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“The rabid fans that take [Twilight] much too seriously”:

The Construction and Rejection of Excess in Twilight Anti-Fandom

Essay published in The Journal of Transformative Works and Cultures, volume 7, 2011.  Available here.

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Introduction

Though Twilight has catapulted into pop culture, acquiring millions of fans as well as anti-fans and being discussed in magazines, news papers, on T.V. talk and entertainment shows and online, there has still been surprisingly little discussion of the fans and anti-fans themselves.  Our culture has seemed content with providing tongue-in-cheek descriptions of the series as merely a recipient of female fandom and which involve reports of the number of movie tickets sold and accounts of excited teenage screaming.  There also seems to be little examination of this phenomenon being carried out either in academia or from within the realms of fandom itself.  I offer this study of one particular group of Twilight anti-fans, The Anti-Twilight Movement, not because it can explain everything about the responses to Twilight, but in the hopes that it will spark further inquiry and discussion into the important activities of these fans and anti-fans.  This paper is not predominantly concerned with Twilight itself, but instead with the ways in which The Anti-Twilight Movement represents a particularly articulated anti-fan identity as well as their representations of and responses to the Twilight books and movies and its fans and anti-fans. These anti-fans, who have constructed, in opposition to themselves, a “rabid” identity based on the cultural hierarchy’s positioning of the feminine and the popular towards the bottom, should be considered within the wide range of not only Twilight anti-fandom, but anti-fandom as a whole.

Twilight and its place in pop cultural

On the eve of the June 2010 release of Eclipse, the third film in Twilight’s four-piece saga, The Los Angeles Times ran an article addressing what they saw to be the worrying problem of Twilight fans’ unhealthy “addiction.” The article depicts the female fans as dangerously out of touch with reality and mentally sick in their Twilight fandom, their marriages falling apart and their children forgotten as their Twilight obsession takes over their “real” lives.  One of the article’s self-confessed fans admits “It’s [Twilight] like a drug.  I have to read it or I break down crying.  It’s awful.  I don’t want to tell anyone about it.  But I fear it’s unhealthy.”  Another woman confesses that “‘Twilight’ was always on my mind, to the point where I couldn’t function” (Spines 2010).

This article was released at the perfect moment to capitalize on the many popularized images of fanatic women, both irrational moms and emotional teenage girls, which surround Twilight, during the week when hundreds of fans waited days for the third movie’s L. A. premier and bought tickets for its midnight release.  Of course, popular culture has long been littered with depictions of fans as frenzied and obsessed, as members of a hysterical crowd or as delusional loners; emotional and excessive fans are often seen as deviant and dangerous members of society and are now given the image-conjuring moniker of “rabid” in online discussion (Jenson 1992).  Concern about fans’ potentially threatening behavior increases as they become a more and more visible part of popular culture, as was the case with the (female) Twilight fans who were seen as the nucleus of the cultural explosion of all things vampire which was ushered in by Twilight’s success.

The series of young adult books about the romance between teenager Bella and vampire Edward has sold more than 100 million copies and the first three movies so-far released have earned $1.17 billion worldwide (The Numbers (2010)).  However, it is not only its box office gross that has made Twilight the object of pop culture fascination (and derision) that it is; it is also the franchise’s large and exuberantly active (predominantly female) fan base.  As of August 2010, FanFiction.net listed more than 120,000 stories, 2,684 communities, and 717 discussion forums for Twilight, the site’s second most popular book series of all time only after Harry PotterTwilight more than tripled the activity of its next greatest competitor The Lord of the Rings, the third of the three most successful book-to-movie adaptations and which had only approximately 40,000 stories.  As an interesting point of comparison, Twilight fan activity also outnumbered that of Star Trek, the series infamously known for its zealous “trekkie” fans; the six combined Star Trek series boasted about 15,000 stories on FanFiction.net, approximately 1/8 of Twilight’s responses.

Reactions to Twilight fandom like those seen in the opening article, which seek to qualify and police fan engagement, come not only from the dominant culture, but from within the Twilight community as well, from both fans and anti-fans.  Indeed, portrayals of female Twilight fans as emotionally unstable and irrational have appeared not only in mainstream newspapers like The L. A. Times but on countless Twilight anti-fan Web sites as well.  Anti-fans can be just as active as fans and often share many similarities in terms of identity and behavior (Gray 2003, 2005, Hills 2002).  In his discussion of anti-fans, Jonathan Gray explains that “hate or dislike of a text can be just as powerful as can a strong and admiring, affective relationship with a text, and they [anti-fans] can produce just as much activity, identification, meaning, and “effects” or serve just as powerfully to unite and sustain a community or subculture” (2005:841).  Gray defines anti-fans as those who are not necessarily “against fandom per se… but who strongly dislike a given text or genre, considering it inane, stupid, morally bankrupt or aesthetic drivel” (2003:70).  In his recent posting, Dan Haggard also proposed a definition of anti-fans which more accurately encompasses the responses to Twilight: “they actively hate it and seek to modify other people’s perceptions of those texts in a way that more closely resembles their own.  They tend to resent [its] success and seek to undermine that success…” (2010).  For indeed, Twilight anti-fans hate not only the text and/or genre of Twilight, but certain of its fans and anti-fans as well, either as mere extensions of the despised text or symbols of the popularity which they believe to be undeserved, or as proponents of a hated mode of fan (or anti-fan) engagement.

