Neo-Sexism and the Twilight of America
Twilight Eclipse. We've all heard about it by now. The Vampire love story by Stephanie Meyer as retold on the silver screen, smashing all records with a take of over $140 million on its opening weekend. And not only is it wooing middle school girls in bows and lipgloss, but apparently their silicon-enhanced mothers are falling for the sexy blood-suckers. Indeed, a vertiable rash of fan sites run by older women, for older women, have bubbled up on the web. According to a USA Today article just one of these, Twilightmoms.com, has more than 34,000 members 21 and older.
While this is great for Stephanie Meyer, squeeling girls, and their moaning moms, at the same time it exposes the tip of an iceberg few of us see - an ominous shift in control of perhaps the most important industry in the western world. For as Aristotle observed twenty-three hundred years ago, and which has been validated over the ensuing centuries, when storytelling goes bad, the result is decadence.
Something dangerous has happened in American literature. I would like to say "is happening" but it isn't happening. It has already happened. Go to a bookstore. Visit the teen section. Count the number of books for girls. Then count the number of books for boys. You get a ratio something like 20:1 . Twenty books for girls for every one book for boys. Do a survey of literary agents. Over 90% are female. And most of them state specifically that they are looking for stories about women or girls. Unfortunately the few male agents are guys who wouldn't have lasted long in the locker rooms I grew up in - they're looking for chick-lit too. And there are virtually no male editors being hired by publishing houses. (One wonders if they are even applying for the jobs.) I went to a writing convention recently at which writers were given the opportunity to pitch their work to editors and agents (4 young women and 1 older guy). The first question asked by all of them: "Is the main character female?"
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that girls are the ones doing the reading. And that boy books don't sell. And that the market is what the market is. Oh really? So boys aren't reading Lord of the Rings? Boys aren't reading the HALO books? Boys don't read Star Wars? Boys didn't read Harry Potter? With the exception of Twilight, which most boys don't care care for, the biggest sellers are the boy books. Or rather, books that appeal to both male and female whether young or old. So what is happening?
Modern publishing is run by agents. Agents are the gate keepers to the industry. Without an agent an aspiring author has no real hope. And most of the agents are women. Editors acquire books for publishing houses. And most of them are women, too. This wasn't true thrity years ago. Or even twenty years ago. And for the most part, both agents and editors only acquire books they 'like'. This is especially true of agents. In other words, despite the quality or subject, if an editor or agent doesn't 'like' a book, it is very unlikely that book, or the author who penned it, will ever see the light of day. Now I understand that books must fit the market, but in this case the market is being shaped and controlled entirely by the agents and editors to reflect what they 'like'. And what they 'like' is girl books. So when you waltz into a bookstore what you see more than any other thing are the literaty tastes of a few hundred women in New York City.
This is even more shocking in light of the fact that most of those girl books on the shelf are going to lose money. That's right. Most books don't make any money. (Neither do authors for that matter.) Same for the boy books. Most will lose money. The difference today over thirty years ago, is that agents and editors aren't willing to lose money on boy books anymore. Losing money on a girl book is forgivable by an editor who likes girl books. But losing money on a boy book by an editor who only likes girl books? The ultimate sin, and enough to see your job disappear. So it isn't even about money anymore.
Now I'm not saying that girl books are bad. Not at all. Books for females, about females, and by females, can be excellent works of literature and there are numerous literary masterpieces out there that attest to the brilliance of female writers and the magic of female charcters. I even applaud Stephanie Meyer and Twilight for what it is. The danger is the increasingly one-sided slant of modern literature as a result of sexism by industry professionals. For whatever reason the written word has the power to inspire, reflect, change, and shape culture like no other medium. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Twilight, Star Wars, and many others either began as books or have enjoyed widespread success as books. Their impact on society has been, and will continue to be, incalculable. And to starve half the population based on their gender is no less wrong than making blacks ride in the back of the bus. And just as institutionalized racism bred a host of social ills, institutionalized sexism will do the same thing. Count on it. Reading may be recreational, but anyone with the power to influence social behavior and cultural evolution has a responsibility beyond mere entertainment. And certainly beyond the bottom line. Gladiators were entertainment, too. And so are whore houses. Even pushers deal in entertainment. So if you are going to publish only what you like, you better be prepared for the consequences. If boys have nothing to read they will turn to other pastimes.
It is perhaps illuminating to note that while Twilight has done well at the box office it lags far, far behind the entertainment of choice for boys. While $140 mil is a pretty good haul it pales in comparison to the $550,000,000 raked in by Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II just a week before. No other movie, book, or video game has come close on an opening weekend; not even Mr. Potter. And it should be noted as well that COD4-2 is three times the cost of a respectable hard-cover.
Boys will spend money on entertainment. But instead of reading they'll go for headshots. And as this increasingly violent choice is reflected back into society over the coming years you chicks in NYC will have the distinction of knowing that you helped bring it about. But at least you published what you 'like', huh?
Futbol Guru, www.not-a-lemming.com