Are the New Moon Headlines Taking a Swipe At Girl Culture & Female-Driven Box Office Success?

By | November 23rd, 2009 | 18 comments

newmoon“OMG New Moon Has $140 Million Opening!” said a UK magazine. “OMG times one million, you guys,” writes a reporter in The Detroit News. Even the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis described “New Moon” as “the juiceless, near bloodless sequel about a teenage girl and the sparkly vampire she, like, totally loves.”

Anyone noticing a pattern here?

In writing about the box office juggernaut — a film that is smashing records left and right, beating Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings in online advance sales, among other “firsts” — headline writers are using the language of teen girls.

Cute? I don’t think so. There’s something that stinks to me here. Using this kind of language to cover such stunning box office success feels like an attempt to both mock girl culture and detract from the very butch success of this women and girl-driven phenomenon.

I wonder if it makes people uncomfortable that, as the blogger Melissa Silverstein wrote, “A franchise fueled by girls and women has the potential of beating the machines for the box office record. This movie could potentially be ‘guy proof’ meaning they won’t need guys to see it for it to kick some box office butt. Whereas the other franchises NEED women to make their numbers.”

After all, the headlines we’re used to are that women can’t get real parts in Hollywood, and that women don’t support female-centered movies. And as we saw in a recent New York Times profile of Kristen Stewart, the Twilight Saga allows her to pursue a dark, authentic role for a young woman – albeit a disturbing one — opportnities that are clearly in short supply for young women even a few years older, like Megan Fox (profiled by the New York times on the same day in part about her struggle to be taken seriously).

“The question is,” writes Kate Harding at Salon Broadsheet, “will the powers that be recognize young women as a robust market that’s been largely ignored and condescended to, or will they write it off as a limited phenomenon?” If you know me, you know that I love the language of teen girls…so much so that I haven’t quite grown out of it myself. And I write this less as an expression of outrage than an observation. All I’m saying is that I’m pretty sure the words to describe what’s happening this week at box offices around the world aren’t “OMG” and “like, totally.” They’re “millions,” “record-breaking” and “87 percent of advance ticket holders are female.”

18 Responses to “Are the New Moon Headlines Taking a Swipe At Girl Culture & Female-Driven Box Office Success?”

  • Lanie says:

    I believe some of the power of the Twilight series is analagous to the discussion going on here. Teenage girls are tired of adults judging them for being emotional and romantic. Stephanie Meyers manages to remember their experience and describe it in non-judgmental terms. As a psychologist who works with teenage girls and boys there is much to talk about in the books that is important and powerful. How to manage friends and a relationship, should we love our friend or the guy we feel passionate about, should we be allowed the freedom to have guy friends, how do we manage feelings of possessiveness and jealousy, and the anger of teenage boys that can feel so threatening. Not every teenage girl experiences this intense passion and obsessiveness. But many do. And knowing that others are struggling with those feelings too, and that this heroine can fall madly in love and find herself and her power too, is meaningful to them. I believe we need to stop mocking teenage girls for being teenage girls. That may be one of the messages behind the success of the Twilight books and movies. And yes, I read and saw them all so far.

    • Lanie, sorry for a late reply to this very insightful comment. Am hoping you saw my more recent post (which you may take some issue with, based on what you’ve written here) as well as a response in Salon: http://www.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/feature/2009/12/02/new_moon_girls/index.html

      I’ve got my holiday reading list, and Twilight’s #1 on it. Hope to hear from you again.

    • Brian Dean says:

      What you are saying is exactly what is WRONG with this movie.

      Here are some questions for you

      1) Will Megan go to college, and if so, what will she major in?

      2) After high school, or college, what kind of job will Megan get?

      3) Does Megan have any interests in her life besides doing potentially dangerous things just so she can be with Eddie?

      As far as her relationship, what kind of sane woman would get on a motorcycle with a stranger for the purpose of seeing visions of a guy she loves? As a psychologist, what would you say to a female patient who got on a motorcycle because when she did so, she saw her boyfriend appear telling her not to do it? If a female patient is emotionally upset because her boyfriend left her, would you, as a psychologist, advise her to get on the motorcycle of a stranger?

      As far as teenage girls being teenage girls, what about teenage boys being teenage boys? Would you tell the boys to go ahead and watch porn because there are relationships in the porn they are watching. Or would you tell them that perhaps there are more constructive things they could be doing instead?

      • Rachel Simmons says:

        I see what you’re saying, Brian, though I tend to agree with Lanie that there are still teachable moments in material that we don’t entirely agree with. In fact, my experience working with teens is that they are more likely to pay attention if you work with the material they find most compelling. But your point about porn is a good one — and funny :).