It is this latter type of anti-fan which is particularly active in the world of Twilight, those who have positioned themselves predominantly against a mode of fan/anti-fan engagement; they are localized around the group/Web site The Anti-Twilight Movement (ATM) and their “affiliated” sites, which include Twilight Really Sucks (TRS)[1], among others.  These anti-fans are opposed to the so-called “rabid” mode of fandom and anti-fandom which they see as particularly systemic of the romantic and massively popular Twilight franchise as well as of its predominantly female fans.  In their definition of “rabid” behavior, which involves being excessive, emotional, irrational, overly-invested, out-of-control, and oftentimes young and female, these anti-fans construct a duality not between the traditional distinction of authentic vs. inauthentic, but between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fans/anti-fans (Jancovich 2002:307-8).  On this proposed fan hierarchy, which functions rather like Brunching’s pyramid of Geekdom in which ‘legitimate’ published science fiction authors are ranked higher than those ‘illegitimate’ fans who post (erotic Star Trek) fan fiction online, ATM asserts its own rational and academic superiority over its constructed and femininely gendered depiction of “rabid” Twilighters.  In her examination of the often-described pathology of fandom, Jolie Jenson explains that “the division between worthy and unworthy is based in an assumed dichotomy between reason and emotion…[and] describes a presumed difference between the educated and uneducated, as well as between the upper and lower classes” (1992:20).  Through their construction of “rabid” fans/anti-fans as an emotional and excessive Other, an entirely dismissible girl subculture, ATM privileges their own affected anti-fan performance of reasoned literary critique, which carries with it superior connotations of the high class and the educated as well as of the masculine.

Affect and identity

According to Lawrence Grossberg, “it is affect which enables some differences to matter as markers of identity rather than others” and ATM has chosen the “rabid” mode of engagement, defined as inferiorly emotional, excessive, popular, and feminine on the cultural hierarchy, as the core marker of their anti-fan identity and their main distinguisher between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fans (1992:58).  It is “through such investments in specific differences,” here ATM’s construction of “rabids” versus non-“rabids” and the cultural value that each characterizations holds, that (anti-)fans like ATM “divide the cultural world into Us and Them” (1992:58).

Grossberg explains that “within an affective sensibility, texts serve as ‘billboards’ of an investment.”  For the “rabid” fans characterized on ATM’s and others’ sites, that self-defining text is Twilight in all its manifestations, including the books, the movies, actor and author interviews, and online fan discussion.  However, anti-fans like ATM use their Web site, with its characterization of “rabid” behavior, as their ‘billboard’ of identity and the space where they carry out their supposedly superior rational and literary affectations (1992:57).

The Anti-Twilight Movement

 

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Figure 1: Screenshot of the “Home” page of The Anti-Twilight Movement’s Web site (http://theantitwilightmovement.webs.com/home.htm), 2010.

[4.1]   Sites like ATM’s differ slightly from the general fan or anti-fan site template because they focus more on publishing their own readings of Twilight and its fandoms while letting member discussion and Twilight news updates take a back burner, features which generally dominate other Twilight fan sites.  Indeed, unlike the Twilight anti-fans which Catherine Strong (2009) examined in Cracked discussion forums (2008), ATM does not communicate or function predominantly in chats and discussions, but instead articulates their specific anti-fan identity through the stable pages of their Web site.  ATM also “affiliates” itself with certain anti-Twilight sites which they see to be commendably similar and posts the list of such sites to their homepage in order to facilitate further Twilight anti-fan discussion and expression.  These “affiliated” Twilight anti-fan sites are generally all constructed in a comparable manner to that of ATM, with a similar foregrounding of their own articulated response to Twilight and its “rabid” fandoms, though none are as extensive nor contain as many academic and literary affectations.

[4.2]   ATM clearly delineates every section of their Web site and explains each page so that every visitor to the site, whether first-time or returning, fellow anti-Twilighter or “rabid” Twilight fan, will understand exactly what anti-fan position they have taken.  The site includes a Warning message which appears upon entry to the site and demands “civil” behavior from all visitors, an opening Welcome message, as well as an Our Cause and a FAQ page, among others, which all explicitly outline ATM’s rationally affected anti-fandom and their rejection of Twilight’s “rabid” fans.


figure 2 Figure 2: Screenshot of the “warning” message which appears upon entry to The Anti-Twilight Movement Web site (http://theantitwilightmovement.webs.com/), 2008.

ATM’s site also contains Ragemail from both Twilight fans and Twilight anti-fans which is meant to serve as empirical proof of what ATM claims to be the aggressive and emotionally “rabid” behavior of the fans and anti-fans who engage inappropriately, as they see it, with Twilight, proof of their construction of “rabids” as hostile, illogical and often young.  In these sections, ATM administrators post the hostile messages which they receive from angry Twilight fans and anti-fans, out of context, followed by their own disciplinary commentary, retaining and criticizing all spelling and grammatical errors from the original angry texts and emails.  However, it is important to acknowledge that this is merely ATM’s characterization of “rabid” Twilighters and that these messages do not represent the full range of Twilight fandom, “rabid” or not.  It is entirely possible that ATM receives messages other than this “rabid” Ragemail which contradicts or fails to fit their portrait of the “rabid” fan, and which they therefore do not post.

