‘In American history, the monsters are real’

W. Scott Poole’s Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting is just exactly that — a history of monsters in America.

We’ve got a lot of them — some came to the New World as immigrants, refugees or colonists, some were dragged here in chains, some were born here or conjured or summoned through hideous rites or assembled in the laboratories of mad scientists. America and its history are filled with monsters.

Poole believes in these monsters and in the stories we have told of them for centuries in America. He believes these monsters and stories of monsters reveal something true and important about who we are as a people, culture and nation. He believes that these monsters are more than “just” metaphors. Metaphors don’t draw real blood or leave a trail of real bodies in their wake.

That sounds like an interesting approach — examining the multitude of monsters in our folklore, films and campfire stories as metaphors to explore American history. Except, as Poole argues, America’s monsters have never been “just” metaphors. Metaphors don’t draw real blood or leave a trail of real bodies in their wake the way America’s monsters have done.

Poole summarizes his main idea in the short article “Darkness on the Edge of Town: American History and Religion as Horror,” and I don’t think I can do a better job here than he does there. Over the longer course of his book, he makes a compelling case that America’s monsters reveal America’s character. We tell ourselves stories to remind ourselves of who we are and of who we want to be, and to remind ourselves of — or distract ourselves from — what we have done.

Poole is an agreeable and enthusiastic tour guide to this horrific history. He’s immersed in the subject with the intimate, affectionate knowledge of a fan as well as of a scholar. And he has an entertaining and insightful knack for pointing out odd connections and the themes that recur in endless variations. His fellow fans I’m sure will be delighted by this collection of horrors, while those who don’t come to this book sharing his love for monster stories may find themselves converted by the end of it.

I came away from Monsters in America with a long list of scary movies I want to see again, to watch with a new perspective and appreciation. Poole has even tempted me to give a chance to some movies I’d previously avoided, such as the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The brutal violence of Leatherface wasn’t something I ever really wanted to look at, but now I’m intrigued by Poole’s insistence that its story has something to say that’s worth hearing.

And the truth is that even the most horrific fantasies from the most violent horror movies pale in comparison to many of the real monsters of history Poole describes. Consider for example the story he tells of one prolific serial killer from the 1700s — a man whose story makes that of Jack the Ripper seem G-rated. This particular killer was a mad sea captain who abducted his victims and chained them up, still alive, in an almost airless 18-inch high crawlspace below the deck of his ship. There his victims were subjected to every imaginable form of deprivation, degradation and physical torture. Those he killed he killed slowly and painfully, forcing the others to watch as he did so. This serial killer victimized countless men, women and children over many decades.

And he wasn’t acting alone. There were hundreds of such ships with hundreds of such captains, serial killers and sadistic torturers all. And everyone knew what they were doing yet almost no one tried to stop them because it was all perfectly legal.

I’m talking about slaveships and slavers, of course, and this really happened — for centuries this really happened, again and again and again and again. That reality is far more monstrous than the worst things ever portrayed in even the goriest underground horror films.

“God holds us responsible for what we will not look at,” Oswald Chambers wrote. And this is what Poole does very well — he helps us to see those things we refuse to look at. He discusses our monsters as a way of helping us to confront our monstrosities.

Slavery really was, as Frederick Douglass said, America’s “pet monster” and “a huge and many-headed abomination.” The vast and real horror of that abomination still haunts us in many of our monster stories. It lives on in the myths and legends we created to make monsters out of the Other and it lives on in the all-too-real monstrosities we commit in the name of those very same myths and legends.

Poole’s love for the classic Universal monster movies goes back to his childhood, but he takes issue with the contemporary claim that those movies just aren’t that scary anymore. He counters that claim, in part, by arguing that the period of American history from 1870-1941 can be better understood as the Age of Frankenstein. That’s the sort of entertainingly preposterous-seeming claim that one expects to encounter in scholarly books dealing with popular culture, but once Poole lays out his case, it no longer seems at all preposterous. This framework illuminates that period in our history. In that time, as in all times, examining what people feared helps us see what people loved and what they were ashamed of. To understand what people fear is to understand, too, their hopes and their sins.

Poole’s discussion of American life during the Age of Frankenstein helps to explain why, in the context of that history, the climactic finale of James Whale’s film is terrifying. For an American audience in 1931, the sight of an angry lynchmob was anything but quaint escapist entertainment. And just as in Shelley’s book, it raised the question of who the real monster was in that scene.

Our monster stories are never far removed from the compulsion to apply them to other people, an impulse we’ve discussed here quite a bit as the never-ending struggle against imaginary Satanic baby-killers (see here, and particularly here and here). Throughout his book, Poole traces how our fear of and desire for monsters to hunt, to oppose and to kill has had consequences far too real to be easily dismissed as “just metaphors.” From Margaret Jones to Troy Davis, our bloody need for the monstrous other has demanded real blood in return. Margaret Jones died for our sins.

