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|In Defense of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight (and Its Readers)|
Dec. 4th, 2009 at 8:17 am
Why are Mormons so willing to attack Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series and those who enjoy it? Not just willing, but eager? I don’t know how it is outside of Mormondom, because I’ve never seen it come up. But I’ve frequently observed Mormons attacking other Mormons — their brothers and sisters in Christ — for reading these books. Why is this?
I’ve been made fun of for what I read. A lot. In college, I read the Illiad on a road trip to a rowing regatta in Madison, WI — not because it was assigned, but because there was a new translation that promised to be the first since Lattimore’s that was worthy of Homer. Once I was reading War and Peace on a beach on Cape Cod. They had a lot of fun with that one. I shrugged and mumbled something to the effect of, “Sorry. It’s just too good to put down.” I don’t really know what to say when this happens. They expect me to bring literature that is merely a diversion, like a James Bond novel. A low-brow, unsophisticated page-turner. I love James Bond novels, the original ones by Ian Flemming. Funny thing: Nobody’s ever made fun of me for reading one of those.
I also read comic books. Alan Moore’s The Watchmen, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spiderman and Powers. I could go on and on. I don’t just like them — I love them. I read them in public, which invariably means that I must confront openly expressed condescension, sometimes even scorn and contempt, at my reading choices.
Back before the Big Dig made driving to work a cinch, I would take the subway into Boston. I’d occasionally see a short, balding man who would read comic books hidden behind a recent Sports Illustrated. One day, I sat next to him and began openly reading the latest Powers compilation volume. We began talking about comics, and we had a great conversation. Next time I saw him, he was reading his comic in the open. I smiled, and I was proud of him. Shoot, for a quick moment, I was even proud of myself.
The bottom line is this: When you hear someone give the impression that certain personal aesthetic choices are beneath him, or when you hear anyone say anything about art that makes it sound lofty or buys into the notion of “artistic integrity,” you’re listening to an idiotic misconception about aesthetics and taste.
Let’s talk for a moment about “art”:
Shakespeare wrote plays that illiterate people paid pennies to get into, and his plays were low-brow enough that no aristocrat would have wanted to have her name associated with them. Until the Romantics and the Victorians began venerating him in the 19th century, Shakespeare was frequently looked down upon for his low-brow brutality; e.g., the famous stage direction in The Winters Tale “Exit, pursued by a bear” or the King Lear scene in which Cornwall gouges out Glocester’s eyes and crushes them.
Mozart wrote musical pieces that customers ordered the way they ordered work from a carpenter to build a bookshelf or a temporary platform for an event.
Dickens wrote novels to sell dime magazines, and he came out of retirement to write Great Expectations (arguably the greatest English language novel) to cash-in and solve his financial problems.
Nowadays, self-aggrandizing idiots like Steven Spielberg sue people for editing foul language out of their films. And there is this drive to empathize with idiots like Spielberg and exclaim that those who disagree are cretans who don’t “get” art. Name one director who applies the same scruples to the works of genuine artistic geniuses like Shakespeare or Dickens. The bottom line: “artistic integrity” is self-serving claptrap introduced by ignorant, self-aggrandizing, self-styled artists who have no background in genuine aesthetic reasoning, and I don’t have a lot of patience for it.
Nothing exposes the blind opportunism of a pretentious pseudo-sophisticate more than his reaction to the overwhelmingly popular, because nothing puts him above the masses like disparaging their tastes. It happened in Shakespeare’s time, and it happens now. Gary Graffman, the highly regarded professional pianist and recent president of one of the most prestigious musical conservatories in world, discusses Rachmaninoff in his memoirs I Really Should Be Practicing. He shrewdly analyzes popular criticisms of Rachmaninoff, noting that in the end, critics have looked down on Rachmaninoff solely because he appeals to nonprofessional musicians.
And more recently, we have the Twilight series. I haven’t read it, and I probably won’t. From what I gather, I wouldn’t find it to be as profound as Rachmaninoff or Dickens or Mozart or Shakespeare. It’s probably more on a level with a James Bond novel: literature as mere diversion. Yet there exists special kind of scorn for those who profess enjoyment of these Twilight books. If you care what people think, then you won’t even read them on a beach. It’s not enough to dislike them. One must express his dislike for them vehemently, as if to exclaim, “That’s not who I am. I would never enjoy that.” There’s a pride in this pretension of the worst sort, the kind of pride that the Nephites took in their “fine twined linens,” the kind that led them to set themselves above others and eventually apostatize. I should be ashamed of myself if I ever gave the impression that I thought less of someone who read and enjoyed these books.