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Figure 3: Screenshot of the “Ragemail” section on The Anti-Twilight Movement’s Web site, which shows a hostile message from a “rabid” fan and the site’s retaliatory comments (http://theantitwilightmovement.webs.com/mailbag.htm), 2008.

A cultural hierarchy and the rejection of excess

 

Why is it that anti-fans like ATM so hate and fear the “rabid” fans and anti-fans of Twilight?  What lies beneath their characterization of such “rabid” behavior, especially the foul-mouthed emotional teenagers depicted in ATM’s Ragemail, or beneath The L. A. Times’ depiction of female Twilight fans as mentally sick (Spines 2010)?  These representations of fans as maladjusted and emotionally unstable, fanatic in every bad connotation of the word, are more a reflection of the authoring group’s anxieties and values than they are a necessarily accurate portrayal of the fans in question.   Henry Jenkins explains that this “stereotypical conception of the fan, while not without a limited factual basis, amounts to a projection of anxieties about the violation of dominant cultural hierarchies,” whether in terms of aesthetic taste or prevailing societal values (1992:17).  Fans support the “wrong” tastes, or the “right” ones in wrong and excessive ways, and they also disrupt established notions of taste and quality by “treating popular texts as if they merited the same degree of attention and appreciation as canonical texts” (Jenkins 1992:17).

Jolie Jenson further explains that “it is normal and therefore safe to be attached to elite, prestige-conferring objects…but it can be abnormal, and therefore dangerous to be attached to popular mass-mediated objects” (like Twilight) (2002:20).  These value judgments exist on an established “cultural hierarchy” and lead to the constructed “distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’” which allows one to be seen as safe in relation to the now-threatening and bad taste-possessing other (Jenson 2002:20).  This cultural hierarchy, which privileges the elite over the popular and the rational over the emotional, underlies ATM’s subjugating construction of Twilight’s ‘bad’ “rabids,” whom they have also femininely gendered so as to reject girl subcultures; it also serves as a means by which ATM can be positioned as ‘good,’ for by rejecting excessive Twilight fans, they reinforce the dominant tastes and preserve the existing cultural hierarchy (Strong 2009:5).

What is most threatening about these “rabid” fans/anti-fans, and therefore what comprises ATM’s core characterization of them, is their perceived propensity for excess.  As Jenson explains, fandom, unlike culturally acceptable aficionadohood or academic expertise for example, “involves an ascription of excess and emotional display” which is much less desirable than masculine and educated, upper class displays of reason and control (2002:20).  In order to make “rabid” Twilight fans and anti-fans the ultimate Other to their own affectations of rational literary criticism, ATM defines them in ways which align with traditional depictions of fan pathology and deviancy and which shows them to be undesirably excessive.

“Rabid” fan hostility and intolerance

As ATM sees it, “rabid” fans are so excessive in their attachment to Twilight, so emotional and immature, that they cannot so much as hear of a person not liking Twilight without defensively lashing out.  One of ATM’s pieces of Ragemail proves this characterization of “rabids” as emotionally intolerant: “You’re stupid for making an ‘anti-Twilight site.  Twilight is amazing… They ARE the best books.  And you, you stupid fuck tard, are gay and stupid and a loser and all the things you think Twilight are.  Get a life.  Go die.”  ATM chose this piece of Ragemail to show “rabid” Twilight fans at their worst, as incapable of accepting the mere existence of an anti-Twilight Web site or responding to such people with anything other than hurtful personal insults, which often resemble the petty and unsophisticated invectives often attributed to teenage girls.  ATM’s citing of the mangling of the mechanics of the English language and what they present as uncalled-for personal attacks and harsh name-calling enables them to reject these femininely gendered “rabid” fans for their lack of emotional control and their presumed lack of education, as well as for their youth and their hostile intolerance.

Another characterization of “rabid” Twilight fans shows them to be so defensive and emotionally hostile that they not only harshly insult anti-Twilighters but they also resort to actual violence.  The “Twihard Attack Directory” (2008) discussion forum on the Twilight Sucks Web site allows anti-Twilighters to post accounts of when they were attacked by “rabid” Twilight fans; in most of the postings, the anti-fans claim that they did nothing to incur the retaliatory action of the “rabid” Twilighters other than to express their simple dislike of the books or movies.  The listed assaults include verbal insults, a broken ankle, a cigarette burn, an attempted throat slitting, and a “wished miscarriage,” among others.  Though these “Twihard attacks” are completely unverifiable and, as Dan Haggard points out, have never been reported by any reputable news organizations (2010), such depictions of excess fit perfectly which ATM’s construction of “rabid” Twilight fans as a deviant and dangerous counterpoint to their own affected identity of reason and control.  As Jenson explains, “once fans are characterized as deviant, they can be treated as disreputable, even dangerous ‘others’” (1992:9).  And while “rabid” Twilight fans might be seen as unsavory on some basic level, anti-fans like ATM can unequivocally dismiss them as dangerous and ‘bad’ when they can be shown to have committed actual violence, especially unprovoked intolerant violence, in the name of their fandom.