I don’t mean to give this impression that Monsters in America is all heavy-handed and heavy going. Like all good horror stories, it blends delight with disgust. Poole’s tour of horror’s greatest hits is filled with lively wit and playful insights along with the grimmer realities it forces readers to confront.

And Poole has excellent taste. I mean by that, of course, what everyone means when they say anyone else has good taste — I mean that he generally agrees with me. He’s a great admirer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which he discusses at length with great insight into how that story “systematically breaks down the narrative of ordered community of respectability that destroys the monstrous other.” And he can’t abide the Twilight series, which he confesses in an appendix is “the only work discussed that I consider so ideologically and aesthetically repugnant that I see no value in it.”

I had originally composed a rather long list of complaints about Monsters in America — a host of unforgivable omissions and missed stops on Poole’s tour of America’s monsters. Where, for example, is the Jersey Devil? Or Alice Cooper and the nefarious minions of Satan corrupting America’s youth with backward-masking? What of the Satanic soapsellers, or Robert Johnson at the Crossroads, or the millions of Americans regularly slaying monsters with multi-sided dice or in World of Warcraft?

The lack of discussions of those topics was disappointing because they would all seem, in one way or another, to shed more light on Poole’s main thesis. And even more disappointing because, having read Monsters in America, I’m sure that Poole’s discussion of them would be insightful, entertaining and thought-provoking.

Happily, I’ve since learned that Poole already covered most of those topics in a previous book, Satan in America: The Devil We Know. This is excellent news. It means that, for me at least, Monsters in America will have that one key ingredient that every successful horror movie needs: a sequel.

For more:

 

  • hapax

    I *have* read and [gasp!] enjoyed the entire Twilight series, and [alert the child abuse services] gave them to my daughter to read, who also enjoyed them.

    And — amazing as this seems to be to the (predominantly male) dismissers of the books, our weak female brains were not instantly converted to submissive adoration of murderous patriarchal stalkers.  Instead, we were able to intelligently discuss the books as fantasies, compare the parts we found appealing (and why), condemn the parts we found appalling (and why), laugh at the parts we found silly, and explore the factors that made the books work.

    However, those video games my teenage son adores?  Utter trash, and doomed to transform him into a sadistic mass murderer who considers violence to be the first recourse in every dilemma.  Oh, yes, and he absolutely believes that finding the right mushroom will allow him to come back from the dead.

  • Izzy

    I see what you’re saying, but…I don’t think anyone on the anti-Twilight (or the pro-Poole’s-stance-on-Twilight) side has made that particular accusation in this argument.

    I think there’s a middle ground between “these books will warp impressionable young minds” and “these books should not be sneered at/dismissed/etc”.

    Plenty of works of fiction strike me as repugnant: deficient in storytelling, clumsy in characterization, repulsive in their messages, intentional or not. And I’m absolutely willing to say so, and to sidebar a discussion with “…except, not Wheel of Time, because pfffft,” or “except…Gor, and now I need to wash my mouth out with Lysol.” Some books should be lightly tossed aside; some, to misquote Dorothy Parker, should be thrown with great force.

    On the other hand…I grew up reading rapetastic Old Skool romances and Anne McCaffrey and Clan of the Cave Bear, not to mention some 1995-era alt.sex.stories stuff (yikes), and I turned out basically okay. Plenty of people do read Gor or FATAL or Flowers in the Attic and turn out to live decent lives in which they don’t become weirdo misogynists or sleep with their brothers.

    So I’m not terribly *worried* about the messages in Twilight…but I am offended, and disgusted, and otherwise annoyed about them, and about the culture that’s grown up around the book all “find your Edward” this and “team Jacob” that. I think it’s reasonable to say as much, and I don’t think that doing so implies that I think the books are mind control.

  • Izzy

    In the interest of full disclosure: I used to screen my dating profiles by eliminating anyone who listed Ayn Rand, Terry Goodkind, or Dan Brown among his favorite authors, which I’d imagine puts me firmly on the pro-contempt side.

  • Anonymous

    And — amazing as this seems to be to the (predominantly male)
    dismissers of the books, our weak female brains were not instantly
    converted to submissive adoration of murderous patriarchal stalkers.

    Who in this thread has implied anything of the sort? Heck, what makes you think Poole says anything of the sort?

    Mmy said that Poole was out-of-line in just saying that Twilight was trash without any further comment (which I disagree with, but meh), people then pointed out that he does discuss it in the book.

    So why is this fight even still going?

  • Anonymous

    hapax was being sarcastic. Chill.

    So why is this fight even still going?
    Because it’s fun?

  • Anonymous

    hapax was being sarcastic. Chill.

    I got the sarcasm, doesn’t change the message of her post any, though, which seems to be that the people here who have called Twilight some variation on “trash” are all sexist jerks that don’t think women can think for themselves.

