Thursday, June 2, 2011

On Twi-washing

I think it doesn't need to be said that Emma and I really enjoy reading, and we always have.  As teenagers, neither of us were the type to need coercion to read a good book.  However, it's become increasingly clear to me that perhaps we are the exceptions to the rule.  I certainly think that reading a diverse range of materials is good for the mind... it improves vocabulary and language skills, encourages learning beyond a classroom setting, and often provides important cultural perspectives.  So, it seems like any tool to encourage teenagers to read more would be a good thing.

Lately, however, I've been noticing a strange marketing trend aimed for teenage girls:  Twi-washing.  In other words, making everything look relevant to Twilight.  This trend was most obvious to me when I recently saw some copies of Jane Eyre in bookstores, no doubt released to generate interest in the new movie.


For those of you completely unfamiliar with the Twilight series, this is what the original cover art for Twilight looks like:
To me, it's pretty obvious that Jane Eyre was repackaged for the sole purpose of making it catch the eye of the Twi-hards.  The two new covers certainly follow the same motif... eye-catching red against a monochromatic background.  This change is particularly obvious when you consider what most editions of Jane Eyre have on the cover:
OK, so the traditional cover art is maybe not the most eye-catching, but it at least conveys the idea that this is a period piece, a classic from many many years ago.  The new cover art for the book really doesn't reflect the plot of the book at all.  The motifs worked for the Twilight series... the choice of red as a central color is obvious, and the particular symbols on each installment in the series make sense, when you consider the plots.  For Jane Eyre, however, it seems like the new covers are odd choices.  For example, I'm pretty sure that 1840s working class women did not wear bright red nail polish and lipstick.

Certainly it's a good thing to encourage people to read at least a few of the classics, particularly books like Jane Eyre, which was considered ahead of its time, due to Jane's unusual competence, intelligence and independence (unlike Twilight, with a female protagonist who feels like she came straight out of 1950).  However, implying that the book is much like the Twilight series feels somewhat disingenuous to me.  Despite the fact that both share a theme of love overcoming obstacles, I feel like any further parallels between the two books are lacking.  For the girl who opens Jane Eyre and expects a simple, straightforward story like Twilight, there might be a lot of disappointments in store.  First of all, it's a longer, more difficult read, both because of its content and because of the writing style, which very much feels like the mid-1800s.  And what happens when you consider classics that couldn't easily get the Twilight treatment?  I challenge readers to come up with a legitimate way to Twi-wash Great Expectations, The Count of Monte Cristo, etc.  What happened to encouraging people to read books based on the book's own merits?

I suppose the Twilight craze has some good merits... at least teenage girls are reading something.  And maybe their love of Edward/Jacob/whatever will encourage them to study harder for the SAT (despite the fact that Bella threw away her promising academic future so she could play Stepford Wives for Edward).  It's worrying to me, though, that they're so crazy about Twilight that they'd only be tempted to read material that is essentially a variation on a theme (vampires in love OMG!).  It's also worrying that so many people only read books so that they can be prepared to watch the movie adaptation later (not like that would really help you with the Harry Potter series, which seems to just be adding in whatever they want).

It seems to me that there are a lot of good YA options out there... options that might address deeper subject matter and have more complicated plots and characters.  It sounds like the Hunger Games books are good options (I've never read them).  Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials novels are good books for teenagers, and no one could ever accuse those novels of being simple fluff pieces.  I know that I was pretty influenced by books that I read as a teenager, and it seems worrying that so many people are looking at Bella from Twilight as a good model for what they want their lives to be, post-high school.

What other young adult novels would you recommend to bring a reluctant reader into the world of books?

8 comments:

  1. Also, in the new white Jane Eyre cover, I don't really know what that's supposed to be around the woman's neck. It's either an absurdly ruffled collar (in which case they got the time period's fashions wrong), or the poor woman has a neck that's riddled with tumors.

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  2. Haha great post, the term twi-washing is making me giggle!

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  3. The one where the woman holds the rose is just gratuitous! She even has pale vampire skin, haha!

    I also will purloin the term "Twi-hard" for my own use!

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  4. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn't make up the term "Twi-hard"... I've seen that used elsewhere. I haven't seen "twi-washing" elsewhere but I wouldn't be surprised if it's been used.

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  5. I'm more partial to the word twi-tard, personally!

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  6. Yippee-kai-yay, mother twi-hards!

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