As Goes Bella, So Goes the Nation

Over at Goodreads, they’ve discovered something interesting about the readers of the Twilight books (click the link to see the infographic):

There is no more divisive book on Goodreads than Twilight. It manages to top both our Best Books Ever and Worst Books of All Time lists. And now, surprisingly, we’ve discovered that where you live can indicate whether you’re a Twi-Hard or not.

With the release of the film adaption of Breaking Dawn (well, the first half of the film adaptation), we thought it might be fun to dive into some more of the incredible trove of data we have on the Twilight Saga and its readers.

A map of what each state thinks of Twilight ends up looking a lot like a map of the most recent election results. On the map above, the readers in the red states rated the book highly (the darker the red, the higher the rating), while readers in the blue states gave it a lower rating). The Midwest and the South represent The Twilight Belt, while the coasts were decidedly less impressed with the book.

Reviews were mostly distributed according to population, with the notable exception of Utah. Utah is the 34th most populous state in the US, but it generates the 6th most reviews of Twilight. In terms of cities, Salt Lake City—the 125th largest city in the country—is second only to New York in number of Twilight reviews. Opinion on the book is split in the Beehive state, with the average rating a pedestrian 3.64.

The series’ popularity in Utah becomes more explicable when you recall that the author, Stephanie Myers, is Mormon and so are the Cullens.

Having lived in the Twilight Belt/Red States most of my life, I find this not at all surprising.  The lack of literacy in that region is a scourge upon the land and the popularity of Twilight, like the rise of yokel-bating politics, is a direct result of the fact that the locals are a proudly ignorant folk. They like their leaders to be Good Old Boys and their entertainment a slick patina of pop culture that just barely covers a misogynistic pseudo-spiritual story that just happens to reinforce hetero-normative values and white male privilege. The popularity of both Twilight and Rick Perry are part of the same problem.

Also: If you really want o make your head spin, here’s an article praising Twilight from a feminist POV, on the grounds that Bella’s objectification is something young women can relate to, unlike the ass kickery of Buffy Summers or Lisbeth Salander, who are icky masculine girls because of pants. Or something. And also that the pregnancy is realistically depicted (except for the whole vampire eating itself out of the mother’s womb).

Anyway. In the comments of that article there’s a long digressive discussion centering on Myers’ use of blank pages to represent Bella’s heartache when her vampire boyfriend leaves her (alas, temporarily). That particular passage is one of my pet peeves as a writer. The blank pages are just a gimmick to cover up Myers’ week writing skills. A good writer doesn’t shy away from delving into the murk of touchy emotional states. If anything, they relish them as a challenge. The blank pages are Myers admitting publicly she doesn’t have the emotional maturity or writerly craft to depict a lovesick teenager. Which begs the question of what she would do if a story required her to describe the savory delight of a well prepared cheesburger, let alone the ineffable quintessence of love.

On the upside, I did come upon the realization that Bella isn’t a character, she’s a McGuffin, an object to be hoarded, fought over (by men) and fetishised. Those blank pages representing Bella’s mental state when Edward isn’t around are extremely telling. Without a man to observe her, she literally has no presence in the story. She neither thinks about her predicament nor feels anything that registers as an emotion or a thought. She has about as much agency as the Maltese Falcon* (objectively worthless except for the secret thing inside her that everyone really wants).

*I was going to say the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones, but the Ark has at least enough agency to melt some Nazis for failing to recognize its inherent inertia. The Ark will not tolerate being used crassly for the needs of men. Bella exists solely for that purpose.