    If I’ve misunderstood it then I apologize, but I don’t find personal insults fun. :/.

  • Anonymous

    I thought she was just saying that she disagrees with the idea that the Twilight series sends as negative a message to young women as various commenters believe.

  • Anonymous

    That’s worse than the spine-breaking mouth-Caesarean?

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    There are varying degrees of Twilight-hate. I haven’t read the series, but familiar with the discussions about them, so when a co-worker asked my opinion on what she’s reading I just told her it wasn’t my thing, and that the stuff I read probably wouldn’t be her thing either. 

    If you look at the more…visceral reactions to “Twilight”, especially by men, there’s a level of hate there common to other ‘girly’ things like Justin Bieber, etc. Reaction like that to anything typed as ‘female’ is sort of misogyny-by-proxy. 

    Or sublimation. See all the anti-gay websites out there with detailed discussions of all the ‘filthy’ acts they assume all gays are doing all the time and not to them. 

  • vsm

    The interesting thing about the more intense critics is the way they use progressive arguments to justify their dislike of Twilight. Feminist misogyny in action?

  • Anonymous

    The interesting thing about the more intense critics is the way they use progressive arguments to justify their dislike of Twilight. Feminist misogyny in action?

    Or, y’know, using progressive arguments to explain why Twilight is sexist.

  • vsm

    Oh, Twilight is sexist, and there’s nothing wrong with saying so. However, if one keeps making that point over and over again while having nothing to say about disturbing subtexts in other areas of popular culture, there might be cause to ask oneself why.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, Twilight is sexist, and there’s nothing wrong with saying so. However, if one keeps making that point over and over again while having nothing to say about disturbing subtexts in other areas of popular culture, there might be cause to ask oneself why.

    Unfamiliarity with those other areas of pop culture? Unexamined privilege regarding the areas of concern to those ‘disturbing subtexts’? I’m not seeing how ‘feminists saying Twilight is sexist’ equates to ‘feminists are misogynistic’.

    Great, now I’ve got “Dancing Through Life” from Wicked stuck in my head.

  • vsm

    I was replying to Marc Mielke, who was talking about the more visceral reactions coming mostly from men. The thing I found amusing was how many of these people, who’d otherwise never identify as feminist, are now appropriating feminist arguments to justify hating (admittedly problematic) women-directed culture. Of course, not every critic of the books fits this profile.

  • Anonymous

    The thing I found amusing was how many of these people, who’d otherwise never identify as feminist, are now appropriating feminist arguments to justify hating (admittedly problematic) women-directed culture.

    Okay, now I see your point.

  • Anonymous

    On the other hand, that is one way that people discover that arguments and positions they had not previously given enough credence to might be worth taking a second look at. It’s not unlike the phenomenon that many women claim not to be “feminists,” but, if you ask their opinions on certain feminist issues, come down firmly on the feminist side.

  • Izzy

    That’s a fair point. The anti-sex, anti-women-having-a-life, stalking-is-love messages bug me; the absence of one single sympathetic character bugs me; but the “vampires don’t sparkle”/”vampires aren’t romantic” crowd also bugs me, because…myths vary, get a grip.

    It reminds me of the way a lot of guys of my vague acquaintance complain about romance novel heroes, or “too pretty” anime dudes, or whatever. I suspect what they really mean is “oh no, women might think it’s okay to want to find men they sleep with attractive, and I might be expected to put a marginal amount of effort into my appearance”. In Twilight, the attractive dudes come with a whole boatload of fail, and that’s worth talking about, but a lot of reaction I see is to the attractive dudes. Which is annoying.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    I’ve tried writing this post multiple times and it never seems to come out right.

    Everything I’ve heard about Twilight, and even more so everything I’ve read of Twilight makes me think that Bella is portrayed as suffering from depression.  From what I’ve read of Twilight (which is admittedly not much) Meyers seems to have writing a character with depression down pat.  I’ve been dealing with depression for more than a decade now and I don’t know if I could write a depressed character as realistically as she does.

    I don’t think she necessarily knows that’s what she’s doing, but I’m told that’s not uncommon.

    Anyway, the question that I wanted to ask is how Bella’s mental state plays into Twilight as a fantasy. Is being Bella part of the fantasy?

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    My usual interpretation of men who are viscerally bothered by “too pretty” male characters in fiction is not that they reject/fear the raising of the bar, but that they reject being invited to identify with male characters who are being presented in the ways that female characters are traditionally objectified. This is similar to my interpretation of men who are bothered by the notion of queer men viewing them as potential sexual partners.

    Of course, the idea that someone might be viewing *them* the way they are accustomed to viewing women ought only be viscerally threatening to men who view women in viscerally threatening ways.

    (I don’t mean to say here that the male characters, either in fiction or reality, are being objectified
    in the same ways, nor that they are being “feminized” in any objective
    sense, although both are possible… merely that there are superficial
    similarities in presentation.)