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Figure 4:  Screenshot of the “Twihard Attack Directory” posting in the Twilight Sucks forum (http://twilightsucks.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=fangirls&action=display&thread=5175), 2008.

Hostile “rabid” anti-fans

Even more threatening to anti-Twilighters like ATM than the “rabid” fans they so thoroughly reject are the “rabid” Twilight anti-fans who are said to attack Twilight fans with as little rationality and as much violent emotionality as was seen in ATM’s characterization of intolerant “rabid” fans.  This group of “rabid” and violent Twilight anti-fans is epitomized in the near-militant group called Anonymous, who uses harsh language and violence to ruin the experience of Twilight for its fans.  The group posts instructions online (under the names Project Golden Eye and Operation: No Moon) ordering anti-Twilighters to spoil Twilight film premiers with rude and obscene behavior, to post gay porn and gore-filled fan fiction to Twilight fan sites, and to harshly insult Twilight fans at every possible opportunity (accessed December 18, 2009; site now discontinued).  Anonymous’ aim is to attack, violently, anyone who expresses even the slightest interest in Twilight, no matter their reasoning or degree of fandom; for ATM, Anonymous and other “rabid” anti-fans are just as intolerant and irrational as the “rabid” fans seen in their Ragemail and on the “Twihard Attack Directory.”  Thus, ATM has given them their own Ragemail page where their excessive and “rabid” behavior is denounced on general principle and because, as ATM writes, “you give us a bad name.”

Interestingly, this group of violent “rabid” anti-Twilighters seems to have intentionally aligned itself with the violence and irrational excess which ATM so thoroughly condemns and fears to be associated with; the majority of these “rabid” anti-fans are male and their displays of harsh and sexually degrading language and violence are a way to refute the sentimental femininity attributed to most Twilight fandoms.  Like the “rabid” fans in ATM’s Ragemail, Anonymous uses insulting, ruthless language; however, whereas the fans used femininely gendered terms like “bitch” and “slut,” Anonymous uses homosexual insults and intensely harsh curse words to convey the masculine anger and violence which is part of their anti-fan identity and performance.  For instance, Anonymous justifies its plan to ruin the premier of the second Twilight film for its fans by explaining that “we could not possibly let such a piece of shit come to pass without any consequences, as the fans of the fagboat are worse than the book/movie itself.”  Just as ATM hates “rabid” Twilight fans/anti-fans and the popular belief in Twilight’s literary worth more than they hate Twilight itself, Anonymous’ primary opposition is directed at the fans of Twilight.  However, their use of the term “fagboat” and “piece of shit” and their threatening of (violent) “consequences” is a far cry from ATM’s reasoned and literary assessment of Twilight and their careful refutation of excessive fans, as is their fanatic inability to even let the event “come to pass.”

One “rabid” anti-Twilighter is quoted in the Ragemail as writing “Twilight is buttfucking gay…If you’ve seen the movie and still like it, you’re a buttfucking faggot.”  Again, this message shows the same effeminate-attacking language and harsh hostility that marks the “rabid” anti-fans’ masculine expression as well as the intolerance of differing opinion which also characterized ATM’s Ragemail depiction of “rabid” fans; where the fans couldn’t accept those who disliked Twilight, here the anti-fans can’t allow anyone to have so much as seen the movies and liked them, even if they don’t act “rabidly” about it, a total dismissal of Twilight fans which ATM is very careful to never make.

ATM condemns all such violent and intolerant “rabid” anti-fans and specifically denounces Anonymous on their Wall of Shame.  Here, ATM lists all of the “rabid” anti-Twilight sites which they claim are “appalling and malicious” because “they’re just as violently crazy about Twilight as rabid Twitards, only instead of violently loving it, they violently hate it and anyone who reads it.”  Discussing internal fan identities, Henry Jenkins explains that “even within the fan community,” categories and labels of “other” and “inappropriate” engagement are applied  as a “way of policing the ranks and justifying one’s own pleasures as less ‘perverse’ than those of the others” (1992:19).  Haggard, too, has suggested that the entire phenomenon of the Twilight anti-fan exists as “a largely irrational reaction designed to signify to others within a group, a person’s rejection of an opposing group” (2010).  True as this is for the group as a whole, it also applies to ATM as a specific faction within Twilight anti-fandom, who needs to differentiate themselves from the characterizations of the other “rabids.”  Through such internal fan (or anti-fan) definitions and the establishment of an anti-fan hierarchy, by citing the emotionally excessive behavior of “rabid” Twilight fans and anti-fans and by attributing the label of “rabid” in the first place, ATM and others seek to render their own Twilight anti-fandom acceptable and “appropriate” in comparison.  Through this construction of a safe ‘us’ versus a dangerous ‘them,’ ATM is able to reassure themselves and any outsiders that they are “not as abnormal” as those other hostile and irrational fans and anti-fans, are in fact much better than them (Jenson 1992:24).

