Friday, March 30, 2012

No, Seriously, Why Do Men Like Twilight?

Today was going to be erotica statistics day. But as I was reading through "Best Women's Erotica 2011" and collecting the statistics I became incredibly bored by most of the data I was collecting. And if I'm bored then I will write like I'm bored, and the product will be as boring to read as it was to write. So I won't waste my time with the boring stuff and instead I will write about only the data that interested me and how that interesting stuff relates to Twilight.

One of the most interesting patterns I saw was how often the pronoun "I" is used as the voice of the narrator. 15 out of 19 stories in this book are written in the first-person. I didn't think much of this until I was reading the entire book straight through and came across one that wasn't written in first-person. And that story stuck out because it read more like a story with sex in it and less like erotica.

When reading a book, I have often wondered exactly what goes on in my head. I'm not exactly reading the words "out loud" in my head, because once I start to think about it as reading "out loud" in my head I can feel myself reading differently. But even so, there is definitely some sort of voice in my head as I'm reading. So when reading a novel that takes place in the first-person, it is almost as though the strange voice in my head is talking about itself.

This "I" voice makes sense in the context of erotica. The nature of erotica is to throw oneself into the story as fully as possible. So when reading erotica in one's head, the style of the writing forces the reader to imagine that its happening to him or her simply because the "voice" in your head says that it is.

Twilight is written in the first-person. This was something that I had never really noticed until my attention was drawn to it. But because of this first-person narrator, the voice in your head reads the story about "I" in the same way that it reads erotica about "I." This "I" voice in your head forces the reader to imagine that the "I" in the story is referring to that reader.

I have mentioned the importance of names (or lack thereof) in erotica, and only 9 out of 19 give the "I" character a name, and out of those 9, only 4 of them say the name more than once or twice at the beginning of the story, and out of the 5 that are left, only 1 of them is written in the first-person "I" voice.

I found this really interesting. This means that in all but one of the stories written in the first-person, we get hardly any name at all. The data on description of the "I" character is very similar. When we are in the perspective of "I" we get a description of hair often, or skin color, possibly height, usually breast size, but that is it. As far as we know, the main character, the "I", is a colored mannequin with a wig on. When we're given this generic and nameless "I", the "I" really might as well be us.

But when reading Twilight we do get a name, so it is not exactly the same thing. If we are in this character of Bella, and we are reading this book to ourselves and our inner voice is telling us that the "I" is us, shouldn't we be shocked when we get a name? "My name is not Bella, it's Aimee!"

I thought about this for a while and the conclusion I came to is that the name is generic, feminine, and literally means "beautiful." That's something that anyone can be called. The name "Love" is used a lot in "Best Women's Erotica 2011" (granted, the writers are primarily British). But often "honey" or "dear" or even "beautiful" is used as a pet name. In a way, these generic feminine names, like Cassie and Adele and Miranda and Bella are just pet names that serve to remind the reader of her femininity.

So then why do men read Twilight? If it is about a teenage girl and serves as an enactment of the teenage girl's fantasy, then why do men like it?

Well, I think the answer is that many of them don't, and perhaps that's why they don't. But there are some men that do. The blog I linked to last week says that if you are a man that likes Twilight then you are gay. As in, literally a homosexual. But I don't agree with that.

I posed a question in one of my earlier posts about whether people read erotica that mirrors their own sexual preferences. And I think that in general they do. But I also think you can get pleasure out of erotica that swings a different way than you do. And the reason for this is because of another interesting trend I found in the erotica stories.

In many of these stories there is a theme of moving away from the norm, of becoming something that you're not. In one story, "Opportunity" by Cynthia Hamilton a lesbian girl named Lin is given her first sexual encounter with a man by her girlfriend Celia as a gift. She is blindfolded the whole time and never sees his face or even knows his identity, and in the end she determines that it is Celia that she wants forever, even though a man was fun as a one-time thing.

In another story, "Skinheads" by Jacqueline Applebee, a woman without a name wears a strap-on to have sex with a man to live out a childhood dominatrix fantasy.

In a third, "Tricks" by Lola Olson, a girl puts on a skimpy outfit and pretends to be a prostitute who picks up a cop.

I could continue, but I won't because in 16 out of 19 of these stories I found a sentence or a paragraph or an entire plot arc that centers around doing something once or becoming someone else.

And this plays into the idea of the fantasy. A fantasy isn't something that happens to you every day, it is something that you would like to happen or something that you imagine happening. Perhaps something that you want but are embarrassed about wanting. In the example of the fantasy from The Marriage Plot that I wrote about in my first post about fantasies, Madeleine didn't necessarily want Leonard to spank her, but it was something she fantasized about.

So perhaps men read Twilight as a fantasy in the same way that the girl in "Tricks" pretends to be a prostitute, or in the way that the woman from "Skinheads" wears a strap-on, or in the way that Lin has sex with a man. It's about curiosity. Perhaps men are curious what it feels like to be loved by a man. Not in a homosexual way, necessarily, just as a curiosity. It's the appeal of Madonna's What It Feels Like For A Girl, or The Parent Trap or Freaky Friday. It's about the curiosity that everyone feels wondering what it feels like to be someone else. And through reading Twilight, a man can get a glimpse of what it feels like to be a woman.

Another reason men may read Twilight is because they want to understand women. There is an old joke that goes something like this:

A man finds an old lamp and rubs it and a genie pops out of it. The genie says, "You get one wish," and the man says "I wish to be the richest man in the world!" Then the genie says "Are you crazy? That's way too big of a wish! If that happens then the world will grow suspicious and genies will be exposed and it's just not worth my job. Anything else though." And then the man says, "Well, I would like to understand women..." and the genie says, "All right you can be the richest man in the world."

So perhaps this is a reason that men like Twilight. Perhaps there is an element of getting inside the female brain, figuring out what they want and don't want, reading their innermost thoughts.

And the final reason that men could like Twilight is because of the story. The story is violent and weird and a little bit creepy, and hell there are vampires involved. Plot is something that can provide a huge amount of pleasure, separate from fantasy, separate from romance, and separate from erotica. Plot is such an important part of the pleasure in a story that it will probably be the next major topic that I tackle in my blog after I finish the idea of fantasy.

So why do men like Twilight? Well, maybe some are gay and like it in the same way that many women do. But some may like it because it satisfies some desire for information that everyone has. It lets them know what it feels like to be someone else. And in that way, maybe Twilight can be erotica for men just as easily as it can be erotica for women.

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