  • carol traynor says:

    After reading your books I am surprised that you support the Twilight series in any way. From all that I have gathered it depicts a weak heroine figure caught in an abusive relationship. Some compare it to Wuthering Heights, but at least that was well written and Kathy had some fire and spirit. How do you reconcile Bella’s character with being an authentic girl?

    • Hi Carol, good point! I guess what I’m happy about here is box office success driven by women. I haven’t read the Twilight series, but I did really enjoy the first book. I’m seeing New Moon on Saturday…and from what I hear, it’s a very different Bella we see in this installment. Also, even if I cringe at how Bella acts in this relationship, I love watching girls all over the world raid libraries to read! So it’s a mixed bag. Thanks for making that point!

      • carol traynor says:

        I hope that passion to read sparks discussion, about the strengths and weaknesses of the characters and their actions, and that readers can cut through the media glamorization of it. Unfortunately it is hard to get the images of the actors separated from the book now, so that internal reflection is somewhat affected. It’s hard to condemn a guy that is so damn beautiful!

  • Infuriated Monk says:

    1. How is success “butch”? Isn’t THAT sort of sexist?

    2. Twilight is just porn for women, just like romance novels have always been. We’ve had romance novels for a really long time and they’ve always sold really well, but no one really paid much attention to it, except for the romance novelists making lots of money. This isn’t at all a new phenomenon, just a more concentrated and mainstream version of an old one.

    3. It’s tough to fantasize when your fantasies are filled with sexually ambiguous symbols like boys who play with dolls and girls who are indifferent to their long lost lovers. So the claims that Twilight is filled with gender stereotypes seems to me to be utterly retarded, given that it is a purely sexual fantasy. Give the people what they want and make a shit-ton of money…surprise!

    • Rochelle says:

      1. I think she was referring to the fact that such incredible success in our society is often perceived as more masculine or “butch” not neccesarily calling it that herself.
      2. I personally think that Twilight is overrated but to call it porn for women is going a bit overboard. Especially considering it’s about a chaste relationship. And if you’re referring to the shirtless werewolf scenes I can’t see the difference between that and the countless blockbusters that completely sexualize women (hello, Transformers, The Hangover, Superbad, the list goes on..)
      3. One more thing, retarded is NOT synonymous with stupid and to use it as such is incredibly offensive

      • Thanks for clarifying my meaning of the term “butch,” Rochelle, and for the feedback on the term, I.M. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what I meant when I used it…it was more along the lines of Rochelle’s interpretation, a term to describe something female and tough that would serve as a counter point to what I felt were belittling descriptions of New Moon’s box office success. And I must agree with Rochelle that “retarded” shouldn’t be used synonymously with stupid (though I also must confess to have been guilty of this myself in the past – so please don’t read this, I.M., as a judgment).

      • Pacified Monk says:

        1. Okay, but I still don’t think “the establishment” feels threatened by the success of a female-driven market, especially if you don’t perceive success as masculine. I would guess that most NYT readers are not teenage Twilight fans, but instead are probably elitists who get off on looking down on what they perceive as the success of lowbrow culture. I wonder whether it’s not a “we see the world not as it is, but as we are” sort of thing, and if we take the sexism goggles off the headlines aren’t nearly so malicious.

  • Adelaide says:

    And more than half the people who support the Twilight phenomenon are adults: mums as well.

    There have been lots of headlines going that way, especially Saturday last (21.11.2009).

  • Blair Wagner says:

    Thanks, Rachel, for being a clear, positive voice for teenage girls! As a mother of a teen girl and as a female business owner, I appreciate your efforts.

  • Rachel Simmons says:

    Yes, long live female buying power, at every level. It’s so interesting to me that women and girls drive most of the household purchases (including cards) in the United States – perhaps worldwide – and yet that power doesn’t seem to translate at the box office. Either way I am, like so totally excited to see New Moon this Saturday and blog about it!

  • Jake says:

    It could be that. Or… you might be reading way too much into this, and it could actually be mocking the fervent enthusiasm of the young audience that support the franchise, and the popularity it has amongst users of social networking – those that use acronyms/phrases such as OMG? That’s how I see it anyway!

  • “Hopefully, this success will infiltrate the minds of Hollywood number crunchers and seek out products for the female audience,” she says. “If people start thinking and making more movies that star women and are women driven, it can only help women at all levels of the business.”

    Amen!

  • There’s nothing silly about a movie absolutely crushing its competitors and raking in box office dollars. “Success” in the movie industry is gauged by money and money alone. This film is an utter success, and perhaps certain dude marketing franchises are freaking out because they never bothered to reach out to the other half of the movie-going population. I think Twilight is terrible, but am really excited that girls are going to have to be listened to, regardless if reporters want to like minimize, um, their kinda actual power.

  • Ben says:

    It’s a garbage movie hence the surprise at its record breaking opening. It is telling because it reveals how dumbed down people are that this kind of movie could be so popular.

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