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  TWILIGHT, CRITICISM AND THE REDEMPTION OF FANDOM  A  T first glance, fannish tendencies appear to beantithetical to a thoughtful (let alone academic oranalytical) approach to film. A good case in pointis the Twilight Saga – boasting today’s mega-fandom  par excellence and adoring followers whoseem to represent all that we don’t  mean by the phrase ‘medialiterate’.So what better place to begin the process of redeemingfandom’s place in education?Of course, if you’ve been out in public recently and grown tiredof seeing otherwise sensible-looking teens wearing T-shirtsemblazoned with Twilight  ’s laughably brooding Edward, yourdoubts involving this reclamation project are understandable– even more so when I confess that what is being reclaimed isnot simply fandom, but critical engagement itself. Indeed, it’snot in spite of, but  because of, its consumerist emphasis thatfandom provides a uniquely powerful way to connect students’in-school and out-of-school literacies. The trick is we need toguard against the same arrogant accusations of anti-intellectu-alism about fandom that detractors level at it. And we need tostop laughing at those T-shirts. Fandom: reasons to be a hater By the very fervour of its youthful fanbase, the film cycle basedon Stephenie Meyer’s vampire novels – one movie down(Catherine Hardwicke, 2008), at least three more on the way –might seem to fare poorly when compared to more established,middle-aged franchises: Star Trek  at least has four decades ofquality canonical product behind it. However, it is precisely theaspects that non-fans find most repellent about Twilight   fandom that are potentially the most illuminating. Theseaspects are informed by fan belief that Twilight  is: 94 I   S  S  UE 5 4   S  CRE E NE D U CAT I   ON  TEACHING MEDIA  with Peter Gutiérrez   A good critic produces work rife with text-to-worldconnections, whereas fandom often seems to existin its own self-contained environment, free fromany contamination from reality: hence the escapistnature of most works that attract fan followings. JAMES (CAM GIGANDET), LAURENT (EDI GATHEGI) AND VICTORIA (RACHELLE LEFEVRE) s A NEW ORIGINAL AND FRESH PIECE OF POP CULTURE x BUT ISNT IT actually  none of those things, being instead a retread ofvarious gothic genre staples?) s A STORY THAT @SPEAKS TO TEENS POWERFULLY x WHILE OF COURSE us older folks find this sadly revealing: that readers/audi-ences could be moved by something so unexceptional) s A TEXT RICH IN SCOPE AMBITION AND THEME x  maybe ,but surely it’s not the only one that is; so why notspend some of that time devoted to Twilight  onother worthwhile fantasy or romance titles?) s A BASIS FOR COMMUNITYBUILDING BETWEEN young people sharing knowledge with EACH OTHER x YES BUT THE LACK OF critical perspective is distressing, asis the attention to minutiae that’s ofinterest typically only to other fans) s A GENERATOR OF SHEER CONTA - GIOUS /-' EXCITEMENT x which only demonstrates howfans can so mindlessly buyinto the studio hype that targetsthem). Apart from mentioning the disin-genuousness of some of theseparenthetical arguments (we’ve  all   been fans of something or other atone point), I’d like to venture that it’snot so much fandom generally thatwe look down upon, but rather theobject of any  particular  fandom.When educators, parents and mediaspecialists dismiss fandom as a whole,they run the risk of missing out onopportunities to: s HELP STUDENTS APPLY HIGHER ORDER thinking to their existing knowledge base s FOSTER INSIGHTS ON THE SOCIAL AND CULTURAL history of movies that are born from experience s SHED LIGHT ON HOW MOVIE @EVENTS ARE DEVELOPED produced and marketed with an eye to appeasingfandom s MOST IMPORTANTLY BE SELFCRITICAL AS A VIEWER AND consumer. 95 I   S  S  UE 5 4   S  CRE E NE D U CAT I   ON 95  But how to reconcile such lofty goals with the navel-gazing thatoften seems to be the hallmark of the hardcore fan? Making connections: the business ofcritics and fans Rather than pitting the positives and negatives of fandomagainst each other, as in the bulleted list above, I’d like tosuggest an alternative approach that groups them moreproductively. In their hugely influential book on literacy, Mosaicof Thought  (1997), Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmermanidentify three primary families of associations that students canmake while reading. 1 While srcinally applied to the comprehen-sion of print texts, these categories, I find, are useful for sortingeven the most sophisticated responses to a variety of media: s 4EXTTOSELF CONNECTIONS (OW DOES THIS RELATE TO MY LIFE what I believe, what I feel? s 4EXTTOTEXT CONNECTIONS (OW IS THIS LIKE OR UNLIKE IDEAS  elements in other works I know? s 4EXTTOWORLD CONNECTIONS (OW DOES THIS REmECT THE CULTURE in which it was created? How is it relevant to issues in theworld today?This framework, still a popular teacher routine for exploringliterature, can also be applied when examining fandom. This isespecially true these days, when participatory culture canheighten fan responses in volume and real-timeliness tostaggering levels.Interestingly, the questions these three types of connectionsforce upon us are also central to criticism. Want to learnwhether Twilight  is worth seeing in theatres or on DVD ? Thenturn to a garden-variety movie reviewer at a daily newspaper orits Web equivalent. While increasingly bemoaned as a dyingbreed, such reviewers have been supplanted by fan-generatedopining. And why not? There are more than