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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

the ‘Twilight’ demographic? we’re called women

Speaking of Twilight

The movie hasn’t even opened yet, but already the handwringing and the mystified head-scratching has begun: Who are all these people who are clamoring to see the teen-vampire-romance Twilight, and what label shall we slap on them?

One of the contributors to the Guardian’s Film Blog might have kicked off the debate last week with a post entitled Twilight spawns a new film demographic, which bends over backward trying to come up with a name for this strange new Twilight demographic:

Teenage girls, young female adults and their mums converged at the Twilight conference at Comic-Con back in July, filling Hall H to capacity and rupturing tonsils at the appearance of their hunkalicious hero.

Believe me, this demographic is out there. They just don’t have a name yet.

Lessee: teenage girls, young female adults, and their mums. So, female people between the ages of 13 and, say, 45 or 50. We could call them, oh, “girls and women.” Does that work for everyone? Obviously it excludes older women and little girls, and of course it does not mean that all “girls and women” will have any interest in seeing Twilight, but still, this is a pretty big swathe of femaleness. I mean, we have no problem with describing other demographics as “teenage boys and young men” or “male moviegoers” (which is often taken as shorthand for, simply, “moviegoers”) and no one assumes we should read that to mean “all people with penises everywhere, for all time.”

That Guardian blogger? The post is credited to “Lisa Marks,” whom I’m guessing is a woman. That even she does not see how absurd this talk about “the Twilight demographic” is says something about how we’ve all been trained to expect Hollywood films to be male-oriented, and worse, that we don’t even see that when movies are not primarily drawing a majority male audience, the spin on the audience reaction to those movies still ignores the preferences of female moviegoers.

Now, I hate these Hollywood generalizations and assumptions about who goes to the movies, and why, and what kinds of movies those people supposedly like. I’m not, strictly speaking, within Marks’ supposed Twilight demo because even though I’d be of an age with those mums, I don’t actually have a teenaged daughter. Plus, the fact that I’m slightly less pessimistic about Twilight now that I see that it has some action to go along with the romance means, probably, that Hollywood marketers would say that I “skew male.” But what does that mean? It means that if I don’t conform to what Hollywood expects me, as a woman, to want to see, then I don’t actually count as a woman, as far as their marketing is concerned. For instance, half of the people who went to see The Dark Knight over opening weekend were female, evenly split between over and over 25 years old. That sounds a helluva lot like “the Twilight demographic”… and yet The Dark Knight’s audience is still perceived as “male-dominated” and, worse, “young [and] male.”

It doesn’t matter what the actual numbers say, then: Unless women actually turn out for the movies that Hollywood and the mainstream press preconceivedly expects them to turn out for, we’re ignored as a force among the overall moviegoing crowd. And yet, along comes a movie that may actually “skew female,” and no one knows what to think about it, as if girls and women had suddenly sprung up out of nowhere to declare an interest in a film. We’ve been here all along, of course, but no one cared enough to actually call a spade a spade… or to call girls and women, you know, “girls and women.”

Perhaps it can all be boiled down to this: The fact that there does not seem to be any debate over what to call the demographic that turns out for movies that actually do “skew male” says it all about whom Hollywood thinks its typical audience is.

Twilight is poised to be one of the biggest movies of the holiday season, and this I predict with confidence: the more money Twilight is rolling in after that first weekend and the longer it lasts at the box office beyond that, the more puzzled and confused will be the box-office experts trying to figure out how this could happen, and the more strained will become the explanations for it. In the end, it’ll all be dismissed as a fluke, and completely forgotten… until the next time, when it will start all over again.



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  • JoshDM

    I can’t decide between “Anne Rice Fans” or “Vampire LARPers”.

  • Betty sue

    Thanks for some kind of common sense. Why do we always have be placed into a peg hole? My 13 year old son highly recommended Twilight to me and I got hooked (I’m 40!).

    I mean, honestly, what do they call the guys who like The Hulk? The comic-movie-watching-men demographic?

    Jeez, give us a break! We like Twilight…so what? Perhaps we like Star Wars, too? Perhaps we like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, too? How about just calling us sci-fi/fantasy fans? I mean, isn’t that what it is? Or, perhaps, it’s just too much to just call us Twilight fans?

    They seem to forget there are plenty of male fans, too – you just don’t see them screaming. But I have seen them wearing the t-shirts and buying the books.

