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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Column: Twi-freaks, lit geeks

What is art: A penciled scribble framed in a modern art museum or a painting of dogs playing poker? This is one question that Watson, the freaky Jeopardy-playing computer who annihilated Ken Jennings last week, cannot answer correctly.

To me, the mind-numbing reality TV and repetitive song lyrics of our decade are not art. Is Lady Gaga’s new song a powerful social commentary or is it just another jumble of sounds to dance to? Vincent Van Gogh, William Shakespeare, Dmitri Shostakovich-these guys are artists.

So where do we draw the line between trash and treasure? Philosophers have fought about this question since the beginning of time. After thousands of years, we still don’t have an answer. Great.

Now, I don’t want to make any vampire fans faint, but let’s consider a literature series that seems to straddle the line between art and trash: Twilight.

Although I’ve skipped seeing the movies, I admit that I have read the first two installations in the Twilight series. As a freshman in high school, the books somewhat spoke to my teenage angst.

But, halfway through New Moon, I got sick of the whiny “heroine” and god-like “hero.” Bella’s life decisions made my inner feminist scream with anger. Reading about Edward sparkling in the sun seemed like some bad ad for tanning lotion in a teen magazine. Needless to say, I abandoned the series and started reading Douglas Adams instead.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s pretty obvious that the general “young adult female” demographic that the books are aimed toward doesn’t share my viewpoint. (Don’t even get me started on how much Twi-moms scare the crap out of me.)

The series has turned into an extremely successful phenomenon. Over 100 million copies of the books have been sold, and they have been translated into an insane number of languages. Twilight fans can also enjoy watching the high-grossing films and buying Twilight merchandise, which ranges from coasters to yoga mats.

I wouldn’t call myself a Twi-hater, but I did roll my eyes in fall 2009 when I saw that a freshman seminar was being offered about the book and film series. Being in the process of editing a collection of academic essays about Twilight, UC Davis University Writing Program lecturer Amy Clarke was looking for some student input.

The Twilight Mystique: Critical Essays on the Novels and Films, edited by Amy Clarke and Marijane Osborn, a UC Davis professor emerita of English, was published in late October of last year. The collected essays explore aspects such as the Mormon religious influences and the literary references found in the series.

In the introduction to the collection, Clarke asserts that the novels are more than just another quick read paperback to bring to the beach during spring break. She admits that the novels are not the perfect models of writing, but she believes that shouldn’t keep us from regarding them as having literary worth. The closing sentence of the introduction sums up her feelings: “Far more is going on in the Twilight series than anyone could have guessed, as is evidenced by the riches the scholars who have contributed to this volume have unearthed.”

Seeing that a group of academics could write over 200 pages about Twilight has made me think twice about the series. Maybe it isn’t garbage. When academic discourse exists about the series, then maybe it has become art. Millions of fans probably do consider the novels to be artistic accomplishments.

I guess it all boils down to personal taste. Most arts and humanities classes have already decided for you that whatever you’re exploring in the class is art. But, that’s not always the case. Dearest Robinson Crusoe, I appreciate that you are a shining star in the history of the rise of the British novel, but you still bored me to tears multiple times.

Stephenie Meyer is one of the most successful writers of our generation, but I still don’t know if I can call her an artist. I respect that her fans might consider her books to be art, but the series never spoke to me. Can we call something art when we have no personal interest in it?

I’m going to take the middle path here and say the Twilight series is still straddling the line between trash and art. Only time will tell if the series becomes generally accepted as artistic. In the mean time, I will be reading Wuthering Heights to get my fix of crazy Gothic characters.

CORRIE JACOBS thinks Heathcliff could take down Edward any day. Agree with her at cljacobs@ucdavis.edu.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I am a new comer to the whole Twilight business, and cannot provide much feedback or counter your arguments regarding Twilight. However,I do like the concept of the novel, and the imagery. The imagery alone places it in the “art” stack, but it is the stupidity of her characters that pushes Twilight towards the trash bin. I too found that Twilight was good for a brief while, and grew tired of Bella’s inability to stay out of trouble…how many times can a person be rescued? As you noted, time will tell whether or not Meyers will be the next Van Gogh of Vampires.

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