Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Importance of Stephenie Meyer and How to Criticize Problematic Things

This week on Jezebel, a feminist site, a writer ripped apart Stephenie Meyer and it had nothing to do with her books. Instead, it was because she was producing a movie based on one of Lois Duncan's novels, Down a Dark Hall. They didn't think she could possibly know what she was doing and would ruin this beloved novel

I don't want to link to the article and give it more attention, so I'll pull some quotes:

Title: "Stephenie Meyer Is Here to Ruin Everything Good About Your Childhood"

"'Head Mary Sue' Stephenie Meyer has decided to go where no one invited her"
 "To have Stephenie Meyer stick her sparkly little vampire hands into any of Duncan's work is not just a blow to the work, it's a blow to Lois Duncan's credibility! It's worse than that TV remake of Don't Look Behind You that I taped and watched religiously. Why? Because unlike Meyer, Duncan understands pacing, character development and story structure. (She also knows how to edit, but that's a whole other story.)"

Some of the problems with this?

  1. A woman wants to help make another woman's book into a movie. That sounds pretty feminist to me, no?
  2. Is it really feminist if it's tearing down and insulting another woman (or...person really) for no real reason?
  3. Writing and producing are not the same things. You can't exactly compare a person's ability to do one based on their ability to do the other.
  4. I could be wrong on this, but Stephenie Meyer probably doesn't have sparkly vampire hands
  5. Stephenie Meyer has already produced a non-Twilight film based on a book and I thought it was pretty damn good. It was certainly good enough to get picked up from the indie film festivals to make it to major theaters nation wide. And my roommate, a non Janeite, also loved it. It was an excellent adaptation and an excellent movie in its own right.
All in all, this type of insult to Meyer seems REALLY uncalled for, doesn't it? She may not be a brilliant writer, but Stephenie Meyer is a hugely important figure and that should be recognized. Much like J.K. Rowling, she helped create - or in some cases, recreate - readers. And she did it as a woman with a story told from a girl's perspective. She opened up a whole new genre to millions of readers.

I had only just gotten back into reading a few months before and NEVER would've touched ANY paranormal book before this one. The Twilight fandom became massive and the portion I've always hung around in recognizes where it's problems are, but also appreciate that it made our communities possible. It even lead to the creation of several fanfics, some of which have been pulled, WELL EDITED, and published with great results...and 50 Shades of Grey. But I'm not here to talk about that.

Yes, it's good to recognize that there are many issues in Twilight. But we also need to embrace her importance to the YA community and that she had massive success as a woman.

There's also the matter of how we criticize, which brings me to my major point in the post. Criticism is an important part of the world. It's how we make things better. It's what book bloggers are here to do. But there are always people willing to misuse our freedom to criticize.

In the case of this Jezebel article, the writer criticizes Stephenie Meyer as an author. Despite the fact she has produced several movies (though, an argument can be made she may not have REALLY produced any of the Twilight movies and The Host, which would mean she's produced one movie), they opted to take aim at an unrelated job and use it to justify why she can't do this different job. If she was writing the script, I would say using criticisms of her as a writer of books would be fair, though still not totally comparable. And if they had criticized other movies she had produced, that would be entirely fair. But these aren't jobs that line up enough to make this a fair critique.

I think that's where a lot of criticism fails. I'm not going to compare an asparagus to an apple; it doesn't make sense. Criticism only works when you're comparing similar things. Writing to writing. Producing to producing.

It's also why criticizing a person as a criticism of their work doesn't work. There are plenty of books I don't like, but I don't see that as a reason to attack the author. In 99% of cases, the author is still a perfectly decent person I have no problem with. And attacking the author as a person doesn't say anything about what's wrong with the book. It doesn't help anyone learn or grow or rethink what they're doing. And it doesn't help people reading your criticisms understand what's wrong with the work either.

It works the other way, too. There are authors who do bad things/aren't great people - Orson Scott Card comes to mind. And I have no problem criticizing him for being homophobic and choosing not to read his books with the knowledge that he puts his money that he'd earn from me buying them towards his beliefs. But I don't have the ability to critique the book in any way. I don't have any feelings on any of his books because I haven't read them and it wouldn't be fair for me to tell others not to read them based on my beliefs.

So, let's circle this back around. Everyone's free to criticize the Twilight series and Stephenie Meyer's writing/story telling/etc. within it. Frankly, that criticism needs to be out there. Everyone's free to criticize her as a producer and how she's produced movies. But I don't think it's fair to look at those things and say if she's bad at one, she must be bad at the other. And I don't think it's fair to say if she's bad at one or both, she's a bad human being who shouldn't do anything. She had a huge impact on a lot of people by writing the Twilight series, even if they aren't award-winning quality. And she helped make a great movie with the Austenland adaptation. I respect her and thank her for bringing both into my life, even if they had very different impacts.

Now, how about we go criticize things that are actually comparable and not just insulting?


I just want to add something to what Julie has said. Women are very underrepresented in the TV and film industry. The number of men working in the industry far outnumber the women and they aren't given the same respect that men are. It's so much harder for them to make it in that industry than it is for men, so for a site claiming to be feminist trashing one of those women...that infuriates me.

The worst part is, the very site that is trashing Stephenie Meyer for her choice to become a movie producer, just last year posted an article on this very same gender disparity issue.

Stephenie Meyer isn't the best author in the world, but I'd argue she's a decent story teller. Something in her books must've hooked people enough to make it a world wide best seller. So maybe making movies is better suited to her.

She wrote a music video for Jack's Mannequin and co-directed it (link goes to a behind the scenes video). She was pretty involved in the production of the later Twilight movies (I think her role actually got more and more invovled in the later movies) and The Host. And, as Julie pointed out, her production company are responsible for the movie adaptation of Austenland.

Say what you want about her as an author, but don't judge her talent as a movie producer until you've actually watched things she has produced (with the exception of stuff based on her own books, because the line between the two kind of blurs).

And even then...if you're going to criticize her as a producer, don't be an asshole about it. Critique the product, not the person and make sure what you say is actually valid. Like, I dunno, actually watch the movie before announcing how terrible it is?

She's a woman in an industry where women are a minority. Her partner in her production company is also a woman. The two books they optioned to become movies? Also written by a woman with female main characters. Austenland? Female director (in an industry where female directors are outnumbered 15:1), two women wrote the screenplay, it was a female dominated cast (and the movie itself kind of flipped the gender roles too, surprising given its Austen era inspiration).

A woman jumping head first into a male dominated industry and giving a helping hand to other women in the industry along the way? That's some pretty bad ass feminism and it's not something she should be insulted for.

Basically, think what you want about Twilight, but as far as Stephenie Meyer the person--and more importanty, the woman--goes, I'd bet she has been a much more positive feminist role model than the person who wrote that article* has ever been.


*I just looked at the article and saw that it was a man who wrote the article...which I am not going to comment further on, but I think it's important to note that.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post and I loved what both of you said. I read the post and I was instantly disgusted. Criticism of the product, be it the Twilight Saga or Austenland, would have been far more welcome then a criticism of Stephenie Meyer and her merits. Personally, I didn't like Austenland but I won't base what she can do with this book OR what kind of a woman she is based on my opinions of the movie. I agree with Lanna because there aren't enough women in TV or movies and instead of degrading a woman who has been successful in this area, why not talk about the product? Fantastic post ladies :)



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