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cultural vandal | 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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