Romance and Vampires as an Act of Melodramatic Rebellion

The book Victorian Melodrama in the Twenty-First Century: Jane Eyre, Twilight, and the Mode of Excess in Popular Girl Culture by Katie Kapurch makes a Radway-type argument: "women's" literature carries within it a form of rebellion, specifically rebellion against conservative or patriarchal norms.

I debate this argument, not because it doesn't contain the seeds of truth but because I believe the "rebellion" is more thorough and comprehensive: teenage fans of the above series/books are rebelling as much against "progressive" expectations as against conservative ones. That is, although they are questioning whether it is a good idea to date a domineering man, they are also questioning why they have to be "good" girls who love academics, excel in the sciences, and pursue ambitious careers in order to be suitable female role models to future generations. Why can't they focus on what really interests them: dating?

Kapurch allows that teenage girls are reacting as much to the double-speak of postfeminism--be sexy and be liberated--as to patriarchal norms, but she still seems to accept the (acceptable) conclusion that they are moving towards progressive ends when they read melodramatic literature. I don't. I think some teen girls truly want to have babies at 16--not liberated sex--and I think that's kind of dumb. I also think it is possible that when they take pleasure in the pairing of violence and sex, they aren't critiquing it; they are interested in it. That is, I think it is entirely possibly that they are being "reactionary" in their reading choices.

And why shouldn't they be? Since literature reflects needs, rather than creating them, worrying that Twilight will produce girls who run out and marry at 18 is not only condescending to girls and women (no one ever assumes that adventure stories are automatically going to produce boys who leave home at sixteen, go to war, join gangs, or participate in government conspiracies), it also rather misses the point (hormones, hormones, hormones).

However, I do admire Kapurch for making the point that teenage female rebellion (whatever that rebellion is against) is as much an act as an ideology--moreso, in many ways.

She compares readers of Twilight to Beatlemania in the 1960s, pointing out that it was as much the act of enthrallment--getting to scream at celebrities--as the celebrities themselves. Extreme Twilight fans in the series' heyday were as prone to forming discussion groups--perhaps even moreso--as the fans of any particular rock group and far moreso than the fans of classical literature. The melodrama gave them something to act on.

Reading Kapurch's introduction reminded me of Reading Lolita in Tehran in which the author, Nafisi, explains why reading Jane Austen would be considered subversive in Iran in the 1980s to 1990s . It wasn't the story. The writing itself presented a form of democracy--multiple voices existing in proximity to each other without the author attempting to curtail them. The act of reading and the act of writing were inherently democratic.

It also reminded me of the amusing clip from Inside Out in which Sadness shows the first glimmering of non-apathy when she spots the angsty vampires in Riley's head. Angst becomes an act.

And finally, it made me think of Frozen. Contemporary analysis aside, perhaps "to act" *is* the ultimate purpose: I get to dress up in cool clothes and belt out a song at the top of my voice.

Ultimately, melodrama is fun.


FreeLiveFree said...

So girls read vampire romances for the same reason I listen to Heavy Metal (or a lot of classical.) That actually makes a lot of sense.

There's been a lot of debate recently about the messages we send to both young girls and boys. About the roles they play. Me, personally, I think we should let them figure it out on their own.

Joe said...

So, "rebellion against conservative or patriarchal norms" is whatever you say it is. Dress like a goth, rebellion, dress like the Amish, rebellion, dress like a typical teenager, rebellion.