Jacqueline Marie Pinkowitz contributed an amazing article to the Praxis issue of the latest issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, and it took on a subject close to my heart. In “‘The rabid fans that take [Twilight] much too seriously’: The construction and rejection of excess in Twilight antifandom,” Pinkowitz does important work identifying some of the most common ways in which fannish excess is policed by anti-fans. The author focuses entirely on a single prominent organization of Twilight anti-fandom, namely, the Anti-Twilight Movement(ATM), and argues persuasively that, marginal though such a group may seem, the work they are doing serves to “perpetuat[e] accepted cultural notions about the superiority of the reasoned, the academic, and the elite, as well as of the inferiority of the popular, the emotional, and the feminine,” in ways that merit examination by fans who situate their investments in the latter three terms, whether or not they see these realized most centrally in the Twilight franchise. For those who would ally themselves with the antifans, Pinkowitz notes that the movement works according to this logic”in hopes of rendering its own antifandom safe from similar cultural censures.” This argument is important because it reminds us that the intellectual work of antifandom is serious and entitled to cultural space, but due to its own merits, not as a corrective to affirmational or transformational modes of fannish engagement with the same texts.
Being a Buffy fan first and foremost, I am familiar with the vampire fandom hierarchy, and being an English major, I am familiar with the use of literary criticism as a weapon in culture wars, even on the micro-scale of late night comment threads. For these reasons, and because I remember the days of Angelfire and Geocities, I felt happily at home in Pinkowitz’s descriptions of the ATM. In fact, I’d say that one of the things I enjoyed most about the article was the way in which it modeled a close reading practice for websites, which can be difficult to do. So often, when I read academic articles about the internet, I find myself longing for this kind of sustained attention to the authorial voice constructed by the site, rather than assumptions based on mission statements written in the language of advertising. Only then can we grasp that there are people with particular agendas creating these movements, rather than, as seems to be the default interpretation on some political blogs, simply opinions to be agreed or disagreed with.
What fandom and antifandom share is investment, the belief that a franchise like Twilight matters in some way, whether because its narrative, characters, and celebrity para-culture interest and move us emotionally, or because it enforces a morally questionable agenda and replaces more edifying reading and viewing, and therefore needs to be “marked” to the unaware. Pinkowitz does an admirable job tracking the similarities of these two kinds of investment, and also the way in which the ATM specifically tries to present their view as the rational middle ground, between “rabid antifans” and “rabid fangirls,” but still end up affirming arbitrary limits to reasonable engagement with fictional storyworlds, which ultimately punishes those who are identified with the feminine and the popular.
My own story of Twilight fandom is just beginning. I once was a hater, although not one who left a digital trace of my private and groundless negative opinion. Now I love the movies, although I still haven’t read the books. It’s funny how easy it was for me, in the end, to enjoy something, and to let go of second-hand judgment. However, if that was one’s model for everything, one would never find gems that become favorites that become years-long obsessions and whole social worlds, in fandom. And so, I’m glad that there are fans and antifans giving us all kinds of thought-provoking hoops to jump through before (and after, and while!) we get absorbed in something new.