  • Twig

    Consider something like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, a film where
    women are disposable,

    This would be where Harvey Dent loses his mind and/or soul after the loss of the person he loves most, right?

  • hapax

    GDwarf, I’m sorry if you feel personally insulted.  That was not my intent.

    But *I* feel personally insulted by a lot of the Twilight-hatred, which very much carries the mesage of “But look at these unpleasant implications!  How can you be so blind to the obvious harm such a fantasy will cause in real life!” 

    Which criticism somehow coincides exactly with that aimed at almost all of the genres aimed specifically at women (romance, urban fantasy, erotica, etc.) while somehow (at least in my experience) being dismissed as “irrelevant” when applied to male-targeted media (violent epic fantasy, war-adventure, etc.)

    It doesn’t change the message of her post
    any, though, which seems to be that the people here who have called Twilight
    some variation on “trash” are all sexist jerks that don’t think women
    can think for themselves.

    Almost all of the online criticism of the books that I have seen has exactly
    that tone.  Not so much here, but there was enough echoes that yes, I was beginning to get seriously irritated.

    “Oh, the horrors that young teenage girls will read books that present
    creepy stalkers as romantic, what will it DO to them?”

    “There are posts out there on How to find your own
    Edward
    , this is turning a generation of young girls into submissive
    creep-magnets!

    Yet there is tons of discussion on the Internet on “How to frag an
    Orc”, and noone seems to think that turns young men (or women, except we
    all know that Girls Aren’t Gamers) into violent murders — well, some people
    do, and we point and laugh at those people.

    And yes, on this very thread, I think there was a distinct subtext among the
    critics that Girls Can’t Tell Fantasy From Reality.  Not as explicit as it
    is in other venues but…

    Alan (to whom I was replying)

    The problem is that those insights, as far as I’ve been able
    to tell, are completely lost on both the author and the vast majority of the
    fan base.

    Which he knows how?  He did a poll?

    And Ken:

     

    This in a book aimed at teenage girls.

    Who are somehow a uniquely vulnerable audience?  Unlike teenage boys and adult males?

    Plus to mention the frequent commendations of “Mark Reads
    Twilight”, which I had to give up listening to after about three installments,
    since the absolute contempt for anyone who found pleasure in these books
    dripped through every sentence.

    Not to mention readerofprey’s blanket:

    .  There is nothing good to find in
    any of these novels.

    Well I guess that schools me.  Ana Mardoll, cut off the analysis, there’s nothing worth saying anymore.

  • Izzy

    The difference, for me, is that “how to find *your own* Edward” posts/books/etc are pretty explicitly about taking Twilight principles into RL.* “How to frag an orc” posts are about playing video games better.

    That probably *does* make me a little more concerned about romance v. horror/fantasy/blah, as a whole. (That, plus I tend to read/write romance, and I criticize stuff and people I know more harshly.) Neither I, nor any of my friends, are likely to end up fighting mobsters or fending off zombies; most of us *are* likely to date. And while I don’t think any of us is likely to listen to Meyer’s more irksome messages, hearing them does bug.

    It’s like…okay, the latest Dr. Pepper it’s-not-for-girls ads. Do I think girls are going to stop drinking Dr. Pepper, except in protest? Not really. Am I concerned about the influence on young women? No: no human being with half a brain could take these ads seriously. But the ads are still insulting, and I still want to smack the exec who came up with them. Same thing.

    None of this is to say that reading or liking Twilight is a bad thing–I like Gone With the Wind and Lovecraft–which have their own vast problems–and horrible Labyrinth fanfic. I eat Peeps. Not everything has to be good, or good for you.

    *Which…I don’t think that’s “turning young girls into submissive creep-magnets”, but I do think that the existence of such things is creepy and annoying. Plus, we already *have* The Rules and whatever that idiocy is about the return of modesty. I mean, if I ever need diet aids…

  • Anonymous

    I personally would be interested in knowing what you find good and recommendable in the Twilight novels. I am asking because I know many young women and girls (not sure where that cut-off is) who have read them and tell me they are entertaining and gripping, but seriously problematic. They are, if I am understanding correctly, good reads but not good books.

    (I am not sure I entirely like the way I phrased that last sentence, but I can’t quite think of what word or phrase I’d use instead of “books,” there.)

  • Izzy

    That’s a good point, there. The “caring about your appearance is so gay” thing–sigh–could be a manifestation of the whole men-chase-women-preen gender roles. Either way, it irks. (And it irks me particularly, as I’ve put in some time as a single girl.)

    That said, I may keep my theory around: it makes a good snide comeback. “Yes, God forbid you have to put in a little time at the gym and shave the damn chin pubes. What is this culture coming to?” and similar.