  • Alli

    Funny you mention action. Meyer actually copped out of writing that fight scene at the end of the story by having Bella pass out. I think this will be one of the rare instances when a film is much better than the book. We won’t have to listen to Bella’s ridiculous thoughts, or slum through Meyer’s grammatical errors. I’ve also heard that Pattison toned down some of Edward’s sexist qualities.

    Anyway, I agree that this idea that women are a new demographic is pretty ridiculous. Wasn’t the Twilight teaser put in front of Dark Knight anyway? It sounds like the Guardian blogger is the one out of touch.

  • Irfon-Kim Ahmad

    I see what you’re getting at, but I’m not sure I can agree simply because it seems to be such a miniscule slice of women that even allowing for “women” to not mean “all women”, it still seems to be a distinct sub-demographic. I mean, if you say that a movie is marketed at teenaged boys, as you say, it doesn’t imply *all* teenaged boys, but it does imply that a reasonable enough chunk of teenaged boys will want to see it to associate it with that market. I just don’t see any evidence that the appeal of this movie is broad enough to match “women” as a demographic. Most women, as far as I can tell, are as baffled as anybody else as to who likes this stuff.

    I can agree with most of the rest of the content of the post, but that part does make me squint a little. I could buy that the series is popular enough among teenaged girls to warrant just calling the market “teenaged girls” and acknowledging that the young adult and adult women who also like it don’t exist in enough force to really define the market, just as presumably would be the men and young boys who like the series.

    (About “What do they call the guys who like The Hulk?”, I think they call them comic geeks, and it seems that that demographic includes lots of women as well.)

  • Magess

    You know what’s odd? I don’t personally know anyone, I don’t think, who a) read the books and thought they were any good or b) wants to see this movie. And most of the people I know are ones that I would think would be preselected to WANT to see a vampire movie.

    I know sci-fi geeks and comic book geeks. And none of them seem to get why Twilight is anything to get worked up over.

  • MaryAnn

    “What do they call the guys who like The Hulk?”

    But the point isn’t what *we* call guys who like *The Hulk* — it’s what Hollywood calls them. And all it calls them is “young men.” If that’s good enough to explain the appeal of a certain film (even if it’s nowhere near comprehensive enough), then “young women” should be enough to explain the appeal of *Twilight,* too.

    I’m trying to highlight how blindered Hollywood — and the mainstream press that covers Hollywood — is when it comes to understanding itself. There are biases at work here that it does not appear willing to acknowledge. And maybe it’s not able to acknowledge them, as male dominated as it is.

  • But, Hollywood seems to understand the concept of “chick flick”, which is clearly a mostly female demographic. If Hollywood is confused, I think it has more to do with a lack of understanding for a female demographic that likes darkness and antiheroes, which isn’t generally thought to be the majority of women.

    On the other hand, perhaps that blogger found Twilight lacking and was trying to be diplomatic by not generalizing the demographic to a broad group. Personally, I thought the book was poorly written and that Bella was pretty vapid.

  • Ryan

    I’m not sure gender has anything to do with it, except for the marketing. I think I will call this demographic Vampire LARPers (thanks JoshDM) and illiterates.

  • Ryan

    posted by Magess (Thu Nov 13 08, 4:48PM)

    You know what’s odd? I don’t personally know anyone, I don’t think, who a) read the books and thought they were any good or b) wants to see this movie. And most of the people I know are ones that I would think would be preselected to WANT to see a vampire movie.

    I know sci-fi geeks and comic book geeks. And none of them seem to get why Twilight is anything to get worked up over.

    That has been my experience as well. Woman, man, child, and pets…all eschewing this mess. I am willing to believe that the movie might be better than the books, because, it would have to work real hard NOT to be.

  • Ide Cyan

    I’ll be looking forward to seeing this partly on the basis of Catherine Hardwicke being the director. And I’m somewhat hopeful for the off chance that her work leads to the availability for more women of the chance of directing genre and action films, if this is as popular as it’s shaping up to be. Although this may become a success that could only lead to isolated recognition as exception, like the streak Kathryn Bigelow enjoyed in the 90s, or to not so much, like Katja von Garnier’s direction of Blood and Chocolate (which, however, didn’t come to theatres as an adaptation of a work anywhere near as popular as Twilight is and wasn’t very successful as a movie commercially) if the film’s popularity doesn’t translate to any recognition of technical merits. But it would still be nice, although the pessimist in me also thinks this is no more likely than women as a demographic getting taken seriously when seen through the industry’s patriarchal market-perception goggles. If anything, this may only lead to attempts to cash in on the phenomenon by an increase in the creation of byproducts attempting to assimilate the trendiness without grasping the foundations for it. Truly collapsing the gendering of boundaries in genre seems even less likely.