ATM’s ‘superior’ rationality and tolerance

In contrast to these excessive and violent “rabids,” the ‘bad’ fans and anti-fans, ATM attempts to prove itself the ‘good’ anti-fans by displaying the reasoned control and civil discussion that mark the culturally accepted, and superior, classification of ‘high class’ connoisseur, aficionado, or scholar (Pearson 2007:98-9).  Jolie Jenson explains that “defining disorderly and emotional fan display as excessive allows the celebration of all that is orderly and unemotional” and therefore ATM defines itself as superiorly “orderly and unemotional” in relation to their construction of “rabid” excess.  Because “self-control is a key aspect of appropriate display” in this definition of a ‘good’ anti-fan/fan, ATM defines their own attachment to Twilight not as traditional (anti-)fandom, but as comprising “rational evaluation and [which is] displayed in more measured ways” than that of the emotional and narrow-minded Twihards they denounce (Jenson 1992:20, 24).  Therefore, as part of this performance of superior rationality, ATM makes sure not only to logically and thoroughly explain their position and their arguments against Twilight as literature and against its “rabid” fans/anti-fans, but never to display the same emotional hostility or irrational intolerance that those “rabids” do.  ATM writes on their site that “you [“rabid” Twilight fans] don’t respect our opinion.  That’s why you won’t let us criticize your favorite book without sending us hate mail, insulting us, and threatening us.”  Here ATM purports to be performing a valuable literary “critique” of Twilight, a reasoned and civil discussion of the book rather than an emotional attack of the fans themselves, while also reminding visitors that “rabid” fans and anti-fans lack not only the educated and mature (and masculine) capacity for such rational evaluation of Twilight but also the same common courtesy of tolerant acceptance.

This characterization of “rabid” Twilighters as being “incapable of respecting others’ opinions” as TRS wrote, not only attempts to prove them inferior to anti-Twilighters like ATM on the basis of cultural hierarchies and their own internal fan hierarchies, but also to provide ATM and similar others with another self-privileging point of comparison.  ATM makes a point to show that they themselves are not merely tunnel-visioned in their rejection of “rabid” fans, are not “against fandom per se” as Jonathan Gray wrote (2003:70); many of these anti-Twilighters are self-admitted fans of other texts, including fantasy genre texts like Twilight.  More importantly though, they strive to show that they are not against Twilight fandom per se either, like the “rabid” anti-fans were, only against hostile and emotional “rabid” behavior.  It is the “rabid” Twilighters who fit ATM’s definition of ‘bad’ fans, not all Twilight fans in general; it is the emotional and violent “rabid” fans and anti-fans who fall at the bottom of ATM’s fan hierarchy, not all of Twilight’s dedicated (female) followers.

 ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ fans and anti-fans

As proof of their proclaimed acceptance of ‘good’ Twilight fans, TRS makes an effort to differentiate between Twihards, the “die-hard Twilight fans,” and Twitards, who are similarly obsessed with Twilight but who take their fandom to excessive and “rabid” levels, who are threatening and “incapable of respecting others’ opinions.”  They clarify that “not all Twihards are Twitards.  People can like the books without being a Twitard: What separates Twitards from Twihards is their behavior.”  For these anti-fans, avid Twilight fandom is not the problem; it’s the loss of control and rational thought that underlies these “rabid” fans’ perceived intolerance and uncritical love of Twilight which upsets them.  TRS explains that “mature Twilight fans … understand that not everybody likes the books.”  This depiction of the ‘good’ Twilighters (“mature”) not only allows ATM to define ‘good’ fandom in a manner similar to their own tolerantly affected mode of anti-fandom, but it further denounces the youth and immaturity which marks their construction of “rabid” Twilight fans.

Such distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fans can be seen on ATM’s site as well: their Welcome message explains that “the [Twilight] books just don’t appeal to us.  But if they appeal to you, that’s fine.  We understand that it’s a book, and there’s nothing wrong with liking it.  However, we also understand the difference between the fans that enjoy the books and the rabid fans that take them much too seriously.”  Here, upon first entering their site, is ATM’s tolerant acceptance of Twilight fans in general and the basic enjoyment of the books, an affectation which inherently rejects the “rabids” who they claim, in “taking Twilight much too seriously,” lose this rational ability to allow disparate opinions and viewpoints.  And, as they showed in the “Twihard Attack Directory” and the Ragemail, when “rabids” take Twilight so seriously that they literally attack anyone who remotely dislikes the books, it is dangerous for everyone.  In contrast to these fans, it is much better and much safer to be a fan or anti-fan like ATM, who accepts that some people like the series and doesn’t attack them for it, who is rational and unemotional enough to not take their Twilight anti-fandom “too seriously.”

This dismissal of fandoms which take Twilight, or anything, “too seriously,” not only rejects fans for the excess and emotionality which connotes them to be inferiorly uneducated, lower class, and probably young (and female), but also for their inability to properly assess the ‘real world.’  Jolie Jenson explains that “…there is a thin line between ‘normal’ and excessive fandom.  This line is crossed if and when the distinctions between reality and fantasy break down.  These are the two realms that must remain separated, if the fan is to remain safe and normal” (Jenson 1992:18).  ATM’s characterization of “rabid” fans and anti-fans forces them to cross the line from ‘normal’ to excessive, and as such they face horrible consequences for their irrationality, consequences which manifest as “cautionary tales of fans who go ‘over the edge’ into fanaticism, and thus pathology,” such as the fan accounts in The L. A. Times article (Spines 2010) or ATM’s own Ragemail and the “Twihard Attack Directory” (2008) (Jenson 1992:18).  However, ATM seems to understand that “as long as the fan (or anti-fan) shows ‘good common sense,’ remains ‘rational’ and ‘in control’, then he or she will be spared the condemnatory and pathology-citing discourses of the dominant hierarchy.  By meeting every ascription of “rabid” excess with a measured and logical response, ATM hopes to show their own ‘good common sense’ and prove that they are still ‘in control,’ that there is no need to be similarly spurned with the label of “rabid” or ‘fanatic.’

 ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ taste and high and low class in ATM’s literary criticism

All of ATM’s characterization of “rabid” behavior and fanatic engagements, as well as the depictions of female fans’ “bottomless obsession[s]” in The L. A. Times article, reveal their attempts to not only distinguish threateningly irrational fans from safely rational ones, but also to separate ‘good’ taste from ‘bad’ and censure those with the ‘bad.’  Henry Jenkins claims that “from the perspective of dominant taste, fans appear to be frighteningly out of control, undisciplined and unrepentant, rogue readers [who reject] the aesthetic distance” often called for by academics and cultural elites (Jenkins 1992:18).  Class and taste are particularly important issues to consider in terms of Twilight, for the franchise’s literary origins potentially place it within the realm of aesthetic value judgments faster than other media texts.  This, coupled with ATM’s affectation of academia, situates the series, and its fans and anti-fans, within the wide scope of literary studies as well as within media studies’ branch of high class fan studies.

Interestingly though, neither Twilight nor its fans (or anti-fans) would have originally been considered within the scope of high class fan studies, nor probably literary studies, for the books are not considered ‘art’ or ‘good literature’ by anyone but its devoted fans and because the anti-fans ‘critiquing’ them are not actual scholars.  Just as Jenkins explained that theoretical academics and cultural elites might reject fans for their lack of “aesthetic distance” from a text, so, too, do anti-Twilighters like ATM.  The dominant cultural hierarchy generally considers the obsession of a fan to be “emotional (low class, uneducated), and therefore dangerous, while the obsession of the aficionado is rational (high class, educated) and therefore benign, even worthy” (Jenson 1992:21).   In order to protect itself from crippling connotations of emotionality and inferiority, ATM constructed an entire anti-fan identity that would co-opt the cultural weight often attributed to literature and its criticism for their “critique” of a massively popular book.  In this they differ somewhat from most other Twilight fans and anti-fans, for they claim to be carrying out culturally significant work; they declare to have made their site “to protect the name of literature” from what they see to be the ravaging popular belief in Twilight’s literary merit and boast to having been doing so “since 2008.”

ATM, neither Scholar-Fans nor Fan-Scholars following Matt Hills categorizations (2007 40; 2002 15-7), can only take on the affectation of academia and appropriate academic discourses in the hopes of elevating their anti-fandom above the emotionality often attributed to the fans and the popularity of Twilight.  So, though not actual academics themselves, ATM must, like Hills’ Scholar-Fans, “conform to the regulative ideal of the rational academic subject” while within their (anti-)fandom and always maintain the “imagined subjectivity of academia” so as to keep their fan/anti-fan engagement respectable and legitimate in the eyes of other scholars (2002:11).  Where these scholars’ academic legitimacy would be potentially threatened by their (emotion-based) fan associations, ATM sees themselves similarly threatened, though they are not actually scholars and are, in fact, denouncing Twilight not fanatically loving it; they perform the “imagined subjectivity of academia” not to maintain the respectability of academia, but in the hopes of obtaining that respectability for their anti-fandom.

However, this critiquing element of ATM’s anti-fandom, which is meant to protect and legitimize their mode of anti-fandom, is also potentially complicating.  As Henry Jenkins previously explained, fans are traditionally threatening to dominant society because they assign the same cultural weight to popular works as academics and cultural elites customarily do to “canonical” works; “reading practices (close scrutiny, elaborate exegesis, repeated and prolonged reading, etc.) acceptable in confronting a work of ‘serious merit’ seem perversely misapplied to the more ‘disposable’ texts of mass culture (1992:17).  ATM’s enactment of such a critique of Twilight and their belief that it can be “critiqued” at all, even though they pronounce it devoid of any literary merit, inherently asserts that the extremely popular series of fantasy young adult novels deserves the same cultural attention as canonical and so-called ‘great’ works of literature.  So though their literary critique was meant to legitimize their mode of anti-fandom and distance it from connotations of emotional excess, it also potentially aligns them with the cultural disapproval which has traditionally met fans as “rogue readers” and “textual poachers” (Jenkins 1992:18, 24).

(Female) fans as a social threat

It is interesting to point out that ATM uses the jargon and discourses often employed by arbiters of dominant taste to police and denigrate female behavior and values; however, they do not make the claim that all women act this way nor that they are necessarily inherently dismissible, In her study of Twilight anti-fans on Cracked forums, Catherine Strong found that they believe “teenage girls’ culture is ‘bad’” and that Twilight, being aimed at this demographic, “is basically as close to worthless as it can” be (2009).  These anti-fans claim that Twilight “sucks because it was written for teenage girls” and referred to these teenage girls with classic descriptions of “screaming” and “squeeling” (2009).  However, this is a far cry from the sophisticated judgments and logical assertions that ATM hopes to make about Twilight and its fans as well as about their own anti-fandom.  ATM would never come right out and say that Twilight is worthless; they have a long and detailed literary critique of the book which condemns it as badly written but definitely does not blame what they see to be its lack of literary quality on the supposition that it was “written for teenage girls.”  ATM still uses some of the same descriptions of “rabid” fans as “screaming” and as having ‘bad’ taste, but they use it to characterize “rabid” modes of fan engagement, not to condemn all girls in general.  Though they may use some of the same femininely gendered descriptions and dismiss such behavior because of where it falls on the cultural hierarchy, they try very hard to never offer a wholesale rejection of all female fans (even if they do believe them to be more prone to such unsavory behavior) or texts of predominantly female fandom.

