and deploy the teen girl. [/] For some reviewers, the teen girl audience taints the film, and the film taints the girl, and both are to be reviled. But for others, the film, and the adolescent girl who is imagined to be captivated by it, become objects of a somewhat romantic fascination. This article asks: what can the adolescent girl, her different connotations, and the ways reviewers position themselves in relation to this figure, reveal about Twilight’s cultural resonance, and the ongoing dynamics of distinction in the contemporary cultural field more broadly?” (pp.707-708)

“Film critics perform an important role in pre-shaping audience reception (Barker 2004). In the words of Pierre Bourdieu they often influence ideas of ‘what is worthy of being seen’, what is unworthy, and ‘the right way to see it’ (Bourdieu 1984, 28).” (p.708)

“Film reviews […] are useful to analyse not only for what they foreground of the struggles over cultural meaning but also for what they [-p.709] reveal of the dynamics of power in classification of films and their audiences, and the ways in which such things as gender, age and class are linked in this process of classification.” (pp.708-709)

“…when reading the reviews it is often difficult to separate the evaluation of Twilight from the reviewer’s disposition towards the teen girl audience. For instance, in the negative reviews is Twilight a ‘bad’ film because it is supposedly made for teen girls, or are teen girls deficient because they like Twilight and reveal their intense engagement with the film and, notably, its display of young male beauty, through gasps and shrieks?” (p.709)

“While all the reviews examined describe Twilight’s audience as ‘teen’, ‘tween’ or ‘adolescent’, the more negative the review, the more derisive is the language used to describe the audience, and maintain distance between the taste of the reviewer and that of the audience. Repeatedly, adolescent females are maligned for their lack of cultural capital, described as ‘indiscriminate’ (Ochieng 2008) or said to have ‘insipid’ (Burns 2008), ‘banal’ (Brayton 2008) or ‘less discriminating palates’ (Chang 2008). Dehumanized and de-individualized as the film’s ‘designated demographic’ (Ochieng 2008) and described in animalistic terms as ‘swarming’ (Puig 2009) and ‘mallrat masses’ (Ochieng 2008), they are presented as easily targeted and manipulated by a cynical market-driven mass culture. Accordingly, Twilight is seen as a crass commercial ‘product’ (Hanke 2008), a ‘cash machine’ (Vasquez 2008) designed to feed the gaping maw of this indiscriminate swarming squealing mass, and part them from their money.” (p.710)

“…reviewers use the girl as a means to leverage their own cultural superiority: their individualized and aesthetically informed responses to the film; their detached, rational and critical disposition; and importantly, too, their knowledge of vampire and horror film genres that enables them to distinguish between greater and lesser examples.” (p.710) … “For instance, horror film aficionado Felix Vasquez Jr complains bitterly that Twilight’s trailers promised ‘vampire action’ to ‘non-fans’, but failed to deliver, being hybridized or rather, polluted, by the teen and romance genres. He curls his lip at the way female authors such as Anne Rice have popularized the ‘emo’ vampire who struggles with his or her monstrosity instead of gleefully predating, and reveals that by his definition a ‘good’ vampire film should foreground blood lust, gore and ‘action’ rather than moping introspection (Vasquez 2008). Vasquez’s particular definition of the vampire genre, as a subgenre of horror, appears to exemplify the way some horror fans use their ability to ‘stomach’ onscreen blood, viscera, gore, and transgression as a marker of a rather masculinist distinction, or what Hollows calls ‘the ritual test of masculine hardness’ (Hollows 2003, 44). Clearly, Twilight, Anne Rice and the ‘emo’ vampire provide little opportunity for viewers to test themselves in this way. However, by positioning these films generically, Vasquez and others work to patrol the boundaries of their idea of what the vampire genre should be, and determine who it is for (and not).” (p.710)

