MU professors' new book studies the serious side of 'Twilight'

Thursday, June 24, 2010 | 7:22 p.m. CDT; updated 9:12 a.m. CDT, Friday, June 25, 2010

COLUMBIA — "Jacob or Edward?" is the pressing question "Twilight" fans discuss on end. Which is better, the series' lead werewolf or vampire character? However, MU researchers have different questions when it comes to the popular young adult series.

Three MU researchers wrote "Bitten by Twilight: Youth Culture, Media, & the Vampire Franchise," published in early June, to better understand the phenomenon.

"(The books) were very compelling but very problematic," professor Jennifer Stevens Aubrey said.

Aubrey and fellow professors Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz and Melissa Click were more interested in gender dynamics and the series' lack of a male fan base than if a vampire is more attractive than a werewolf.

The authors read the "Twilight" series in early 2009 and were amazed at how engrossed they became. Click saw Aubrey, a married woman with a Ph.D., become a fan and determined that there was something important happening, Aubrey said.

"The fans are seeking a diagnosis," Aubrey said. "They want to know why they are into it. I am in some part seeking self-diagnosis."

They surveyed about 5,000 fans from all over the world, and the authors have more than 100 pages of transcripts from one-on-one fan interviews.

"We marveled at how smart the 'Twilight' fans are," Aubrey said. "There is something so crucial to the appeal of 'Twilight' that we were trying to understand."

When the media portrays "Twilight" fans, only the most die-hard are represented. Swooping camera angles capture a bird's-eye view of hundreds of women camping out for the newest film release. In the book's promotional video, there is a lone man in a crowd of giddy young women.

"It sets (men) up for being ridiculed," Aubrey said.

The same kind of camerawork and representation of a rabid fan base can be seen in media coverage of "Harry Potter" or "Star Wars," but there is a big difference: The boy wizard and Jedi Knights are taken seriously, but the "Twilight" vampires are not.

"There's a larger gender dynamic going on here," Aubrey said.

Summit Entertainment, the company behind the films, attempted catering to a male audience in the newest trailer for "Eclipse," but the authors of "Bitten" worried the move will alienate the current fan base. Aubrey said if you listen to the trailer, it sounds like a generic war movie.

"What Summit fails to see is that by courting male audiences, they are devaluing 'Twilight’s' devoted female fans and missing an incredible opportunity to develop the terms for future female franchises," Click said in a news release.

"Eclipse" will be released Wednesday. Hollywood Stadium 14 Theater in Columbia had not experienced long ticket lines, but it had high sales on Fandango. As of Thursday afternoon, there were three midnight showings scheduled, and employees said more shows would be added if they sold out.

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