Despite this effort, ATM still participates in the cultural assumption that fans, especially female fans, are threatening because they flout and undermine established societal ideals and moral standards and because “the feminine” often ranks towards the bottom of the cultural hierarchy.  As was the case with Beatlemania, what was labeled inappropriate and fanatic in these teenage girls, the loss of control, the screaming, the fainting, the mobs, was so called because it challenged the then-prevailing ethos of teenage purity (Ehrenreich et all 1992:181).  Arguably, analogous threats to the dominant culture’s asserted values (of female behavior) might underlie most of the major ‘manias’ of (female) fandom: the mobs of girls screaming for Elvis’ hips, the pre-teens crying over ‘NSYNC and The Backstreet Boys, and even the recent explosion of “BieberFever” for the young singer Justin Bieber which has predominantly infected pre-teen girls.  Furthermore, the labels of “mania” and the largely disciplining discourses that surround these principally female explosions of fan expression reveal a potential societal fear of the articulation of a collective female desire; indeed, “the eroticized fan is almost always [depicted as] female” (Jenkins 1992:15).  And, of course, Twilight poses a similar threat to society and thus faces similarly policing descriptions of its fans: the romance franchise brings with it archetypically-seductive vampire characters; ‘femininely’ melodramatic narratives and the “express[ion] of ‘intense’ emotional states” (Williamson 2005:64); young male stars; and a vocal fan base which includes both teenage girls and middle-aged moms with a plethora of online communities at their disposal where they can discuss and encourage their love of Twilight and its characters.

Twilight’s screaming young fans are threatening not only because they are girls (who have assembled together and expressed their desires), but because they are members of a crowd, susceptible to mass manipulation and dangerous mob behavior, a characterization which inherently preferences anti-fans like ATM who claim to possess rational perceptibility.  Because fans are often described as uncritical “dupes,” “blind receptors to corporate propaganda and establishment ideology” or easily seduced by Hollywood celebrities, descriptions which both carry gendered connotations of feminine passivity, “the frenzied crowd member invokes the image of the vulnerable, irrational victim of mass persuasion” (Gray 2003:67; Jenson 1992:10, 14).  ATM condemns “rabid” Twilight fans for their uncritical acceptance of the books and movies and their infatuation with the series’ popularity, for their unthinking echoing of claims of its value and literary merit; if they cannot logically explain why they like Twilight, if the best defense they can muster is that because it’s popular it has to be good, then ATM fears what these “rabids” may be persuaded or mobilized to do.

Many subcultures have positioned themselves against some construction of an “inauthentic Other” which is often embodied in the “image of mass culture” and especially in the consumer of that mass culture (Jancovich 2002:312); likewise, ATM constructs itself as a superior subculture within Twilight fandom, better than the mass-produced Twilight romance and the silly girls who greedily consume it.  Unlike the “rabid” fans and anti-fans who are “gullible,” “conformist” and easily “seduced” by the massive popularity of Twilight and vulnerable to any dangerous messages hidden within, ATM characterizes itself as the ‘good’ fans capable of seeing through that seductive popularity and still able to determine what ‘good literature’ and ‘good’ modes of fandom are (Jancovich 2002:312).  By thus reiterating and reinforcing the values of the dominant cultural hierarchy (rational versus emotional, elite versus popular, even masculine versus feminine), ATM hopes to prove themselves in no way a threat to dominant society and therefore safe from dreaded labels of the ‘screaming girl’ or ‘uncritical fanatic.’

 ATM’s moral objections of “rabid” Twilight fans

Perhaps as an extension of the fear ATM feels about the mob mentality and passive susceptibility of Twilight’s rabbles of screaming young female fans, or simply as another way of strengthening their construction of a ‘bad’ Other in relation to their own proposed anti-fandom, ATM further rejects “rabid” Twilighters for moral reasons.  In his examination of Television Without Pity, Jonathan Gray discusses the strictly moral objections anti-fans can have to different media texts and explains that their desire to post a response to the text based on a moral objection “suggests a desire to warn others and, hence, to spread their reading of the moral text” (2005:848).  ATM’s “reading” of Twilight relates to the ‘right’ form of investment with the text and reveals their participation in the dominant cultural hierarchy’s values and perceived threats; fans “read” Twilight wrong when they become “rabid” about it, when they become inappropriately emotional, irrational, and hostile.  TRS explains that “there’s nothing wrong with liking a less-than-great…book.  We’ve all got our favorite guilty pleasure or two.  But we really hope you see, and enjoy, Twilight for what it is …”  For anti-fans like ATM, the culturally-safe “guilty pleasure” is the only acceptable way to enjoy Twilight, the popular series which academics would traditionally have left untouched because of its proliferation among the masses and which they themselves dismiss and lacking any literary merit.

