What, precisely, makes Stephenie Meyer so important? (updated)

I need some help, folks.

My goal is to find that classic Washington Post piece — on A1 or the Style front — about the whole Beltway-women cult that surrounded the “Twilight” series by Stephenie Meyer. The key to this feature was that it focused on how guilty these feminists and hard-charging professionals felt about their desire to read these books. They were hiding them from friends and family. Women could not believe that they were falling for these novels.

Why the guilt? As I remember it, the story argued that liberal women were afraid to be seen reading a book that baptized in old-fashioned Romantic virtues, especially the concept that a man could truly be faithful to one woman — forever. Yes, the story may have mentioned that Meyer is a Mormon and, thus, supposedly on the wrong side of the Sexual Revolution. What if her beliefs were dangerous?

I can’t seem to come up with the right set of search terms to find that story. If anyone manages to reel it in, please leave the link in the comments section.

UPDATE: Well, here it is, care of Naomi Kietzke Young. Here’s a sample from a source more specific than my memory:

This is a story about shame. All across the country, there were women who managed to avoid Stephenie Meyer’s series about a star-crossed human/vampire teen couple. … “Twilight” came for the tweens, then for the moms of tweens, then for the co-workers who started wearing those ridiculous Team Jacob shirts, and the resisters said nothing, because they thought “Twilight” could not come for them. They were too literary. They didn’t do vampires. They were feminists. …

Everyone is vulnerable. One minute you’re a functioning member of society, the next you’re succumbing to the dark side, wondering how deep you’re willing to go — and what that longing says about you.

Now, I bring this up because the Style team at the Post is back with another one of its wink-wink salutes to Meyer and to her tacky fans. This one is written as a series of 13 observations describing a typical book-signing event.

Light some candles and read on.

1. What must it feel like to be Stephenie Meyer? Today, people have driven multi-hour radii — Buffalo, Richmond — to be in her presence. They arrive at 8:45 p.m. the night before the Thursday book signing, and they sleep in pastel comforters outside Politics & Prose on Connecticut Avenue in order to ensure admission. What must it feel like to be on the sponge end of that much devotion? How many pounds of worship can one human body withstand before collapsing under the fervent, pawing weight?

And so forth and so on:

5. Her fans are so pure. When she walks in a room, the fans go — oh, you already know what they go. Everybody already knows what happens at a Stephenie Meyer appearance. The fans go “Eeee!” or “Squeee!” or “Bleeee!”; the fans burst into tears and explain their obsessive love for “Twilight.” Sometimes a journalist who brags that he’s too smart for “Twilight” (even though he’s never read it) parachutes in to write a scene story about these women, and they open up their hopeful hearts because maybe this time he won’t make them look crazy. He always makes them look crazy.

“I do a lot of deep breathing,” Meyer says. This is how she adjusts to the decibel level of a public appearance. She’s grown more used to it now. The public appearances used to make her nervous. She used to pep-talk herself: “I am going to live through this. Nobody is going to kill you today.”

6. Does she realize how polarizing she is? Does she realize that her fans’ love for her work is equally balanced out by — “This passionate hatred that it spawns?” she suggests, in the Georgetown hotel room. She laughs.

This whole hate thing — the “dismissive sneer” offered by critics — is approached at the level of her writing ability, not the content of her writing. But surely there is more to it than that. Right?

The key, for the elite, is that “her books cannot be taken seriously simply because people enjoy reading them too much.” The Style gods call this a “Madonna/Hack dichotomy” in which her fans truly “believe she can do no wrong,” while critics insist that “she can do no right.”

As I read this piece — riding home on my commuter train watching a Beltways woman sitting across the aisle read the same article — I wondered if the whole issue of Meyer’s controversial worldview was ever going to come into play. I mean, when would the Post team name the elephant in the bookstore coffee shop?

Further down in the list of observations, the hints grew more intense.

10. How is the future going to look at Stephenie Meyer? The future, which seems increasingly incapable of viewing entertainment as just entertainment. Everything must be allegorical. Everything must be about chastity (“Eclipse”?) or abortion (“Breaking Dawn”?). Every book must be dissected until there is nothing left, nothing but valiant, bullied speech tags.

Ultimately, the key is that Meyer’s fans are just, so, loyal. But why?

The M-word finally shows up in the final paragraph:

This is how the future is going to look at Stephenie Meyer: as a spirit-guide travel agent. In the 1970s, people followed the Grateful Dead, and in the 1990s, they followed Phish, and in the 2010s, which we’ll be calling “the teens,” they formed communities by following around a Mormon mother of three, and by huddling in blankets in the cold.

So is the truly dangerous M-word “Mormon” or is it “mother”? What is this article trying to say?

It’s hard to tell. I do know one thing: It seems that Meyer truly gets to the Washington Post folks on a host of levels. This story is haunted by religion, but one also gets the impression — “bullied speech tags”? — that it’s haunted by politics, as well.