In contrast to the way that the audience is portrayed in the negative reviews as swarming indiscriminate mallrats, positive reviews have an empathetic or affectionate regard for Twilight’s perceived or imagined audience, and for female adolescents and adolescence in general. While the positive reviewers still mostly identify themselves as ‘not the film’s target’, these writers strive to reconnect with their own adolescent yearnings (either as romanticizing or wryly commenting on their younger selves) or produce a reading of adolescent imagination as a complex and liminal state, on the cusp of cultural and sexual knowledge. This attempt to see the film in relation to a teen girl perspective is in part predicated on the way the positive reviewers tend to frame Twilight generically as a teen romance film, rather than as a vampire film. Evaluating it as a teen romance produces a very different set of cultural and cinematic reference points, and it means that if there is evidence of an affective link between teen girls in the audience and the teens represented on the screen then it testifies to the film’s success. For instance, Sukhdev Sandhu, writing for the Daily Telegraph (UK), refers to the vocal responses of girls in his screening as evidence that the film has succeeded in conveying an ‘emotional truth’ that connects with its audience (2008). [/] While this type of assessment casts the teen viewer in a more favourable light, it is nevertheless the case that neither in the positive nor in the negative reviews is the adolescent girl mode of engagement imagined as rational, mindful or critical. If negative reviewers see the female adolescent as uncritical and easily enthralled, the positive or more ambivalent reviewers describe her as ‘estrogenic’ (M. O’Sullivan 2008) or ‘hormonal’ (Knight 2008). Such labels do not in this case necessarily mark the teen girl viewer as ‘more easily seduced’, but rather as one who experiences a natural, complex and mysterious state, that makers of teen films rarely manage to connect with or capture.” (p.713)

“In the reviews of Twilight I have surveyed, the affective contagion of the teen or preteen girl audience is much more usually disavowed or resisted. Even positive reviewers of the film appear to need to bring in references to legitimate culture, such as the nineteenth century romance novel, not just as a means of elevating Twilight but invoked as a kind of talisman against a teen girl pop contamination of their adult critic identity. How does this reconcile with the fact that grown men and women happily confess to enjoying Transformers (Michael Bay 2007) or The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan 2008), and that so many reviewers of Transformers in particular tap into a 13-year-old boy viewing mode? For instance Ebert, who as we saw above was keen to delimit Twilight’s audience, but in his review of Transformers, however, he self-consciously slips out of his stuffy adult critic persona with lines like: ‘it’s goofy fun with a lot of stuff that blows up real good’ (Ebert 2007). Ebert willingly submits to an uncomplicated joy in dumb kinetic violence and spectacular explosions, and revels in the hoots and cheers of the audience with which he shared the screening. Perhaps, then, more so than age, it is gender that functions here as a key factor in the relative status of taste formations....” (italics in original, p.716)

“This article has examined some of the different ways in which film critics, in their reviews of Twilight, construct the film’s teen girl audience and, in relation to this figure, reaffirm both their own taste formations and their cultural values. Although film reviewers are often reporting upon the vocal behaviour of actual girls attending their screening, these writers use the adolescent girl as an imagined ‘other’. Thus, references in reviews to girls as a dehumanized swarming mass or as the giggling bearers of complex longing, reveal more about the cultural values and social position of the film reviewer than that of actual adolescent girls. Moreover, childhood and teenhood (unlike other social categories such as race, ethnicity or gender) are thought to be temporary states, transitional phases that are passed through on the way to an adult identity imagined as ‘fixed’. Because of the teen girl’s temporary occupation of her identity, and the sense that she is not yet properly initiated into systems of culture, and not yet fully sexual, reviewers appear to denigrate or sentimentalize her without guilt. Where does this leave the adult audience and fandom, those of us old enough to ‘know better’ and yet confess to drawing pleasure from Twilight?” (p.717)

Ref: (my emphases in blue bold) Lisa Bode (2010): Transitional tastes: Teen girls and genre in the critical reception of Twilight, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 24:5, 707-719

Abstract: “Reviews of Twilight (2008), Catherine Hardwicke’s enormously popular screen adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s teen vampire romance novel, reveal a focus on both the gender and age of the film’s audience. The teen, tween or adolescent girl, her tastes and affective response, are evoked in different ways by many reviewers to denigrate the film. However, the adolescent girl is also used in positive reviews to legitimate Twilight and its pleasures. This article asks: what can the adolescent girl, her different connotations, and the ways reviewers position themselves in relation to this figure, reveal about Twilight’s cultural resonance, and the ongoing dynamics of distinction in the contemporary cultural field more broadly?” (p.707)