ATM also identifies what they see to be the social realities beneath the fantasy narrative, another of “their [moral] readings” of Twilight which is based on the perceived vulnerability of the crowd of Twilight fans and which therefore strengthens their own affected position of superior rationality.  ATM explains that Twilight “is indicative of a pattern in our society to idealize unhealthy and abusive relationships.  This book teaches our generation that abusive relationships are okay—no, ROMANTIC, even.  Not only is this book a moral threat to our youth, but an assault on literature itself.”  Henry Jenkins has explained that “materials viewed as undesirable,” here “rabid” and uncritical fan investment in Twilight, “are often accused of harmful social effects or negative influences upon their consumers” (1992:16-17).  The claim of Twilight’s “moral threat to our youth” is a particularly compelling example of ATM’s attempt to protect dominant aesthetic preferences and societal values from the “undesirable” effects of Twilight and its excessively emotional and irrational (female) fans, who would be unable to assess the ‘reality’ beneath the fiction.  Whether or not this underlying social message of sexism and abuse truly exists, or whether it is even one of the real causes of ATM’s objection to Twilight, is irrelevant; their performed concern for (young and female) readers of the Twilight texts and for society in general serves to protect them from the feared connotation of “rabid” gullibility and their moral objection provides them with a compelling point of opposition which cannot be dismissed as merely emotional, nor even as simply literary.

Conclusion  

 Anti-fans like The Anti-Twilight Movement have responded not only to a massively popular book and movie series, but to an entire culture of fans and anti-fans.  They have participated in and reinforced many of the values of the dominant cultural hierarchy, describing “rabids” in such low-ranking ways as illogical, emotional, excessive uneducated, young, and female.  However, their rejection of “rabid” modes of fandom not only represent a reaffirmation of dominant cultural values, but an attempt by ATM to construct their own identity by contrasting themselves with such Others.  ATM represents only one specifically articulated anti-fan identity, and by no means showcases the full spectrum of fan/anti-fan response.  We should continue to explore all the various fans and anti-fans out there, and to investigate the popular as well as the elite, the low class as well as the high, not because we can then neatly explain them or provide clean-cut answers to some of culture’s phenomena, but because their voices are valuable and should be included as part of the big picture.


[1] The Anti-Twilight Movement does not use the abbreviation ATM themselves nor does Twilight Really Sucks use the abbreviation TRS, but I have used both here to make reading easier.

Works Cited:

Gray, Jonathan.  2005.  Antifandom and the Moral Text: Television Without Pity and Textual Dislike.  American Behavioral Scientist 48:840-58.

Gray, Jonathan.  2003.  New Audiences, new Textualities: Anti-Fans and Non-Fans.  International Journal of Cultural Studies 6:64-79.

Ehrenreich, Barbara, Elizabeth Hess, and Gloria Jacobs.  1992.  Beatlemania: Girls Just Want to Have Fun.  In The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, ed. Lisa A. Lewis, 84-106.  London: Routledge.

Grossberg, Lawrence.  1992.  The Affective Sensibility of Fandom.  In The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, ed. Lisa A. Lewis, .  London: Routledge.

Haggard, Dan.  March 2010.  Twilight, the Anti-Fan, and the Culture Wars.  Reviews in Depth, March 23.  http://reviewsindepth.com/2010/03/twilight-the-anti-fan-and-the -culture-wars/ (accessed September 9, 2010).

Hills, Matt.  2002.  Fan Cultures.  London: Routledge.

Hills, Matt.  2007.  Media Academics As Media Audiences: Aesthetic Judgments in Media and Cultural Studies.  In Fandom, ed. Jonathan Gray, Cornel Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington, 33-47.  New York: New York Univ. Press.

Jancovich, Mark.  2002.  Cult Fictions: Cult Movies, Subcultural Capital and the Production of Cultural Distinctions.  Cultural Studies 16(2):306-22.

Jenkins, Henry.  1992.  Textual Poachers.  New York: Routledge.

Jenson, Jolie.  1992.  Fandom as Pathology: The Consequences of Characterization.  In The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, ed. Lisa A. Lewis, 9-29.  London: Routledge.

Strong, Catherine.  2009.  “…it sucked because it was written for teenage girls”—Twilight, Anti-Fans and Symbolic Violence.”  Paper presented at The Australian Sociological Association Conference, North Ryde, Australia.  http://www.tasa.orp.au/conferences/conferencepapers09/papers/strong, Catherine.pdf (accessed September 9, 2010).

The Anti-Twilight Movement.  (no date).  http://theantitwilightmovement.webs.com/home.htm (accessed June 10, 2009).

The Numbers: Box office data, movie stars and idle speculation (no date). Box office history for Twilight movies.   http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/2008/TWLIT.php (accessed August 31, 2010).

Twilight Really Sucks.  (no date).  http://twilightreallysucks.webs.com/index.shtml (accessed June 10, 2010).

Twilight Sucks forums (2008). Twihard attack directory.

http://twilightsucks.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=fangirls&action=display&thread=5175 (accessed November 20, 2009).

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One comment on “Publications

  1. Adan says:

    I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoyed every
    little bit of it. I’ve got you book marked to look at new
    stuff you post…

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