  • Izzy

    Well…

    I can’t speak to TDK in specific. But there *is* a fairly disturbing tradition, in comics, of Women In Refrigerators: female characters who exist to be love interests and then get killed in horrible ways, thus motivating heroes/villains/etc.

    The sexism in Twilight bugs me big time, but it’s hardly the only sexist work, or body of work, out there.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    I was in the process of writing exactly this reply – and hit something, causing the internet to eat it. Which is lucky, since you got there first.

    I was starting to muse, however, on how one might craft an article on applying Orc fragging skills to, I don’t know, business management…

  • Izzy

    Damn Internet. It’s why we can’t have nice things.

    I’m sure if we wait long enough, Cracked.com will put something up. And that said, I’ve found that LARPing has helped me in the business world. Mostly by teaching me how to lie effectively, but hey. ;)

  • Twig

    Consider something like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, a film
    where women are disposable

    You know, I’m not quite done yet.  I appreciate that there is a
    veritable smorgasboard of craptastic attitudes served up towards women
    in stories, even if I still believe a great deal of this comes from
    writers who can’t think in anything but broad cliches (paging Michael
    Bay). 

    I’ve had to watch Starfire turned from a free and happy character full
    of vibrant sexuality and affection into a monotone, blank-eyed Real
    Doll.  I’ve had to watch Amanda Waller reduced to the supermodel
    proportions of every other female character (although I’m holding out
    that it’s a scam on her part).  I’ve had two of my favorite heroines –
    Samus Aran and Aya Brea – reduced from competent, tough warriors into
    mewling, helpless doe-eyed waifs, with a heaping help of daddy issues
    dumped on top, and now Lara Croft seems to be next on the list.

    So the fact that a movie that is almost entirely about the struggle
    between morality and nihilism between the main protagonist and the main
    villain of the Batman franchise, with Harvey Dent as little more than
    the battleground for their ideological free-for-all didn’t put any women
    front and center didn’t bother me at all.  In any way. 

    If he goes the Frank Miller route with Catwoman, then I’ll get irate, but TDK is so much better than so much else out there.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Yet there is tons of discussion on the Internet on “How to frag an
    Orc”, and noone seems to think that turns young men (or women, except we
    all know that Girls Aren’t Gamers) into violent murders — well, some people
    do, and we point and laugh at those people.

    I’m sure the Mordor-American Anti-Defmation League would be all over these impending hate crimes, except for the possibly significant fact that orcs don’t exist.  

    Women and creeps DO.

  • Izzy

    Point, and…ugh…and…wait, Samus? And Aya? I’d missed that, and I hate to ask, but…what happened to them? And when?

    Perhaps it’s good that I haven’t been keeping up.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Which criticism somehow coincides exactly with that aimed at almost all of the genres aimed specifically at women (romance, urban fantasy, erotica, etc.) while somehow (at least in my experience) being dismissed as “irrelevant” when applied to male-targeted media (violent epic fantasy, war-adventure, etc.)

    Could this be a case of noticing criticism directed at oneself more than that directed at others?

    I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a gamer.  I have been known to be around gamers, however, and they’re very aware of the criticism that is invariably leveled at them which is, basically, that they can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality, they’re all murderers waiting to happen, and [most recent mass murderer] is all their fault.  Even if he never played a game in his life.

    Part of that is, obviously, that they have an important reason to find out about these accusations because they have an unfortunate tendency to be brought up by elected officials who want to, if not necessarily outlaw games, at least make it much more difficult to get them.  How much such officials have succeeded in that goal depends a lot, I’m told, on which continent you happen to be on.

    Of course, for all I know there are people in office who are, even now as I type, trying to create Twilight restricting laws.

    -

    On a completely different but still in response to the same post note, it seems to me that a lot of Ana’s analysis is about the bad found in the books.  The same can be said of Fred’s analysis of Left Behind.  They’re not finding much good in the books (though meta-Buck got saved and I made my defense of Eric) but good can come from looking at the bad in books.

    I’m not going to say that there’s nothing good about the books because I do not believe that to be true, but even it it were true I don’t think that would mean that nothing good could come from looking at them.

    When Edward responds to Bella finally noticing the pain of the head injury he inflicted on her with suppressed laughter that wasn’t good.  To find someone’s pain amusing isn’t good.  To find it so amusing you can’t successfully hide it when you try is even further from good.  I’m pretty sure there’s nothing good about that.  But I think that good can come from analyzing it and talking about it.

    Of course, as I say that, I suppose it is good that Edward realized he should try not to laugh and acted on that realization.  So, um … bad example or a good example of why my argument is bad?

  • http://readerofprey.livejournal.com/ readerofprey

    I do the exact same thing!  Dan Brown or Ayn Rand is an instant closed match.