three hundredEnglish-language Twilight  fansites listed on Stephenie Meyer’sown site. While many of these may be a waste of the non-fan’stime, I’m confident that in their ranks text-to-text connectionsare being made, between Twilight  the novel and its screenadaptation (and eventually between the different films), thatonly someone with a scholarly or fannish dedication to thematerial could manage. After all, who else has a comparablewealth of background knowledge to draw upon?Fan criticism fails to earn the respect of non-fans, however,when it disproportionately relies on text-to-text connections ofthe narrowest sort. How does star Kristen Stewart’s line readingof the voice-over dialogue compare to the tone or overallinteriority of the novel’s first-person point-of-view? It’s notunreasonable to expect Twilight  fans to hold forth impressivelyon such a question, but they would not necessarily compareCatherine Hardwicke’s film to others that deal with femaleadolescence, sexuality, social displacement and the like. Notbecause such issues aren’t interesting to them, but becausefans shy away from the hard work of criticism in much the same WAY THAT CRITICS SHUN THE HARD WORK OF FANDOM x WITH THE RESULT that neither camp comes to recognise their common ground. A good critic, though, produces work rife with text-to-worldconnections, whereas fandom often seems to exist in its own BELLA (KRISTEN STEWART) AND EDWARD (ROBERT PATTINSON) 96 I   S  S  UE 5 4   S  CRE E NE D U CAT I   ON  TEACHING MEDIA  with Peter Gutiérrez   self-contained environment, free from any contamination fromreality: hence the escapist nature of most works that attract fanfollowings. And finally, when it comes to text-to-self connections,one might expect fan analyses of film to shine since fans havesuch strong personal responses to the text. However, thatresponse is often so deeply personal that it’s often politely leftimplicit, as one’s membership fee in the fan community, and notdiscussed openly.With this in mind, the role of the media educator who takesfandom seriously, then, becomes one of leveraging fans’unflagging interest in the srcinal text to explore the realms ofself, world and other texts, while reassuring students that theobject of their ardour will never be left behind. Text-to-self  As Kim Edwards clarifies, a main part of Twilight  ’s appeal stemsfrom how it negotiates the twin poles of fear/desire. 2 And whilethe specifically erotic elements of such a dynamic may be, well,problematic to broach with adolescents, thematically there isstill much to investigate.So, although a secondary student’s overwhelming attraction toa ‘dangerous’ fellow student might be out-of-bounds as aclassroom topic, what of similarly ambivalent attractions – topeer groups, political ideas, thrill-seeking activities or habitsthat verge on ‘soft’ addictions (television, video games)? In thisway, Bella’s conflicting emotions can be mapped to a broaderset of human concerns – and not simply to sanitise them, butbecause themes that truly resonate  are overdetermined.The challenge for the educator is to break, as gently aspossible, the spell that a series such as the Twilight Saga castsover its fans: identification with a protagonist so potent thatthey experience the film as a surrogate for self-expression. Andthis is done not by destroying the text-to-self bonds, but bystrengthening the ‘self’ part of the equation. Text-to-text In what sense is Twilight  a horror movie and in what sense is itnot? The same question might be applied to the romance genre,so that students are guided to recognise the middle ground thatthe ‘gothic’ occupies. From there one might easily discuss theextent to which Summit Entertainment, as the message-makingentity behind Twilight  , shapes audience expectations by market-ing it to genre fans – and whether these expectations are fulfilled.For example, is the level of violence sufficient for the young maledemographic – thus allowing the film to function as a ‘datemovie’ – or is it rendered so oblique that this market segment isbound to be disappointed?Most irksome is the cultural amnesia that functions like aprerequisite to joining certain fandoms. In Twilight  , for example,there’s an air of novelty around the human–vampire love story,despite such taboo desires being central to numerous works: The Lost Boys (Joel Schumacher, 1987), Bram Stoker  ’s Dracula  (Francis Ford Coppola, 1992), TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer  andnew HBO series True Blood  , to name but a few. Would screeningother media along these lines convince young Twilight  fans of thefranchise’s lack of srcinality? Not if the goal was to compare andcontrast – not to evaluate Twilight  as ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than itsantecedents – but simply to identify it as part of a long traditionin the romance and gothic genres, one that stretches, ratherobviously, all the way back to Wuthering Heights . 97 I   S  S  UE 5 4   S  CRE E NE D U CAT I   ON The challenge for the educator is to break, as gentlyas possible, the spell that a series such as the Twilight Saga  casts over its fans: identification with aprotagonist so potent that they experience the film as asurrogate for self-expression. And this is done, not bydestroying the text-to-self bonds, but by strengtheningthe ‘self’ part of the equation.  ABOVE: TWILIGHT  FANS CHEER AS ACTORS KELLAN LUTZ(EMMETT) AND EDI GATHEGI (LAURENT) ARRIVE IN SYDNEY (IMAGEBY MARK KOLBE/GETTY IMAGES)
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