Youthful follies

I’ve never read the Twilight series, nor have I seen the movies, nor have I felt a need to hate either one. Based on secondhand commentaries alone, I’m pretty confident that it’s a goofy story without any obvious draw for me. As a cultural phenomenon, however, I find the study of it interesting enough to (at least) pass the time during lulls at work. Sometimes I do appreciate being clued in to what’s happening in the world I share with other media consumers.

In my daily reading of the Skepchick blog I found a link to a three-year-old Twilight dicussion that had garnered more than 500 comments. (Hey, that’ll take up some time!) The first 75 comments or so comprised a well-reasoned dissection of the movie’s message to young girls. Then, a little farther down the thread, the Twilight fans invaded. They came in with usernames like xVampiresxArexSexyx, with poor spelling skills, and with malformed ideas about romance. They came to disagree with the criticisms of the original poster, to tell other critics that they just don’t understand, and to insinuate that everybody secretly longs for a relationship like Bella’s and Edward’s. In short, they came to fulfill stereotypes. To wit:

“I thought they [the books] were funny and dont’ depict how love really is but depicts how everyone wishes love would be [aside: This is precisely the problem, but that’s a discussion for another day]. He loves her and she loves him and they want to be together forever. What is so horrible about all that?”

“i mean, its not even bad if you rally focus on all the stuff in it, i mean, even my grandmother wants to see it. its just about love, vampires, fighting, and everything else that people love in life.”

I used to be defensive on the Internet, too. When I was in high school I became obsessed with Chris Parnell of Saturday Night Live after his famous Britney Spears rap. The song was a thing of perfection. In other sketches, I studied him and noted how he didn’t smirk or fall out of character like the other performers did. He was talented and cute, and so I loved him. One day, after seeing an unkind remark about him on some online forum, I responded to the commenter with an indignant email laying out my case for Chris Parnell’s greatness. The guy wrote back and said, effectively, “Sheesh! Lighten up. It was just a comment.”

Adolescents, when confronted, are especially quick to jump to a petulant defense of their cultural tastes. Your identity as a young person is so fresh and delicate that it spoils at the softest touch or exposure to foreign air. And for most of us that early identity is closely tied to the music we listen to, the books we read, and the movie stars we admire. It takes a long time to break away from that; some people never get away from it. Years after making my Chris Parnell defense, I grew up and stopped caring about other people’s insults toward my favorite pop culture offerings. I also stopped cataloging my Likes and Dislikes as if they were fundamental parts of my personality. It’s not that I never take offense at things posted on the Internet—I do, largely because there are so many people being delibarately offensive—but I’d rather not add to the piles of knee-jerk reactions that many people are too eager to share.

However, I don’t just sit back and laugh at young Twilight fans and other kids who use histrionics to shout down critics of their fleeting idols. I feel compassion, and because I know how rare compassion is among adolescent egoists, I wish I could share it. Although I’d never want to deprive a teenager of the painful growth spurts and self-discoveries we all must endure, I’d like to reach out and try to teach a few lessons: that the things you currently like will change, that the world is full of people whose opposing views will never be swayed, that there are benefits to diversities of opinion, and that your identity can be strengthened and enjoyed without reliance on other people’s approval. Now if only those darn kids would listen.

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