Wednesday, September 1, 2010

MWF 2010: Fading Twilight

From the MWF program: The most compelling books for teenagers ever written or brain-draining, sexist rubbish? Harmless, escapist fantasy that is inspiring more teens to read than ever before or mind-numbing, badly plotted tripe? Seventeen million copies later, the Twilight debate continues to rage. A panel of writers, booksellers, editors and publishers discuss the pros and cons of this best-selling series - pushed and probed by you, our Festival audience. Have your questions ready.

So it's probably obvious by now that I'm not really a Twilight fan, but I thought this debate could be snarky and fun. It was. My notes were pretty haphazard by this point, so I've tried to just sum up each speaker's arguments. In short - we had two teams: the Affirmative (Jeff Sparrow, Chris Flynn and Ben Chandler) and the Negative (Bec Kavanagh, Kate Forsyth and Van Badham). The debate was adjudicated by Nikki Anderson. Each speaker had four minutes, followed by question time and a rebuttal before the winner was judged by the audience.

  • Twilight shouldn't be dismissed as 'just a story'. Stories impact on our culture and tell us about how we live. What does Twilight say about contemporary culture?
  • There is a tradition, in the vampire novel of dealing with sexuality, sexual appetite and desire. Twilight places sexual attraction on not having sex.
  • In 2006, the Bush Administration promoted abstinence-only sex education programs in schools (this was also the same time Twilight was published). Teenagers were encouraged to pledge their abstinence with the Silver Ring Thing and Sparrow suggests that abstinence in taught in a highly sexualised way "be incredibly sexy while you don't have sex".
  • Twilight as promoting a magical resolution to a real dilemma
  • Came from a bookselling point of view. Twilight has set both the publishing and bookselling industry "blazing". Breaking Dawn broke sales records in 2009 with 19,000 copies sold each week during January.Twilight also promotes other works like Wuthering Heights and has hugely increased their sales figures too "revitalising old work".
  • Twilight encouraging reluctant readers and people who don't normally, to buy more books.
  • "I'd rather be sitting next to someone on the tram reading Twilight ... than having them harrass me".
  • The similarities between Wuthering Heights and Twilight in regard to an encouraging an old-fashioned relationship to sex.
  • Chris had a number of issues with Bella wanting to sleep with Edward her "really hot boyfriend". Most humoursly, the question of whether "is his penis cold? Is it like a pink icy-pole?". Was also curious about Edward's frozen sperm.
  • Called Twilight 'anti-feminism' and it's attitude to sexuality "out of place in the modern novel".
  • Men to be guarding female virginity is a Victorian concept
Kate talked about the five reasons why she loves Twilight
  1. Not only encourages young women to read, but their mothers are also reading it and it opens a forum for discussion between them. Also boys are starting to read it.
  2. Bella is an ordinary girl - gawky, clumsy (I disagree somewhat. Mostly because of this)
  3. Due to it's success Wuthering Heights has been re-issued - Twilight is introducing new readers to classic texts.
  4. Twilight has fallen victim to literary snobbery and what constitutes good writing
  5. Stephenie Meyer deals with the grand themes of literature in the Twilight Saga (love, loss, life)
  • Started with a description from Bram Stroker's Dracula, and claimed Twilight is "destroying our image of the vampire in literature".
  • Vampires as originally being demonic figures "vampires don't sparkle, they burn in the sun".
  • References to Spike and Angel (yay!)
  • Edward's qualities and virture make him something more like an angel, as vampires aim to corrupt. 
  • Twilight as a novel about female choice and that Edward and Bella's relationship is challenging for men.
  • Stephenie Meyer is the only person in history to have all four titles on the New York Times best-sellers list.
  • Had some very interesting (and scary statistics) like 1 in 3 teenage girls in a UK survey found they had been coerced into sexual acts and by the age of 17, 54% of teenage boys had clocked up hours of watching porn.
  • The success of Twilight has had a huge impact on female writers, allowing more female voices to be heard and published.
  • She concluded with this zinger "the time of sucking your icey-poles is over"
I really thought Van's heartfelt and empowering speech may have won over the crowd, but the laughs provided by the boys apparently sealed the deal (or the audience was more anti-Twilight than I expected) because the Affirmative won. I'd have been interested to see how the debate would have gone if both teams were mixed rather than a battle of the sexes-esque set-up. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining way to end my first day at the Festival! There are some photos up on the MWF Facebook page.


Nomes said...

haha. this sounds like so much fun. i agree its made people who dont read, read. but all they do is keep re-reading twilight, haha! I so want them to discover more awesome books.

although, i'm not a twilight hater - it just blows my mind how HUGE the whole thing is :)

Girl Friday said...

I agree Nomes - I think it's great that it's encouraging teenagers and reluctant readers to enjoy reading, but at the same time, I don't think it depicts a healthy teen relationship (Edward's behaviour borders on creepy so many times for me and I won't even start on the way sex is handled).

Like you, I'm amazed at the impact and widespread nature the Twi-phenomenon has become! I don't think I'm quite a hater, I'm just critical and want Twilighters to realise there are other (better) stories out there.

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