  • http://readerofprey.livejournal.com/ readerofprey

    I thought she was just saying that she disagrees with the idea that the Twilight series sends as negative a message to young women as various commenters believe.
    Coming late, so sorry if the discussion is over, but the Twilight books do, clearly and objectively, send negative messages to young women and you can point that out without claiming that women are passive receivers of that message who can’t think for themselves.  The book has a point of view and that point of view is morally abhorrent; whether its readers share or immediately convert to said point of view is an entirely separate conversation to discussing the books merits (or lack thereof).

  • Twig

    I would go with this review:

    http://moonbase.rydia.net/mental/blog/gaming/metroid-other-m-the-elephant/article.html

    as a summary of Metroid: Other M and what it did to Samus’ character.  There are a couple other general critiques of the story as a whole, but this one does the most with Samus specifically.

    As for Aya… well, the Third Birthday ‘story’ was a clustercuss of fail, but I’ll give a couple images.

    Original flavor Aya:  http://www.creativeuncut.com/gallery-01/pe-aya07.html

    Beautiful, strong, knows how to use a gun and a nightstick.  Happy to body-check her date and run toward danger.

    Third Birthday flavor Aya:  http://www.creativeuncut.com/gallery-17/3rdb-cg-artworks2.html

    “Look at how incapable I look at holding this gun.  Also let’s talk about how my clothes tear off the more damage I take.”

    As always, your mileage and annoyance may vary.
     

  • http://readerofprey.livejournal.com/ readerofprey

    I can’t speak to TDK in specific. But there *is* a fairly disturbing tradition, in comics, of Women In Refrigerators: female characters who exist to be love interests and then get killed in horrible ways, thus motivating heroes/villains/etc. 
    Well, in the little niche of the internet I inhabit, I do see those problems within comics discussed extensively, especially now with the DCnU and all its changes, good and bad.  Sexism in the comics doesn’t get the same attention as sexism in Twilight, obviously, but comics in general don’t get as much attention as Twilight being not as mainstream or popular.  I think we’re seeing a massive deconstruction of Twilight because it’s both so popular and so troubling, not because its written by a woman for a female audience.  The last thing this popular was Harry Potter, and while that did engender its own great share of criticism, it didn’t contain nearly as much to be horrified by/complain about.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    So, ok. Hapax is the sort of reader for whom “could not finish the book” is one of the worst critiques that can possibly be leveled at a book. I know this, because I’ve read her reviews. I believe her primary objection to the discussion of the Twilight books (and I’m sure that, if I am wrong, I will be corrected) is that they seem to be coming from a position of “could not be bothered to start the book,” which is then garnished with a lot of “because it’s bad for wimmin” type arguments. We see the same sorts of objections to, for instance, Harry Potter – “I don’t need to read the books to know that they’re full of Satanism and witches and that they’re bad for the children!” When people make those sorts of objections about Harry Potter, especially when they use the “I don’t need to read them to know that they are bad” defense against fans of the books, we laugh at them, or worse. Goose, gander, sauce…

  • Anonymous

    especially when they use the “I don’t need to read them to know that they are bad” defense against fans of the books

    *shrugs* I don’t need to read them to know they’re bad. Or at least not good enough to warrant my spending precious time on them. Of course, I don’t go about saying how bad they are, either.

  • Anonymous

    Izzy, Other M quite effectivly assassinated the idea of Camus being a strong woman. Now she’s completely helpless without a man and ruled by hormones. Don’t know why I expected better from team Ninja, though; The people who made the Dow games wouldn’t understand feminism if you made ‘emsense write a thesis on it.

  • http://readerofprey.livejournal.com/ readerofprey

    But we laugh at those people because Harry Potter is not about Satanism whereas I have read the Twilight books and I can tell you they are actually misogynist in theme, tone, and message!  And pointing out that a book is misogynist is not the same as saying that every woman who reads them will be brainwashed by them, which I don’t think any commenter here has done.

  • Lori

    Catching up after being without internet:

     Interestingly enough the trope of “having a child even though it will kill you” is a fairly common one in fiction. There is even a whiff of that in Steel Magnolias.  

    That is a factor in Steel Magnolias, but the issue is not presented in the same way as in the Twilight series. Shelby does risk her life by getting pregnant, but she & Whatshisface tried to adopt first. There’s an implication that Whathisface really wants a son of “his own” and the implication is that that makes him sort of a jerk. Shelby isn’t obsessed with having his biological child. She wants to be a mother and is worried that her marriage will fail is they don’t have a child, so she goes ahead with a high risk pregnancy nd it ultimately kills her. That’s not really the same thing as Bella and her focus on “Edward’s baby”. It’s really problematic, but not in the same way. 

    That doesn’t mean that Twilight is necessarily worse than Steel Magnolias (which has plenty of problems), just that the two things aren’t really dealing with the same pregnancy issue. 

  • Izzy

    Hee! Judgmental Dating Site Denizens Unite! All you have to lose are several evenings of desperately hoping the restaurant catches fire!