Come on people, ask Meyer the questions that are stuck between your ears. Maybe she will answer.

Confession: Yes, I read book one of “Twilight.” I found it rather hilarious, while I have a few friends (click here for the best example) who take quite seriously the contents of the books and the impact they have had on readers.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Naomi Kietzke Young

    I believe the original piece you seek is: “Bitten And Smitten; Readers Crave Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ Tales of Vampire Love”, by Laura Yao. The Washington Post [Washington, D.C] 01 Aug 2008: C.1.

    Hope this is the one. Note the typo in Meyer’s first name; this is a cut-and-paste from the ProQuest Washington Post database, so I don’t know whether the typo was in the original or not. If it was in the original, that would explain why it’s not easy to find via search.

  • Julia

    Maybe “m” is for “moralilty”. I have an Evangelical friend who read them and saw the movies with her daughter and thinks it’s a great thing for encouraging girls to stay virgins until they marry.

  • Naomi Kietzke Young

    Well. oops. As the last woman in America NOT to read these books, *I* misspelled Meyer’s first name on my first attempt.

  • tmatt

    Naomi:

    That would be this one?

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/08/01/ST2008080100930.html

    That’s not the story I remember: It lacks the whole feminist guilt angle, the whole “hide your book while riding on the Metro” thing.

  • Naomi Kietzke Young
  • http://www.thecatholicbeat.com Gail Finke

    I read half of the first book and thought it was pretty well written, but not interesting enough to go on with (even though I wanted to know what people found so fascinating about it). Same with The Hunger Games, BTW. I thought she was a perfectly fine writer. Not great but far better than many. Anyway, I never did figure out what appealed to so many people about her books but it seems to me that what drives people like this nuts about them is that they are popular and they are not the RIGHT sort of books. It doesn’t matter why — she’s simply not what everyone is supposed to like and who everyone is supposed to read. THEY HATE THAT.

  • tmatt

    Naomi:

    That’s the one. Thank you so much! What was the major search-term formula?

  • Darren Blair

    http://www.famousmormons.net/

    I admit – I sometimes getting a kick out of seeing the “pucker factor” that comes about when folks realize that their favorite celebrity is Mormon. It’s hard for them to reconcile the preconceived notions about Mormonism with what they feel for said celebrity, and so the news tends to cause more than a little cognitive dissonance.

    In that sense, I can understand why the MSM can’t comprehend what’s going on. They can’t figure out how it is that people like Meyer, The Aquabats (three of the members are LDS), Brian Crane (“Pickles”), Don Bluth (very likely a good chunk of your childhood), Leo D. Paur, Ken Sansom (the portion of your childhood that was left over after Bluth was finished), or other Mormon creative types can succeed in selling “wholesome” fare to the masses, fare that just as often reinforces “traditional” concepts and teachings as it does entertains and explored. It’s not “artsy”, it’s not “modern,” and it’s rarely “politically correct”. As far as the MSM is concerned, their works are so very often just throwbacks that are out of place.

    And God forbid that the MSM encounter people like computer programmer Sandy Peterson (he’s responsible for creating about 1/3rd of the levels of DOOM I and DOOM II), Orson Scott Card, Brandon Flowers (lead singer, The Killers), or any other such Mormon who plays by the rules of popular culture and still pulls off a “win” for the broader LDS faith and culture in some way, shape, or form, even if only in the sense of getting people to talk about the church in the first place. To paraphrase Dilbert: “The sound you just heard was a paradigm shifting without a clutch.”

    And people like Gladys Knight, Arthur “Killer” Kane (drummer, New York Dolls), and others who *convert to* the church? Catatonia. They either ignore the fact that these people joined the church *after* becoming famous, or puzzle over how someone of “their caliber” could even be religious, let alone Mormon.

  • Chris

    This is less of an issue of religion and more about “cool” or “hip” (to use a Boomer term that’s not cool anymore.)

    Mormons aren’t cool.

  • http://derekjohnsonmuses.com DerekJohnsonMuses

    Meyer’s writing is a type of indulgence in the emotional world of a woman. Romance writing in general is about the rush of emotion with first kisses and self-discovery, not about the hard sacrificing of married life, and because a lot of this writing puts emotion over reason, it tends to loose credibility quite easily. My biggest complaint with Twilight is that a good premise (a vampire is attracted to a human, but longs to feed on her blood) got wasted in routine action, and Bella at times seems so stupid. There are many numerous plot twists in the book I caught on to before she should have; I read two book, and felt cheated by the potential that was left on the table. This kind of indulgence in raw emotion produces the love-hate relationship many women feel with the book.
    Stephanie Meyer has a lot in common with Sarah Palin: both took time to have their children young, then found success. Oddly, I think raising kids in your twenties and focusing on your career in your forties is a better strategy for women because they are much more selfless.


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