  • PaulW

    This is Hollywood’s inability (the whole industry mind you, from the creators to the news coverage) to properly understand genres: they think genres that appeal in the long run to males/boys – action shoot-em-ups, horror, gross-out comedies – are better money-makers than genres that appeal in the long run to females/girls – romances and crime thrillers. Even though we’ve seen movies in all genres do well at the box office appealing to all types as long as they’re well-made (which is the real problem Hollywood has: great stuff vs. mindless crap). And Hollywood’s completely forgotten the biggest money-maker of all was a romance: Titanic. Which is how I’m seeing the reaction and warm-up to Twilight by all the women coming in to my library requesting the entire book series for reading: this is merely Titanic for a new generation.

  • Grant

    I know sci-fi geeks and comic book geeks. And none of them seem to get why Twilight is anything to get worked up over.

    Aaaahhhhh… there’s no snobbery like geek snobbery.

    Except maybe Fark.com beer thread snobbery. =D

  • JoshDM

    Remember kids, it’s not till we hit Yiffing Furries who write furry fanfics about Star Trek where Captain Kirk is played by an Ocelot or something, that we’ve hit the bottom.

  • JoshB

    @JoshDM: Bwahahaha!!!! You sir are a true connoisseur.

    I get why the author, as a woman, does not want to lump all women into the “demographic.” This movie looks terrible. Like MST3K bad.

    I haven’t read the book, but the first page reviews on amazon confirm everything I thought about the trailer. Some snippets:

    Elizabeth A. Barr:

    It took a couple of goes to get into it, but once the story hooked me, I found it difficult to put the book down — except for those moments when I had to stop and shriek at my friends, “SPARKLY VAMPIRES!” or “VAMPIRE BASEBALL!” or “WHY IS BELLA SO STUPID?”

    The plot revolves around Bella Swan, a Mary Sue whose primary skills seem to be having a martyr complex, attracting trouble, and falling down

    Bella is one of the most useless, insipid heroines I’ve encountered in a long time…while Edward is like a textbook example of a creepy stalker boyfriend. There’s a strong element of wish fulfillment — average girl attracts bad boy who’s willing to change for her

    Samantha:

    Twilight could very well be the epitome of Mary Sue fiction…
    Bella is beautiful but doesn’t believe that she is, despite the fact that she has a vampire and the entire male population of her school drooling over her.

    (She) follows Edward’s every word religiously with no second thoughts.

    Callmebecks:

    The quick version of this book: If you’re pretty and pouty, you too can land yourself a gorgeous vampire boyfriend who will continuously save your a**.

    The next 500 pages are filled with purple descriptions of his magnificence, of how she’s not worthy, of how could this god-like/Adonis-like creature stoop to love her.

  • JoshDM

    Guess the demographic is women after all.

    *runs and hides*

  • bats :[

    Uh oh. I read the book (reading the second now). Maybe it’s the growing up repressed Catholic with Depression-Era parents from Eastern Europe in me, but I think Meyer did a very credible job of capturing a teen that has self-image issues, and who would just go gaga over a good-looking boy. (Yes, I remember feeling this way. Then again, I’m 51, so maybe it’s memory-loss kicking in…)
    After the blistering Quantum of Solace reactions, if Twilight sucks (ahem), I’m writing off the rest of 2008 from a cinematic standpoint.

  • dgrhm

    Odd.

    Why there’s such a fuss to categorize or stamp out a demographic? It makes me think of the “They Live” trailer you have posted on your site. Adolescent boys fit this category, and adolescent girls fit this category.

    Obey. Marry and reproduce. Don’t question authority. Teenage girls and women who enjoy romance and vampires must watch this movie.

    Everyday I grow more aware of how adolescent American culture is. Everything is dominated by this level of conversation: movies, entertainment, politics, religion, aging, and sex.

    My guess is that movie producers are pumping millions of dollars into a film they hope won’t flop.

    With a population of 300 million, I’d wager there’s a market for just about any kind of taste out there if you market it correctly.

    I’m not eager to see the “Twilight” movie, but then again, I’m not into teenage angst ridden romance stories, even if they have an undead angle.

    I hope the movie does well. I also hope this doesn’t make producers think it’s time to stop making cool action movies. Just grow up and realize, “Hey! There’s a lot of people out there and there’s room for creative license.”

    There’s room for fluff in our lives, but as I get older, I find I want more texture in my entertainment.

    To each their own.

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