    With Brown* and Goodkind, like Twilight, I’m actually okay with people who read and enjoy the stuff–but having it in your “favorites” list on a dating site, without explanation, says that you and I aren’t going to get along.

    Rand is slightly more of A Thing: her works are overtly philosophical enough that, if you like her stuff, chances are you’re an uber-Libertarian dickhead. (Ahh, redundancy.) I know one guy who was in college, got over it, but still has The Fountainhead because he doesn’t like throwing away books, which is different. (Though his girlfriend’s working on it, or at least on making him take it off their public bookshelf. God go with her.)

    *The writing and plot don’t bug me nearly as much as the thinly-disguised gender essentialism. Having a New Age take on that bullshit does not make it less bullshit, Mr. Brown. Also: shut up, Sophie.

  • Izzy

    GAAAAAAH.

    No. Just…no. I…why? The childlike stature? The, to quote Bunting, sad-kitty-boo-boo face? WHY? WHAT THE FUCK? ARGH….

  • Izzy

    Haaaaaaaaaate.

    Man, reasons to be glad I’ve mostly stuck to Bioware–which, granted, has its own problems, but at least has female leads who don’t offend me on a sub-atomic level.

  • Izzy

    Fair point.

    Although I would question how much of a series you have to read before passing judgment. I’m quite willing to mock LB, for example, based largely on the deconstructions Fred has posted. I haven’t actually sat down and read Gor or the entirety of Twilight, but I’ve Wikied and asked people, and I feel quite justified in saying Jesus Christ what the fuck get it away.

    I think, if you don’t read the books themselves, you should read either a) a detailed summary from a neutral source or b) a fairly detailed deconstruction with plenty of quotes, before you seriously mock them.  But primary sources aren’t absolutely necessary, unless you’re actually running a review site or similar.

  • hapax

    I personally would be interested in knowing what you find good and recommendable in the Twilight novels.

    They *are* good reads.  Not in the sense of technical merit, but in the sense of being (as Kit Whitfield observed) remarkably porous, so that you can read into them whatever you bring to them (example — both Kit and I read a strong BDSM subtext into the books, but we disagree about who is the Dom and who the Sub)

    They portray very well the all consuming experience of the adolescent crush, which can be enjoyable vicariously both in retrospect (as in “Boy I remember that, and thank Heaven I’ll never go through that again, but it was exciting at the time”) and as an experiment (as in “Well, I’ve never felt that way, and I see how it can be exciting, but since I’ve experienced in these books, I don’t have to bother to seek that in real life”)

    They provide an enjoyable romantic fantasy, which many women relate to, but know perfectly well doesn’t make for healthy real life relationships, so they seek safe expressions of it in their entertainment

    They provide an excellent opportunity for mothers and daughters (especially, but I don’t see why not for fathers and sons and any other combination) to talk about healthy romantic relationships

    As far as specific plot points — personally, I found the pregnancy / childbirth sequences in BREAKING DAWN to by among my favorite parts.  You can’t imagine how sick I am of glowy romanticized happy baby epilogs in romance novels.  TW and ROT13 for pregnancy /childbirth trauma Fcrnxvat nf fbzrbar jub qvq rkcrevrapr n zhpu jnagrq certanapl nf irel zhpu yvxr univat n cerqngbel nyvra cnenfvgr jvguva zr, fgneivat zr, erqhpvat zr gb ubfcvgnyvmrq urycyrffarff; jub jnf gbea orgjrra ure bja yvsr naq pbagvahvat gb pneel fbzrbar V ybirq zber guna V ybirq zlfrys; jub qvq unir ure orybirq fcbhfr nfx ure gb frevbhfyl pbafvqre grezvangvat gur certanapl gb cerfreir zl bja urnygu; jub yvgrenyyl oyrq gb qrngu qryvirevat gung puvyq; jub jnf qrinfgngrq gung fur jnf hanoyr gb ubyq naq pner sbe ure bja arjobea puvyq, orpnhfr ure urnygu jbhyqa’g crezvg vg — I found that section of the series to be immensely satisfying and cathartic of emotions that  I didn’t know I still had.

    And these are just off the top of my head.

  • Anonymous

    Seconding what Izzy said. I think it’s helpful to distinguish between the Harry-Potter-rejectors you are talking about–and I would add in that group people who refuse to try anything new–and, on the other side, people who are familiar with a genre and, based on a smallish taste of a new entry in that genre, can say, “this isn’t very good.”

    Of course, there are books where small tastes won’t give you the full flavor. My own experience of reading Sir Walter Scott, for instance, is that the first half of the book drags, and the last half is a page-turner. But I wouldn’t have gotten through the first half of the first book without someone reliable telling me that it would pay off in the end.

    Similarly, if one picks up only one of the bits of the Sherlock Holmes stories where he acts like a jerk (and there are a goodly number of such bits), one might conclude they’re not worth reading. Again, it’s helpful to have a reliable person say, “Those portions aren’t representative. The whole is really very good.”

