On Wednesday night, I saw two things I’ve been thinking for a long time clearly articulated on twitter. One by YA author John Green, the other about him. The first was a series of tweets, termed by Green himself as a “twitter rant”, defending Twilight fans and shining a light on the misogyny that underlies the attacks on the series. After negative feedback, he further clarified his position with this post on tumblr. After reading about this, I saw this series of tweets and further conversation about John Green’s influence on the New York Times Bestseller list and the lack of women on the list.
I’m sharing these on my blog today because I’ve wanted to write about why I like Twilight and the nerdfighter domination of the bestseller list for a long time. I also want to start a discussion, or at least share some of my feelings, about the negative reactions to both social media events.
Before I continue, I want to say that I 100% agree with everyone’s right to form their own opinions on these issues and express their opinions. That is what I am trying to do here. So if you don’t care what I think about John Green or Twilight, I suggest you stop reading. Because this turned into the longest post I’ve ever written. It’s a lot for you to wade through if you legitimately don’t care.
SInce you are still reading, I’m going to assume you either do care or just really don’t like people telling you what to do. I’m also going to tell you that as nerdy as it sounds I really love both Twilight and John Green in a profound way. So here are my rambling and unorganized thoughts:
(1) Twilight: I’m not going to say these are the most well-written or pro-feminist novels ever created, but I really enjoyed reading them. Between the books, the movies, and the fandom there was something really immersive about experiencing this story. It makes me mad when people trash these books with such vitriol (especially when they haven’t read them) for two reasons. When I was a sixth grade teacher and my students were all way below grade level, Twilight was the only thing that got them excited about reading. For that reason alone it will always be an important book to me. Putting my own person enjoyment of the novel aside (team Edward 4ever!) it got thousands of kids excited about books that probably wouldn’t have cared about reading otherwise.
When people insult Twilight they seem to be insulting the intelligence of teenage girls. I admit there are things that can be construed as problematic about Edward and Bella’s relationship (although I didn’t read them that way). But I think it is a stretch to say the books glorify abusive relationships, suicide, violence, or the myriad of other evils that are project onto the books. The books are a fantasy about perfect and consuming love, and I think girls have the same ability as others to separate fantasy from reality. People don’t seem to worry as much about middle aged men killing people because they watch “Dexter” or teenage boys starting ganging fights after reading The Outsiders. Give teenage girls the same consideration.
The hatred against Stephanie Meyers, her books, and her fans does seem to me to have a gendered bent. It was really satisfying to read John Green’s tweets supporting the franchise, especially when he’s made fun of it in the past. It was disappointing to read the backlash against him. Even if you don’t like the books, it’s offensive to assert that tens of thousands of people are just plain wrong/stupid for enjoying and finding meaning in them.
(2) Tweets about Green’s domination of best-seller list: Reading Kelly Jensen’s tweets on this subject gave me a “finally” moment. I’ve been talking about how everyone on the list was either Green, a friend of Green’s, a client of Green’s agent, or had a book edited by Green’s editor since this summer. I am fascinated by this phenomenon, but don’t view it as particularly positive or negative.
To summarize the situation, last week there were only two female authors listed in the top ten spaces of the YA bestseller list. Of the other eight spots, four went to Green and two went to his college roommate Ransom Riggs. The two females were Rainbow Rowell and Esther Earl. Two authors whose books have likely benefited from Green’s support.
I think there should continue to be safe places for people to talk about the need for more female, PoC, and LGBT authors in the top echelons of almost every profession, children’s fiction included. But the comments to these tweets often seemed more focused on blaming and defaming John Green, than on productive conversations. “End John Green. End John Green Supporters. End the John Green Industry,” wrote one tumblr user. These people seemed to miss a central point of the tweets, which is his support of Rowell and role in the creation of Earl’s book. As someone who watches literally every vlog brothers video, I’ve seen him recommend many books written by female authors. Attacking John for recommending and helping to support the books written by Ransom Riggs, his friend and former roommate, seems ludicrous to me. I try and offer my support to all of my friends’ careers and creative endeavors. I expect most people, Green included, to act similarly.
John Green writes female characters that while often criticized, I’ve found both complex and thought-provoking in terms of the ways young women both project and have projected on them facades of simplicity, perfection, and for lack of a better term manic-pixie-dream-girlhood. He has often and consistently acknowledged his own privilege as an educated, white, cis-gendered, straight man. He has used his fame and his unique relationship to his fans to shine a light on important issues and authors that might otherwise be overlooked.
As I said before, I think there can be intelligent and measured conversations about the need to diversify YA literature. I think this is an area where people can clearly vote with their wallets and their time in terms of buying, pre-ordering, reserving at the library, and writing good reviews on Amazon for books and authors they want to support. I have read a few well thought out discussions about these tweets, but far more attacked Green personally, which I think muddies the issue and serves to alienate the huge fan base he’s acquired.
In both of these issues, tangentially connected by John Green, what frustrates me the most is people discounting the popularity of a book simply because they don’t like it. It’s fine if you don’t like Twilight or TFiOS (obviously). I actually didn’t love Looking for Alaska, one of Green’s most popular novels. However, to attack them and say they are just plain bad seems to disparage the opinions/taste/sense/intelligence of the thousands upon thousands of people who found something within these books that resonated with them.
I am among those thousands upon thousands of people, and I don’t appreciate my intelligence to be insulted. Nor to I enjoy my identity as a feminist being questioned.
Rant over. Sorry this was so incredibly long. What can I say…I have a lot of feelings. If anyone actually read through this long jumble of words, or even skimmed it, let me know what you think. What am I right about? What am I wrong about? I’m obviously a little revved up so I would welcome the lively debate and discussion.