    I haven’t heard anyone reliable telling me that the whole of the Twilight series is good enough to overcome my initial negative reaction. (Presumably, if your initial reaction is positive, then the series works for you, so go to it, take and read.)

  • hapax

    The difference, for me, is that “how to find *your own* Edward”
    posts/books/etc are pretty explicitly about taking Twilight principles
    into RL.* “

    The odd thing, is, the ones that I have read (and I certainly don’t go looking for them, so these may be outliers) are quite explicitly *at*odds* with the actual text of the Twilight books.

    I mean, they all seemed to say things like “Look for a guy who respects you.  Who puts your wishes first.  Who treats you with courtesy” and things like that.

    None of which are at all good descriptions of Edward’s behavior.  However, they are pretty good advice.

    I haven’t seen any (except obvious parodies) that say “Look for a guy who says he wants to kill you and eat you.  Who laughs at you when you suffer.  Who disables your car when you say you want to visit your friends” and so forth.

  • Izzy

    Huh. Well, that’s reassuring, in an bizarre kind of way.

    Then again, we live in a world where “Born in the USA” gets put into damn near every Macy’s Parade patriotic medley, so I can’t say I’m entirely surprised. At least humanity’s tendency toward…whatever that is…is in good service this time.

    I also hear you re: happy baby epilogues in romance. Not something you’ll ever find in my novels, though for totally different reasons.

  • Lori

     But *I* feel personally insulted by a lot of the Twilight-hatred, which very much carries the mesage of “But look at these unpleasant implications!  How can you be so blind to the obvious harm such a fantasy will cause in real life!”  

     

    B doesn’t necessarily follow from A. Twilight does have a lot of unpleasant implications. Implications that, IME are often dismissed by fans. It doesn’t follow that reading them will cause real life harm, but bad implications are bad implications. 

    Twilight does engender a fair amount of pearl-clutching, but I’m not sure it’s all that unique in that regard. Maybe we’ve just been in very different discussions, but I haven’t seen anything said about Twilight that isn’t also said about things like reality TV and the amount of criticism seems to be about proportionate to the amount of success the books have had. The Twilight franchise has sold a ton of books, spawned major movies and made a couple of fairly run of the mill actors into big stars. It’s not like people are carping on some little book that sold a few thousand copies. It’s everywhere so people talk about it. Some of what’s said isn’t complimentary to the work or the fans. That’s how things tend to go. AFAIK no one has organized groups to burn copies of the books to protect fragile young minds, so Bella still has a ways to go to beat Harry Potter when it comes to complaints about real life harm. 

    Which criticism somehow coincides exactly with that aimed at almost all of the genres aimed specifically at women (romance, urban fantasy, erotica, etc.) while somehow (at least in my experience) being dismissed as “irrelevant” when applied to male-targeted media (violent epic fantasy, war-adventure, etc.) 

    I think this is definitely true. I read romance so I’m well aware of how the genre gets treated compared to more male-dominated genre. Complaints, I haz them. (And romances don’t even have it the worst when it comes to getting crapped on for being aimed mainly at women. My vote for that dubious honor goes to soap operas.)  Still, F/SF is perceived as being mostly aimed at men and as we’ve discussed here many times they don’t fair much better than romance.

    In any case, for me the issue isn’t all one-sided. Genre-snobs bug me, but so do many, many readers of romance who never seem to notice the implications of anything they read and who act like there’s a problem with the fact that I do. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen some variant of, “I read romances for fun, why would I want to think about any of that stuff” I’d have a lot less trouble keeping up with my bills. 

    TL; DR: IME, it’s complicated. 

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    But we laugh at those people because Harry Potter is not about Satanism whereas I have read the Twilight books and I can tell you they are actually misogynist in theme, tone, and message! 

    I think the key thing here is that you have read the books, and identified clearly the elements which you don’t like. Hapax objects (or, at least, she seems to object) to people who have not read the books issuing a blanket dismissal of the books.

    Look – I have no issue with the idea that the Twilight books are bad on a number of levels. I’ve read the opening paragraph to the first book, it was so poorly written that I felt no compulsion to continue, and I have been assured by people who have read the whole series (including my wife, who claims the books speak to her inner 12 year old) that I’m not missing anything. But I don’t think that means the books should be banned (I don’t believe that any book should be banned), and any book which gets young people reading (especially if they are not, ordinarily, readers) is good enough for me – it has justified its existence.  In as much as people ARE reading these books, I agree that there’s some value in understanding what the appeal is (even if the appeal is “I’m not allowed to read anything not on the approved reading list of my Christian sect”), and broadening the conversation. A young girl who ADORES Twilight will respond better to a discussion of misogyny in the books if it comes from someone who has clearly read the books instead of someone who has read about the books and dismisses them entirely. 


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